Nothing says "I just finished a half marathon" like bananas and space blankets!

Nothing says “I just finished a half marathon” like bananas and space blankets!

Up until Saturday night, I hadn’t really thought too much about the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon. This was my fourth time running in this race and my third time running the half marathon distance. I wasn’t out to prove anything and a PB was certainly out of the question. In fact, based on my long runs leading up to Sunday’s race, I was on track to run my slowest half marathon ever. The bar was set nice and low.

I’m pleased to report that it was not in fact my worst time. I did exactly what I set out to do: I ran perfect 6 minute kilometres and finished the run in 2:06:51.

I didn’t check my pace or total time through the whole race. I just ran at a pace that felt good and maintained it throughout. I bopped along to some new music and watched the herd of 25,000 runners jog along. I saw the same people over and over. One girl in grey who’s watch must have been perfectly synced with mine because we stopped at the exact same time every ten minutes for our walk breaks.

Around 8K, I found myself next to the 2 hour pace bunny. I was thrilled! I actually had a moment where I thought I might be able to break my personal best of 1:59. It’s funny how the adrenaline of race day can make you semi-delusional. It was not to be. I kept pace with them till 15K, but fell back. It was too hard and like I said, I wasn’t out to prove anything. Why kill myself to shave off a few minutes? I decided I would just enjoy the run.

My husband Graham crossed the finish line about 5 minutes ahead of me, just missing his personal best by about 60 seconds. Originally we planned to run together but parted ways right before the start. He was going to try for a PB. I was not feeling as ambitious.

Afterward, we chatted about our race strategy. He told me he needs the pace bunny, and followed diligently behind the 2 hour pacer for the majority of the race. He focuses totally and completely on running as hard as he can, pushing himself the entire way. I employ the total opposite strategy. I try hard to focus on anything but running. I focus on my music. I read the race signs and high five volunteers. I scan the crowd in search of a race outfit I like. I find a runner who looks like they’re struggling and offer some words of encouragement.

As I jogged along, I also thought about running that same race three years ago. It was my first half marathon. In fact, I realized at the start line that I was wearing the same tights and long sleeve shirt that I wore in that race! (Kudos to Nike for making running gear that lasts!)

I also thought a lot about last year when I ran the full marathon distance in that race. At the point where the marathon runners go right and the half marathon runners go left, I was pretty happy to be almost done instead of halfway there!

My parents were our only in-person supporters and they took several pictures of my ugly race face as I crossed the finish line. It’s always nice to have some cheerleaders in the crowd.

Overall, it was another fine race. Shout-out to Canada Running Series for a fabulous event. I’ll be back again next year.

The last 100 metres are always the toughest. Check out my ugly race face and weird scissor hands!

The last 100 metres are always the toughest. Check out my ugly race face and weird scissor hands!

 

Faith in humanity = restored! Thank you kind stranger for this much needed birthday  gift.

Faith in humanity = restored! Thank you kind stranger for this much needed birthday gift.

Last year, I started a tradition of running on my birthday. Last year was noteworthy though because I was training for my first marathon and I ran 30K on my 30th birthday. This year, I still took the day off with plans to do a long run in the morning, but a much less ambitious distance, and one with no real significance other than that’s what my training schedule told me to run. I woke up early, checked the weather forecast and got ready for my inaugural birthday run.

16K was on the agenda and the weather looked promising. Both Canada AM and my trusty weather app predicted clear skies and temperatures around 15C with no rain in sight till at least 5pm. Perfect. A fine day for a birthday run.

About 5K in, it started to rain. It was a light rain at first – nothing I couldn’t handle. In fact, I remember that it rained last year on my birthday run. Rain be damned, I thought. I’m not stopping. But then it started raining harder. I’m all for a rain run, but this was a bit more than I was willing to tolerate. I ducked under some trees to wait it out, while cursing the weatherman under my breath.

It cleared and the sun actually came out so I set off again. Great, I thought. Back on track. Just as I started my descent down Mount Pleasant, it started to pour. The kind of rain that is so aggressive it slows traffic. It was definitely not ideal. I cowered against a wall trying not to get completely soaked. It wouldn’t let up. I remembered there was an overpass about 500 metres back so I made a beeline for it and planned to wait it out.

It was relentless. I stood under the bridge with a scowl on my face. Damn rain ruining my birthday run. Suddenly, a car pulled up next to me, and held an umbrella out the open window. “Here, you look like you need this,” said the perfectly dry stranger driving the car. I looked in disbelief and said, “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Pay it forward.”

I took the umbrella and he drove off. I couldn’t believe my luck. I decided I would walk to the next Starbucks and wait it out. I started walking back up Mount Pleasant with my new umbrella in hand. I suddenly realized that the nearest coffee shop was more than 2K in either direction. Damn. Alright, I thought. I’ll go to the next major intersection and get a cab. I’ll take it to the gym and finish this run on the treadmill. Not ideal, but it’s better than nothing. I was not about to give up on this run.

I hailed a cab. It drove by. I tried again. No luck. A third cab drove by. Still stranded. Dammit!

By this point, the rain had actually subsided and the sky looked slightly less apocalyptic so I figured I might as well start running again. I was starting to get cold and I was getting nowhere fast. So I started running back the way I came, umbrella in hand.

By the time I made it back to the Belt Line trail where I started, the rain had stopped altogether and the sun was shining again. My run was saved! But what the hell was I supposed to do with this umbrella?! This was not a teeny pocket umbrella. This was a large black IKEA umbrella. Great for keeping you dry. Bad for holding while running!

I decided I would drop the umbrella behind a tree and pick it up on my way back, since I would pass the same spot on my return. If someone took it, oh well. It wasn’t mine anyway.

I ran the next 7K in the glorious sunshine I was anticipating and managed to dry out a bit. When I got back, my new umbrella was still there! I ran up Avenue road with an umbrella in hand…. in the sunshine.

Surely anyone that saw me thought I was nuts. Who goes for a morning jog with a giant umbrella in hand?!

I made it back to my house, only to realize I only ran 15.2K. I stashed the umbrella on the front steps and ran around the block twice to make up the remaining 800 metres.

Finally. Success! Despite all odds, I completed 16K on my birthday. I almost gave up many times, but I persevered in what might have been one of the silliest runs of my whole life.

A big shout-out to the stranger who gave me his umbrella. My faith in humanity is now restored. Thank you for the much needed birthday gift!

Two-YearsLast week marked the two year anniversary of Thoughts & Pavement. I missed the actual date as I was on an epic vacation in the Galapagos Islands frolicking with giant tortoises and playing with sea lions. I thought about trying to update the blog from there, but the WiFi was not ideal. I did think about it though and gave a silent hat tip to this two year old hobby that has brought me a lot of enjoyment.

To date, I’ve written 136 posts and managed to amass close to 200 followers. Thank you! That number still impresses me and I am continually happy and humbled at the wonderful people that regularly read my posts and share their encouragement and tips. In fact, as an early birthday present, I recently reached my 500th blog comment on my post about my non-existent half marathon training plan.

For fun, here are some interesting Thoughts & Pavement facts:

Thoughts & Pavement has come a long way since that intro post in 2012. When I started, I worried that I would run out of things to talk about. How much can one person possibly have to say about running and training? But two years later, I’m still discovering new things and coming up with new topics, and the best part is, this blog motivates me to run. I need to, or I’ll have no new material!

Happy birthday Thoughts & Pavement! Cheers to many more years of running and blogging.

Scotiabank-Waterfront-Toronto-Marathon

Recently, I had the opportunity to contribute to Run Guides, a website listing local races and running info for Toronto and other major cities in Canada and the US. Myself, along with two other running experts picked our favourite races and talked about why we love them.

My race pick? The Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon. This is the race where I completed my first half marathon and first full marathon so it has a special place in my heart. To find out more, check out the full article here.

I was also asked to provide a couple sentence about myself. Turns out, this was harder than the race recommendation! After much thought and consideration, I came up with this:

Social Media Director by day, runner by night, wine enthusiast always. If you can’t find me running the streets of Toronto or sipping a crisp Chardonnay, try Twitter.

I think that pretty much sums me up!

If you want more race recommendations from local experts, subscribe to Run Guides. You’ll get local race information delivered right to your inbox! And don’t forget to read the full Run Guides article here.

 

Time to create a plan and hit the road!

Time to create a plan and hit the road!

In work or life, having a plan is generally a smart idea. Fitness is no exception. Last week, I suddenly realized that the Scotiabank Half Marathon is about a month away and I didn’t have anything resembling a plan. In a moment of panic, I thought about bailing on the whole thing. With a vacation coming up next week, there’s no way I’ll have time for any long runs anyway. I was ready to pull the chute on the whole idea.

But then my very helpful husband created a training plan. I printed it out and put it on the fridge and suddenly realized that what was seemingly impossible was actually pretty attainable. Isn’t that always the way? When you look at a big task in its entirety, it can seem overwhelming and insurmountable. But when you break it down into smaller, realistic goals, it all comes into focus. You might run into a snag in your training schedule (like that time I was training for the marathon and had to run 32K on a treadmill), but if you make it a priority and you remain flexible, everything will work out just fine.

My training plan is by no means aggressive. It includes one speed or hill workout a week and one long run every weekend up until race day, with some cross-training thrown in here and there. If you’re new to running, or way behind on your training, a great way to psych yourself out is to take a look at any online training program. Most of these programs have you running 4 and sometimes 5 times a week! Don’t despair!

Having run three half marathons, I can say with confidence that this is not necessary if your goal is simply to finish. If you’re gunning for something more remarkable (like a really epic PB or some sort of elite status), you might want to kick it up a notch. But if you just want to finish the distance, give yourself a break. A few workouts a week plus a weekly long run is totally sufficient. My longest run before any half marathon has been 18K.

I have a tendency to overreact and this is no exception. What looked totally impossible last week now seems like it will be OK. My new training plan coupled with a decent 12K on Sunday has lifted my spirits and renewed my motivation. My only goal for this race is to enjoy it. With that easy goal and only three long runs to go, I’m pretty confident I’ll be ready for race day.

Are you running any fall races? What’s your training plan?

Bang & Olufsen 5K Yorkville runI haven’t run a race in a while. Since May actually. Unfortunately, a busy summer schedule has stopped me from registering. But being the creative and resourceful runner that I am, I decided that my lack of racing shouldn’t preclude my dear readers from hearing about the latest road races in and around Toronto. So what is one to do if they want to write a race recap, but didn’t actually run the race? You ask someone else to write about it!

This past weekend, my father-in-law (Ian) participated in the Bang & Olufsen Yorkville 5K. I’ve always wanted to do this one, so I was anxious to hear about it. Some people say 5K races are a waste of time. You spend more time getting ready than you do actually running. But there’s lots to love about the short race, and this one sounds like a winner.

Dubbed a “premier, boutique 5K race,” the Yorkville Run includes high-end race kits, oversized medals and fancy post-run hors d’oevres. Forget the stale bagels and bananas. This post-race feast includes treats from local Yorkville restaurants served by white-gloved waiters! What’s more, since the race began in 2010, it has raised more than $200,000 for YWCA Toronto’s women’s shelters.

Following the event on Sunday, I caught up with Ian and asked about his race-day experience. Here’s what he had to say:

Name three highlights from the Bang & Olufsen Yorkville Run. 

My favourite memory is that every volunteer who organized the run and subsequent festivities – from those at New Balance Toronto who supplied the race kits, and those who lined the route, to those who carried around the edible goodies on trays for the runners after the finish line – were very cheerful and had broad smiles.

My next favourite memory was the generous and valuable goodies that came with the entry fee including an elegant T-shirt.

Finally, the food after the run – delicious and much classier than what I’ve got at every other race. Oh, I forgot how well organized the whole event was – very smooth.

Would you recommend this race for others? 

Yes, for the above 4 reasons. The race stood apart from pretty well all other organized runs I’ve done, but to be honest I’ve probably only been in about 40 of those over my 40 years of adult life.

How long have you been running for? 

Not regularly enough (in the opinion of my family and my personal trainer), but always for a few weeks before adventurous trekking vacations and before the occasional half-marathon over the past 40 years.

What do you listen to while you run? Music or the sounds of the crowd? 

The crowd, my breathing and the delicate thud of my feet.

Will you be back next year? 

For sure, bringing my family with me (including the author of this blog).

*****************

Hmm… looks like I’m being recruited for next year! But, don’t worry.  I won’t need a lot of persuading. I like the 5K distance, and with classy post-race treats and an elegant t-shirt, you can count me in! This sounds like my kind of run.

Did you run on Sunday? How was your race?

Bang & Olufsen race kit

Check out this fancy race kit! Treats from Vega, David’s Tea and Bang & Olufsen!

In an effort to find out why my recent runs have been totally terrible, I turned to Google. I typed in “Why do I suck at…” and was presented with a variety of un-helpful options such as…

Why do I suck...

I was looking for reasons why I suck at running recently. This time last year, I was at my peak. This year I can barely run 5K without suffering terribly. Usually, I would chalk this up to a bad day. Not all runs are great. Sometimes even 3 or 4 kilometres is a struggle. But this has been a month-long trend and I am starting to get concerned that this half marathon is less than 50 days away and this training is not the happy, easy ramp up I imagined.

After some research and thoughtful analysis of what I’ve been up to lately, I landed on these five possible reasons that I am running like a wounded animal instead of the badass marathon runner I know I am.

Running without warming up

Guilty. I usually say that my first 1-2 kilometres are my warm up and try to run them slowly before I get into my desired pace. While that can be an OK strategy, research confirms that there is no replacement for a proper warm-up. Some leg swings, dynamic lunches and high-knee running before you set out can make a big difference. Just 5-10 minutes. I can do that.

This sounds like me....

This sounds like me….

Using running as license to eat anything you want

Eek. This is a big one. I love eating and I often use exercise as my free pass to eat anything and everything. But the reality is, if I’m fuelling my body with junk, how can I expect it to perform well when I’m running? Bad logic. I must eat better. Luckily, Runner’s World featured these awesome post-run pastas in their September issue recently so I’m inspired to try some.

 

Heat

We’ve had a pretty mild summer this year, so I never really got used to running in the heat. The last couple outdoor runs I’ve had have been terrible, but it’s also been a bright sunny day, with temperatures close to 30C. The reality is, heat slows you down and makes running harder. It elevates your heart rate and makes you prone to dehydration. This is a good thing to keep in mind since the half marathon is mid-October, the weather is bound to be a little cooler.

Stress

This is a big one. Stress can have a big impact on your body including headaches, difficulty sleeping, and elevated heart rate, to name a few. With a challenging career and the perpetual feeling that I never have enough time in a day, stress is something I’m pretty used to. With the summer months behind us now, my schedule should free up a bit which will help.

running mantraAttitude

The last couple of times I’ve headed out for a run, I’ve left thinking, “Ugh. I don’t want to do this. It’s going to suck.” And guess what? It sucked. So much of running is mental, including your pre-run attitude. Typically, my form of internal motivation borders on heckling. I must revise this strategy. Clearly, it is not working. Before I head out the door next time, I am going to give myself a little pep talk.

Have you ever gotten into a running slump? What strategies did you use to get back at it?