Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Stevenson Olympics [a.k.a. Boozing Day 10-miler]

First question: who races on Boozing Day? Really? After all - at least where I come from – Boxing Day is supposed to be a day of sloth and lazy self-indulgence. Perhaps because, as a child, my mother insisted on planting herself on the couch the entire day, getting through all of her Christmas reading in one go, and my father, bitter over the absence of leftovers (since my aunt and uncle host Christmas dinner), would cook another turkey dinner for the four of us. This progressed into us going up to our cottage to celebrate Boxing Day, where the opportunity to do any kind of physical activity was further impeded. Of course, Boxing Day is also a big night for house parties and club-goers, and is thus usually capped off with keggers and shots. Not exactly a day of detox.

This year, I stayed in the T. for Christmas. Nic was obviously extremely excited that I would be training with her over the holidays, and e-mailed me a good two months ago telling me about a ‘huge’ road race on Boxing Day, perhaps, she admitted, more famously known as the Stevenson Olympics. Justifiably, she has run it about 10 times and has been declared champion no less than 8 of those. This, compounded by the fact that it’s on her home turf (I think we even run by the McDonald’s she used to work at? Awesome.). In all honesty though, I thought it would be a great way to shake off the Christmas-time laziness. Of course it was, although on Boxing Day morning I was convinced it was the worst decision I had ever made in my life.

This brings me to my next question: who doesn’t drink on Christmas? Really? In my family I normally play the role of bartender (surprise, surprise), so the thought of a dry Christmas actually made me cry a bit inside. This of course being because I normally don’t drink before races (surprise again? I don’t know). On Christmas morning I thought I might be able to get through the day with water, but by 11AM I was offered several vodka-OJs by my father-in-law. Wow. I managed to decline his offer, but again, a few hours later there were more offerings and my discipline wavered. I began to rationalize my decision, figuring if I drank early enough I could be sober by 8PM, get a good night’s sleep and be ready to rock in the morning. Uh-huh.

So my next question is: who races after being sick with the flu for a week? Though I only had one day of extreme nausea, my body felt weak, I was stuffed up and my head pounded for most of the week. Still, it was the Stevenson Olympics! How could I miss it?!

So Nic picked me up in the morning and we drove down to the Hammer with AZ. I must have seemed especially lethargic, as Nic wasn’t sure if I was awake yet and AZ kept asking how hungover I was. In reality, it wasn’t really the hangover but more the -15 degree weather and hilly course description that left my motivation waning. Once we got to the course, however, I started to get a little more excited. This is most likely attributed to the fact that we got some awesome race gear, including two long-sleeved shirts decorated with white snowmen and some sweet snowman mitts on top of it. They were so exciting we couldn’t restrain our jazz hands from waving.

Jazz hands

We got in a solid three mile warm-up and my legs felt pretty good, though I was warned not to go out too hard since the second half of the course is very hilly. I think Megan said something like ‘If you are hurting at all at 5 miles, you are done. OVER.’ Alrighty then! The gun went off and I trotted along pleasantly, going through 1 mile in just under 6:30. Hmmmmm...was I being too conservative? I picked it up for the next few miles, but it was a constant battle against gusting winds and windy turns along the bike path route. At 3 miles I let it be known that I wasn’t having fun and let out some sort of loud groan that heralded some snickers from those around me. At this point all kinds of negative thoughts were going through my head; I thought about tempo-ing the race, dropping out of the race, jogging the race, pretty much anything but trying my hardest. I reached the 5-mile mark in 31:38 and suddenly realized that I was feeling pretty good. I was approaching the first hill, and to my surprise it looked much less daunting than I had anticipated. I powered up it and started to pick up the pace. At the top I knew I had a mile or two before the second, more challenging hill, so I used this time and my relatively ‘fresh’ legs to gain some ground on those ahead of me. I saw a woman about 200m ahead who had passed me at 2 miles and decided to try and catch her by the second hill. I thought if I could stay close to her up the hill, I’d have a good chance of passing her on the recovery afterwards. I gradually reeled her in and by the base of the hill I was right on her heels. She didn’t like this much and put in a surge up the initial incline. I followed. I stayed close to her all the way to the very steep peak of the hill, where I think everyone including me was hardly moving forward. Next question: what kind of race has a hill like that? It seemed needlessly torturous, but I thought of the inspirational Saint Ralph and how valiantly some little kid fought up this very same hill. If he could do it there’s no way I couldn’t! At that point I heard someone yell ‘Go Rebecca! You got her!’ and I realized I was probably behind Rebecca Stallwood, who I knew was in the race. My resolve to pass her became even stronger. At the same time, a small old man at the top of the hill announced that we had just completed the last hill of the course, which flooded me with happiness and joy and renewed aggression. I wanted to bear-hug him and chase Stallwood simultaneously, but alas, I couldn’t do both, so I chose to bear-hunt Stallwood down instead. Again when I tried to pass her she surged forward, this time looking less comfortable and breathing heavily. I thought to myself, just sprint by her! You can afford a surge yourself at this surge I did – and that was the end of her. I hammered on the downhill and someone from the sidelines yelled ‘4th place woman!’, at which point I saw another ponytail in the distance. We were approaching mile 9, so I knew I had to act quickly to lock in a 3rd place; thankfully I was already gaining on her. As I got closer I put in another surge and passed her, all the while wondering how fast our last mile would be if she were to resist it as Stallwood had. However, she didn’t respond and I continued along maintaining my pace and building a lead on her. The finish came up surprisingly quickly and I crossed the line in 3rd place in a time of 1:03:10. Not a time to write home about, but I was happy with how I raced it and having negative split the course with a hilly second half. Not to mention that I was able to snatch 3rd place and win myself some more Christmas loot!

Post-race and HAPPY

Megan won in an awesome time of 57:22 and Nic was 2nd in 1:01:26 all the while battling tummy troubles. So does this mean I can say I have an Olympic Bronze, Nic?

Olympic Medallists

Camps a Champ in 3rd!

So much for lazy Boozing Day. Though I can’t say I didn’t finish off the day in proper form in this respect!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Getting JANED

Those people who have had the pleasure of running with me know that it comes at a risk – and oftentimes – a price. You see, I hate stopping at traffic lights and avoid it at all costs, even if it means risking my life. Being the BC native that I am, I have become accustomed to darting across streets, bridges and even highways without consequence. In fact, cars often slow down to let pedestrians cross even if the driver has the right-of-way. Why, you might ask? Because BC’ers are relaxed, happy, kind, patient and attentive, of course! In Halifax, where my brother lives, kindness from strangers takes on a whole new level. Drivers will literally hit the brakes if they see anyone within 100m out for a jog and will proceed to roll down their windows, wave excitedly and yell “Hello! How are you?!” The first time this happened to me I was so utterly confused that I looked down to make sure I was fully dressed, since I thought that this unsolicited attention might have risen by some accident like forgetting to put on clothes, or my shorts falling off. Fortunately this was not the case, and I continued through Point Pleasant Park receiving a cheerful hello from every jogger and walker that passed by.

So here I am in Toronto, land of busy streets and angry, impatient drivers, and what do I change about my street crossing tendencies? Nothing, obviously. Does it matter that it’s pitch black and that I am in my ninja attire, in all black with the only bright spots being the whites of my eyes? Or that it’s rush hour? Or that it’s blizzarding and slizzarding? Or that perhaps I DON’T have the right-of-way? Naw. Admittedly, I am prone to being ‘almost hit’ by cars, HOWEVER, I have never actually BEEN hit. This is a critical distinction, and I take it as a sign that I am cautiously risky. This is FAR different than being a reckless, ignorant, aggressive street-crosser. I am acutely aware of my surroundings (unlike the IPOD shufflers that litter the streets and can’t make out a fire truck from a dog barking) and take measured risks, calculating in milliseconds the likelihood of myself quickly making it across the street unscathed. I would go so far as to describe my feline-like agility and prophetic intuition as somewhat of a talent, or perhaps like a mysterious sixth sense. The problem is when the feline reflexes of my running partners isn’t quite as poised and ready to pounce at the switch of a light, or passing of a car, as mine are; and as a result I am pretty sure anyone that’s run with me has almost been hit by oncoming traffic. For that I am truly sorry (but not completely at fault).

Although I haven’t been hit, I have had some bad experiences. Take last winter, for example, when I went out for a run in the midst of a snowstorm at about 7 at night (smart). I ran around Queen’s Park for 45 minutes, as I was unsure of when I might suddenly want to bail from the run and go home. Well, when I had my fill of the QP, bail I did. As per usual I darted across the street perpendicular to oncoming traffic, though I trust I would have made it across with plenty of time to spare, had I not slipped on the road (blizzard’s fault) and gone crashing down on my side. All I remember is shooting pain and blinding lights coming at me from what seemed to be way too close to my head. I dragged myself to the curb just as a car whizzed by, barely missing my foot. I was in complete shock, but of course sprung up immediately, started my watch (which I had stopped mid-fall, like any normal person would do) and began running home. Apparently the fall and near-death experience did take the G.I. Jane out of me, however, as a mere ten seconds later I began bawling like a two-year-old, crying for my mommy. When I got home I called Jeff, who thought that my whole family had died in a plane crash. “No, I fell! I have a bruise!” I stammered while sobbing uncontrollably. I think the nickname ‘Baby J’ crossed his mind at this point, but when he got home and saw the massive welts on my hip, knee and elbow, I think he reconsidered.

Unfortunately, my impatience is not restricted to running. The other week, I was walking with my friend Mauricio from work to Ryerson, which are about 4 blocks apart. In this time, we were almost hit no less than three times. I think he was impressed at my ability to come so close to getting hit with such prompt succession. On our way back, I started to cross the street when a thunderous crash sounded from my right and an elderly woman on a motorized wheelchair came flying out onto the street in front of me. I jumped back and looked around in bewilderment, trying to figure out what had just happened. ‘What was that?!’ I found it hard to believe a senior citizen had indeed just shot out from the sidewalk at 50km/h and nearly run me over. I looked back at Mauricio, who was bent over, practically on the ground laughing his face off. ‘Oh my god, Oh my god, Oh my god!’ was all he could muster out. ‘You almost got hit by a WHEELCHAIR!’ Could that be a sign?

After this minor incident, people began to talk. So much so, that last week at work I was told that someone almost got ‘Janed’ on the weekend. When I raised my eyebrows at this comment, Mauricio explained that they almost got killed crossing the street. Apparently now this is synonymous with pulling a ‘Jane’. Finally, I have been forced to acknowledge this tendency that has carried me close to death. Perhaps I am too eager to cross, but I vehemently argue that this eagerness is a well-measured, life-proof calculation to enable the most efficient means of street-crossing. If I end up getting hit by a car, of course, this whole argument will be void. We shall see.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I feel like I’m in Russia (and it’s not the vodka talking)

It is a truth universally acknowledged amongst runners (and likely even by Jane Austen) that the intelligent way to begin building up after a week off would be to go for a short, easy run. I will premise my subsequent sentences by stating that this truly was my intention as I headed down to the treadmill for my first run (yes, the treadmill. Within a week, as the weather turned south of zero and Santa Claus came to town, I became a wimp. What can I say, I became accustomed to the fuzzy warmth of vodka shots and indoor heating.) I looked outside at the heavy gusts of wind blowing trees over the streets, people in furry coats scurrying down the sidewalk and the snow falling wildly, thinking about how pleased I was not to be at the cemetery doing an interval workout. Instead, I began a slow jog on the treadmill of my bright, cheerful, and warm condo gym, armed with my IPOD shuffle. Surprisingly, after a week off my legs felt light and sharp, and in no less than two minutes in I began to increase my 7.5mph pace to something a little more challenging. I upped the pace by .2mph every five minutes or so, until I was fifty minutes into my run and found myself running at 9.0mph quite comfortably. Hmmmm...I thought to myself, is it so bad if I do my first run as a progression run? With Rihanna blasting in my ears ‘COMMON’ COMMON’ COMMON’’ I didn’t give it much of a second thought. Suddenly Usher piped in (pardon the pun) and began to ask for ‘MORE!’, instructing me to ‘LIGHT IT UP, TAKE IT UP HIGHER, PUSH IT TO THE LIMIT GIVE IT MORE!’ and as I am simply unable to say no to Usher, by 55minutes I had suddenly jumped up to 9.8mph (Usher has great powers). I held onto the pace for the next twenty minutes with the help of Ricky J, Tiao Cruz, Lady Gaga, more Usher and of course Far East Movement, which point I figured I had better stop or I’d risk not being able to get out of bed the next day. My run felt stupendous – I almost wished I had a race that weekend so I could put my pent up energy to some productive use (and run with real people) instead of wasting electricity in the gym (and running with my imaginary famous entourage). So my first run ended up being a total of 80 minutes and 12-ish miles, ending in a sub-19:00 5k. Not at all what I expected.
The next day I decided to brave the outdoors (ok fine, I was still a wimp but the gym closes from 8-9AM on weekends. Dammit!) and do the beltline 10 mile loop – it was frigid (TWSS, obvi) but I dressed decently for once so it was bearable. My legs felt a little tired but I wasn’t sore, and I did the loop in a best time of low-74mins, which I found hard to believe considering I was consciously trying not to go too fast. I am beginning to be convinced that time off is a good thing...yes, I am saying it out loud, even though it will come back to haunt me when coach forces further marathon tapers on me and sends me these very words to remind me. Oh, the love-hate! I retreated to the treadmill again on Monday, where my planned easy run turned into another ‘tempo’ of two 12 minute sections at 9 and 9.8mph, followed by 4min sections at 10-10.2mph. Yes, I definitely know how to phase my way into training. That being said, it didn’t feel too strenuous, so perhaps I can pass it off as some light tempo work before doing real intervals outside? Yes?

The rest of the week I stayed outdoors, in true G.I. Jane form. I even did a circuit workout on Tuesday night with Jay and Jacquie (Ja triple threat), though we have finally come to our senses and have stopped doing them outside on the wet and/or frosty grass of Churchill park. There is something completely pointless about doing static strength exercises in the cold and getting soaking wet when you could really be doing the exact same thing inside. Jay kindly invited us to his condo gym, where we went through Kap ‘N K’s torture plan in its entirety (almost), even doing jumps down the carpet of what seemed to be an elegant ballroom. I'm sure that was appreciated.

I can tell my week as a 'normal person' has ended because upon entering Starbucks after a -18 degree run this morning, the employees changed their comments from ‘beautiful’ to ‘OH MY GOD YOU LOOK LIKE A RACCOON!’ That’s a new one. We went from ‘hot and sweaty’, to ‘raccoon-like’. Seriously? I strained to remember if I had accidentally put makeup on at 5:30 in the morning before going out for my run, or perhaps had slept-walked and put mascara all over my face. I was pretty certain that my face was untouched, so I asked them what made me reminiscent of such an animal. ‘Your face is bright red except for around your eyes! It looks so funny!’ Well, they sure aren’t discrete, but at least they’re honest? I am convinced that they think I am some kind of scientific specimen whose phenotype they must observe and record on a daily basis: ‘The evolution of raccoon runner: 2010’. At least I seem to be providing them with a dynamic range of data and what seems to be a constant source of entertainment!

Back to the run - Thursday’s run was perhaps the most rude awakening to winter. Now Wednesday was cold – I met Nic in Forest Hill and prided myself in being able to withstand -8 degree temperatures for 80 minutes and actually getting hot at the end. Of course, Thursday we ran longer and it was a frigid -18 with wind chill. Seriously, what month is it? Isn’t this supposed to come in late January? My hands got frostbite for probably the tenth time now, and upon my return home I spent five minutes in the gym washroom shrieking while they oh-so-slowly and painfully thawed to room temperature (I wonder what the people in the next room were thinking?).
Perhaps I should just move to Russia, as it would be just as cold and I would have access to superfluous amounts of cheap vodka. And of course as the saying goes:

“In America, you can always find a party.
In Soviet Russia, the party always finds you.”

I like it. (Subject to your own interpretation, of course!)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I’m bored, so I will blog

It’s been four days since Nationals and I would say I’m pretty much recovered from the after-party. It was a rough couple of days there though. My legs were seizing, I was nauseous and I was massively dehydrated – worse than any other night out in recent years! Thankfully, I am on break now, which means no running for me for a week followed by a week of easy running. It also means I have a lot of extra time on my hands, but since my blog is (primarily, though I will admit not totally) about running, I can’t blog either! As a compromise, I will blog about not running and try to make it pertinent to running. Sound contradictory? Just wait and see!

Not running has its perks. First of all, it opens up a whole other world of time in my day – time to enjoy my coffee for an extra two hours, or sleep in a little, or go to work early (oh the joys!). I especially love it when I walk down to Starbucks – having spent an extra 5 minutes on my face in the morning – and having them exclaim: “Oh my! You look beautiful! You are normally so hot and sweaty!” Gee, that’s one way to flatter your loyal customers. At least I know what they think of me on a day-to-day basis (actually I already knew what they thought of me – the crazy runner who runs in any and every kind of weather, every day, in the wee hours of the morning. I by no means deny this. But at least now they now that I can blend in with the majority of the population if I try!).

The funny part is when I go to work before 8AM and the one person who is there exclaims ‘Oh, you must be sooooo tired! You got up so early today!’ and I have to explain to them that I actually slept in. Go figure. Another thing that I enjoy is the feeling of not having to eat healthfully. I get a strange neurosis when I am running a lot of mileage that I need all kinds of key nutrients in order to stay healthy on a daily basis. I sometimes convince myself that if I don’t eat veggies and a whackload of protein after a workout, that I will wake up injured. It’s completely illogical, but when running a lot of mileage and doing tough workouts day in and day out, it does have a cumulative effect. To this end, when I am not running I somehow think it’s fair game to eat absolutely nothing of nutritional value and as much junk food as I would like. Martinis become a daily staple. I’d have mimosas in the morning if I didn’t have to work (or more specifically, if I wasn’t responsible for the lives of small animals at work). Take last night, for example, when I polished off 2/3 of a container of Cool Whip, drowned in chocolate sauce, and two glasses of errr...something. It was a marvellous feeling. I also enjoy eating chocolate for breakfast. Anyway, all in all, I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended this week with several nutritional deficiencies and permanent liver damage.

Martini madness

I also become an insomniac, though heavy alcohol consumption can sometimes negate this effect. Even if I cross-train, though, I still get hyperactive and I am usually restless all night. Last night Jeff started snoring at 2AM and I burst out into hysterical laughter, which scared the crap out of him and made him jump off the bed. I also felt like jumping, though it was more like jumping up and dancing to ‘Like a G6’ around our apartment. Unfortunately, I eventually dozed off instead...

Thus far, I have absolutely no desire to run, though I will likely start again by the weekend. There always comes a point for me in the season where I want some downtime and I don’t want to worry about workouts: in the fall, December is a great month to do this. It’s a jolly month full of parties, gifts and time off from work, where you may not need the extra endorphins from running (...though, your body might need the workout!). I think I was also mentally spent after AOs, as I had a difficult work month in November and I was getting tired trying to work long days and train hard. Furthermore, with another marathon build-up beginning in the New Year, now is the perfect time to rest and re-boot. I am really looking forward to begin my second build-up with all the fitness I’ve gained over the past year. There is no better way to start marathon training than with a fresh mind and fresher legs.

Wintertime must: SKISHOTS!