Monday, May 30, 2011

'GI' Jane hits Ottawa

And for the first time I’m not referring to the military sense of the word.

First off, I have to say that I have a newfound respect for Paula Radcliffe. She was already my idol, but yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to truly appreciate her prowress. She gives absolutely everything she has in order to reach her goals, whether that means running through injury, sickness - or stopping in the middle of the London marathon, in front of 500 000 spectators, to take a crap in the middle of the road. On national television.

London 2005 - Paula shows no shame

Not that that happened to me - exactly. I may have not experienced her degree of 'exposure' or embarassment, but it was enough to initiate some pretty strong feelings of the sort. And unlike her, I did not get back up and hammer my way home for the win. So she's got a few degrees of toughness on me (if that wasn't obvious already!). Furthermore, I didn’t stop in the middle of the road: I was diligent enough to retreat to someone's lawn (though still in front of the race course...and spectators) and help fertilize the soil of the supportive Ottawanarians (did I just invent another word?). Thoughtful, right?

Perhaps I should go back to the beginning, though I can imagine everyone can guess what hit the fan. Everything leading up to Ottawa seemed to go smoothly. I tapered well, I was in a good mindset and I felt ready to conquer the distance. On race morning, however, I was not feeling very well and this made me extremely anxious. Of course I was up at 3AM unable to sleep so this means I was pacing around the hotel, then the downtown streets of Ottawa, for a good three hours before the race, trying to clear my system and get things in order. Unfortunately I wasn't too successful. So, I went into the race not knowing how my stomach would hold up but hoping for the best.

The conditions were not too bad - no wind, rain was holding off - but it was muggy and hot. Within the first couple km I knew I wouldn't have a breakthrough day. I went out in 4:12 or so and for the next 15k worked harder than I should have been to maintain 4:00/km. My legs felt flat, but I got into a groove and figured I could still run a PB. As per my race plan, I took swigs of gatorade at every station. I also miraculously managed to find AND snag my bottles at the elite water tables, something that I had failed at miserably last year, managing to get my hands on one of seven of them. However, the race quickly became a battle between staying hydrated versus my mounting gastrointestinal distress with each swig from a bottle (and NO, it's not because I filled them with vodka! Those were only my after-party bottles! On second thought...they could have very well been misplaced...). Anyway, at about 22k, I realized I would have to stop. I was extremely uncomfortable and searched madly for a port-o-potty. I saw nothing. I tried to push onwards, but it only got worse, and by about 25km I had to stop - ANYWHERE.I was ready to pull a Paula Radcliffe and go in the middle of the road. All my dignity flew out the window and (I'll spare you the details here) suffice to say that some spectators along the course may have some entertaining stories to tell their friends that night.

I thought things might get better after this, and they did for about a minute, before I had to make a second stop in a more secluded area (I basically just ran into the woods this time, nice). And when I was back in the mix at 29k, I began to get stabbing stomach pains that made me run hunched over like an old woman. And thus, a new G.I. Jane was born, this one much slower. I had lost enough time at this point to make me cringe and I realized that if this continued, I wouldn't be able to continue to run let alone set a PB. So I stumbled to the side of the road and had a good cry before Nic AZ and Jeff found me, slapped me across the face and told me to stop being such a baby.

Ok, perhaps they weren't THAT brutal (but really, how do you think Nic has made me run fast? Bedtime stories and cups of hot cocoa?!) but they did smack some sense into me and wrote it off as a bad day.'This is the world of marathoning sista, next one's yours!' Nic would later say. Now that I'm a little less upset I am grateful that I'm healthy and still fit and I realize that there will be other races. And since it wasn't a fast day anyway, I can't be too distraught over what could have been.

So that was that. Crappy day all around! Unfortunately my parents had flown in from Vancouver who never see me run so that was a pretty sad way of premiering my 'marathoning talents' to them, whatever those are. At this point I'm not sure that they exist! Two things are for sure - I am not deviating from my normal eating (as herbivorous as it may be!) pre-race, and Ottawa will not be my third marathon! It is a great event and race weekend, but I think it's time to try my luck somewhere else.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I can be strong, out on this lonely run



Well, the taper has set in. I've run every other day this week: Mon/Weds/Fri, 15k/8k/6k. That's it. My legs are feeling light, the excitement is escalating and my life has become an extended pre-race dance party (what else would you do with all this pent up energy?!). I'm ready to RUN! Lady Gaga is playing host to most of my moves, so I thought it appropriate to share her most relevant pre-race pump up jam to get ya'll psyched for the big race. Works for me!



The marathon can be a lonely run. But I WILL be strong!

We can be strong
We can be strong
Out on this lonely run
On the road to love

We can be strong
We can be strong
Follow that unicorn
On the road to love

Run, run with her t-
Run, with-
Run, run with her top down
Baby she flies
Run, run with the fury of a
Saint in her eyes

Run, run, ha cha cha cha
Baby she goes
With blonde hair and a gun
Smokin' under her toes


Whoa ooh oh oh oh
Whoa ooh oh oh oh
Ride, ride, pony, ride, ride
Whoa ooh oh oh oh
Whoa ooh oh oh oh
Ride, ride, pony, tonight

We can be strong
We can be strong
Out on this lonely run
On the road to love

We can be strong
We can be strong
Follow that unicorn
On the road to love

I'm on the roa-oa-oa-oad
I'm on the road to love
I'm on the roa-oa-oa-oad
I'm on the road to love

She's just a CANADIAN
Ridin' a dream
And she's got rainbow syrup
In her heart that she bleeds
She don't care if your papers
Or your love is the law
She's a free soul burning roads
With a flag in her bra


Whoa ooh oh oh oh
Whoa ooh oh oh oh
Ride, ride, pony, ride, ride
Whoa ooh oh oh oh
Whoa ooh oh oh oh
Ride, ride, pony, tonight

We can be strong
We can be strong
Out on this lonely run
On the road to love
We can be strong
Follow that unicorn
On the road to love

I'm on the roa-oa-oa-oad
I'm on the road to love
I'm on the roa-oa-oa-oad
I'm on the road to love

Get your hot rods ready to rumble
'Cause were gonna fall in love tonight
Get your hot rods ready to rumble
'Cause we're gonna drink until we die


Get your hot rods ready to rumble
'Cause were gonna fall in love tonight
Get your hot rods ready to rumble
'Cause we're gonna drink until we die

Below is a video of my finish at Ottawa last year. I vow to finish strong enough such that I can outkick someone running DIRECTLY BESIDE ME. Oh wowie.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Running stupid



First off, I will start with the stats: I ran the Goodlife half marathon last weekend and won in 1:16:43. My previous personal best was set on the same course, 6 months ago, off a great taper, in 1:19:00. Before that, my PB was 1:21:45. 5 minutes in just over 6 months? On tired legs? Let the questioning begin! It's been six days and I'm still not sure I have an answer.

On Saturday night I tossed and turned and hardly slept a wink (rule #1 to a great race?!). It was pretty frustrating and I ended up getting out of bed for good at 3:45AM. After a heavy dose of Usher and Lady Gaga and some Zoolander dance moves (yep - this is now rule #2 - pre-race dance party: essential), I headed over to the Marriott to catch the shuttle bus. I did a light warm-up, strides, and met Nic at the start line for a few words of advice.
"All I have to say, is every second counts!" Nic said. [Translation: you had BETTER break 1:19:00!]
"This is very true!" I agreed. And that was that. I did one more stride and lined up on the start line. I had seen Lucy Smith just as the race was about to start and wondered if she would take the lead or was in shape to run a fast race. I settled in behind her for the first km, which we went through in 3:47. I had planned to go out in 3:40-45 but I didn't want to get too excited too soon, so I tried to pick it up on slightly. Unfortunately, the next km was 3:50 or so, so I passed Lucy at this point and tried to pick things up a little more. I felt strong but by no means fresh, so I just decided to stop looking at my watch and focus on running a hard, steady effort.

Early on: gloved and capped (let the striptease begin)


The first 10km included several good downhills, which I tried to take advantage of, as well as some uphills, where I put in as little effort as I could. I approached the 10km mark near St. Clair and looked at my watch: 36:20. WTF? I had scribbled some splits on my hand in my usual thrifty way and my 10k goal was 37:10. Ya. At this point I realized that I would either blow up and die or perhaps run a big PB. I was working, so I really didn't know what would happen. Once again, I resolved to not look at my watch anymore regardless of how fast or slow I was running, since it was only making me anxious. My new mantra? Run blind - or more blunty - run stupid. I didn't want to be a slave to the watch, and slow down because the time seemed too fast. I was feeling strong.

It was very motivating to have such a big support crew down Yonge street that included friends on their bikes, some of the angels, and even people from my work. I loved hearing Dedi yell "JANE! YOU ARE NUMBER ONE! YOU ARE THE WINNER!' at about 5k. I knew I didn't have the win in the bag yet but it definitely made me push a little harder to gain more ground on Lucy since I had no idea how far back she was.

Striptease #1: Gloves. OFF.


Heading down Rosedale Valley Road


Once we got to the base of Rosedale Valley Road I was approaching 16k and starting to work pretty hard. The course flattens out at this point and to make matters worse, there was a strong headwind from here all the way to the finish. Luckily, I was about 50m behind Hugo Reyes, who was running the race as a training run and who signaled for me to tuck in behind him. I kept alternating between running behind him and veering out to the side in order to push the pace even harder. I felt strong and wanted to run as hard as I could, but every time I did this I immediately regretted it. The wind was much too powerful for me to fight on my own. I hadn't looked at my watch at all and I thought I was probably going to run somewhere in the low 1:18s or possibly sub-1:18. I heard Nic's voice in my head yelling 'Every second counts!' and hoped that if I was close to 1:18, I'd be able to dip under this time. Then Hugo interrupted my thoughts: 'Stay behind me for 3k, then go - you can go 1:16.' 'Huh?' I exclaimed in bewilderment. He had to be wrong. There was no way I was going to run 1:16! Was he crazy? Or just really bad at math?! I pretty much just ignored his comment (I literally just didn't believe him) and kept running.

Thanks Hugo!


Once we turned up University, the wind got even worse. I fought for every second in those last 2 kilometers. Hugo was beginning to gap me as I was beginning to tire, and the wind was sneaking in. I saw AZ on the sidelines screaming her butt off: "GO G.I. JANE!!! You look awesome!' Then I saw Mauricio from my lab, who did a double take when he saw me then yelled 'You are f*&^#ing KILLING this! Holy &%$&!' I had to laugh at that one. That's when I really got it together and realized I had 1500m to make this race the best it could be. I buckled down and went for it. I glanced at my watch at 20k and all I saw was 1:12:xx, and for the first time realized Hugo was right: I could run 1:16. I couldn't believe it. In a dramatic wave of emotion, I threw off my hat (the practicality of this move in the last 800m in lost on me, especially since I really liked that hat and didn't want to lose it) and made my way around Queen's Park circle. When I saw the clock I was overcome with joy, and I crossed the line well under the mark this time, in 1:16:43.

Striptease #2 - sans cap


Finish. Unfortunately striptease stops here.


The first person I saw was Jebs, who seemed even more shocked than I was. 'What the?' is all she could say. 'I know! What just happened?' was all I could respond. Before I knew it, an awesome dude came bursting to the sideline, waving my hat frantically in his hands. 'I've got your hat! I've got your hat!' I thanked him for running my hat all the way to the finish and then continued down the finishing chute. One of the volunteers - a kind older woman - seemed unusually overjoyed to see me and asked for a photo. I obliged, then invited her to be in a photo with me. When she passed her camera to someone to take the photo of us, she began to tell everyone around her that she was my grandmother. It was the cutest thing ever!

I went home for some food and a shower before returning to watch the marathoners come in. I stayed in a delirium pretty much the whole day. It was really exciting to see Mama K come through in a 2min30s PB in 3:00:32, good for 3rd place. She looked so fresh! Val also ran a HUGE PB (20min!), running a solid 3:15. Jebs won the 5k and Anne ran a solid race for her first ever half-marathon. Overall, it was an exceptional day for the angels, and I think we made coach pretty proud.

Mama K at the finish

Vodka, candy, large-ass medal: what more could you ask for?!

Post-race brunch

A proud coach and a grateful athlete.

Despite the big run I had, I know that I have more in me. My legs are looking forward to a real taper, and I am jonesin' to race over the big 42.2. This is what I've trained for, this is what I'm peaking for, and this is where I will have my best performance. I am confident in that. I cannot WAIT to step on the line in Ottawa with the support of Nic, the angels, and my parents, who are flying in from Vancouver! Let the goodtimes begin!

Angels brunch

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Downhill from here



I am sitting at home, staring out into the grey, misty, wet streets on this lovely Saturday evening. *Sigh* the beauty that is Toronto! Tomorrow morning I'll be running the Goodlife Toronto half-marathon - the same race I ran in the fall and clocked a painstaking 1:19:00.00. Ideally I'd like to go under 1:19:00, so I'm hoping the weather gods cooperate with me and hold off on torrential rain - ESPECIALLY winds. I am so scarred from the winds in Montreal I'm not sure I'll be able to cope with a headwind anymore - should I be blown to the side of Yonge street, I fear I would subsequently crawl under a bench and cry pitifully until I was saved. Oh how soft I am becoming!

The past few weeks have been quite heavy but have left me feeling strong and prepared for Ottawa. The week of Sporting Life was 88 miles; any other week I am sure I would have tacked on another 2 miles to appease the OCD in me, but I felt absolutely dreadful in the days leading up to the race and was thankful just to get through that morning and end the week. The Saturday previous I did my longest run so far (40km), in which I ran SO fast that I was stopped by the cops. Uh-huh. I followed that with an up-tempo 30k run on Tuesday in a torrential downpour of a morning. I wasn't intending on making it a tempo run, until I was partway through and couldn't stand being out in the cold and wet for so long, so did two loops of the cemetery (13k) starting at 4:20/km and bringing it down to 4:02/km. I felt great the rest of the day, so being the smart little starlet that I am, I decided to go for another run of about 9km and follow that up with 30min of strength work. Beautiful. On Wednesday I went to supervise the Ninja group and my legs felt so tired I didn't think I'd make the jog up the hill to the cemetery. I contemplated stopping for walk breaks and tried to justify the legitimacy of 10-and-1s...on a warm-up. The stop-and-go-running that night did nothing to help my aching quads and on Thursday I felt just as bad. I cut the workout short, hoping and praying that I'd feel about a thousand times better for the race on Sunday. Yep, as you all know, this did not happen, and I woke up on Sunday with tired and heavy legs and a sore IT band.

Executing a perfect push-up during circuits. Kap 'N K would be proud!

Who knew Brecher was a high jumper?


I knew SL would be a tough race from the start but I still wanted to dip under 36:00 if I could. The gun went off, and as usual everyone was off like bullets, running their first kilometer about 30s faster than they would the entire rest of the race. So although I thought I was going out relatively hard, I wasn't surprised to see about a hundred people fly by me, including several small children and some hefty teenagers. When we got to the 1k marker, however, I was shocked to see a 3:35 on my watch - 2s SLOWER than my goal race pace! At that moment I really began to worry. Perhaps these people around me really were going out at the appropriate pace, and I was just running horribly slowly. What worried me more is that my legs didn't feel fresh at all, so I knew my pace was more likely to get slower than faster. Images of myself returning to my 40:00 10k days began to flash through my head; I convinced myself that I was suddenly anemic and overtrained, and I contemplated dropping out. However, I got to 2km in just over 7 minutes, which appeased my sense of anxiety and despair somewhat, but I knew I was going to have to push pretty hard in order to come close to 36:00.

Looking much more calm than I felt!


I kept trucking along, gradually reeling the start-gun-sprinters in and gaining more strength and confidence as I went. At around 10:30 on my watch, I looked for a 3km mark but there was nothing in sight. I feared that I was slowing down so I kept pushing harder - again looking around at 14:00-14:30 and seeing no indication of how far I had run. I told myself to relax and forget about the km markers, just run as hard as I could. Turns out most of the km markers were either hidden or not put up, so I had no idea of my pace the entire run. I just kept convincing myself that I was running 36:30 pace and that I had to go harder. At about 7km (I remember the turn from last year) I started to hurt pretty badly but saw a few women in front of me. I made it my mission to hunt them down and maintain what speed I had going. Luckily, they were slowing down so I was able to pass them within the next few minutes, which was encouraging. I tried to maintain an effortless appearance as I 'sailed by' them but this was severely compromised by my wobbling legs that kept buckling underneath me. Images of myself collapsing to the ground before the finish line was even in sight began to haunt my thoughts - how embarassing that would be! Could I pretend I misjudged the distance and thought we were almost done? Would I make pitiful excuses to the concerned medics that would flock around me?...like that I did a long run on TUESDAY? Tuesday, for heaven's sake! Who can't recover in five days? What kind of runner was I? That was no G.I. Jane way to act! Suddenly, in the midst of my self-depricating rant of a monologue, I saw an unfamiliar object in the distance - could it be? No! Impossible! Was it really a kilometer marker? My heart went from racing to thumping and jumping. I looked at my watch: 32:25. 9km. Crap. My heart thumped into a pit. This was not good. I had to run a 3:34 in order to break 36:00. The way my legs were burning, I couldn't fathom doing this. Still, I didn't let up. If I ran a 3:40 I could still tie my PB. I pushed with everything I had and let all proper running etiquette fly out the window; I let the snot run from my nose, the wheezing be heard from my burning lungs, and I allowed my legs to overstride like there was no tomorrow. I imagined Nic behind me, cursing at me to increase my turnover and stop overstriding so terribly: 'That's NOT how you run fast!' I cursed her back: 'It's the only way it's going to happen today dammit!' Once again, my crackbrained thoughts were interrupted by the sudden appearance of the finishing straightaway. Tears of joy came to my eyes, which soon turned into bubbly sobs as I saw the clock read 35:10. I was less than 200m away, and finally knew that a sub-36:00 would be mine. The only kilometer marker I saw must have been off! I crossed the line 17s under and wobbled over to the sidelines, rudely dismissing the girl offering me a bottle of water so that I could lean on the fence and gasp for my life. Oh wow.

Perhaps a better reflection of how I felt


Luckily, after this experience, I had it easy until Thursday. Still, I really didn't start to feel better until...Thursday. I had a decent workout (2k/4x1k) and almost managed to break my 1k PB (a sad 3:18 on our loop), but almost puked up curried tofu along the way. NEVER, and I mean NEVER, eat spicy tofu the night before an important workout. My stomach was in turmoil the entire day. On Saturday, Katie (a.k.a. Stewie...don't ask), Nic and I ran a 3:20 marathon. Yep, wasn't quite the plan, but of course when we plan a 40k easy run, we can't just meet our goals, we MUST surpass them! I was intending on running about 3:20 to hit 40k, but we were running quite a bit faster than the prescribed 5:00/km and covered at least 42k if not 43k in the process. I think Nic is permanently hurt from this ridiculous run, but I actually felt ok the next few days and so did the full workout on Monday, which consisted of 2 sets of (2x800m w/90s rest, 4x400m w/60s rest), then 2x800m. I wasn't expecting a lot going into the workout but it turned out to be a solid effort, with all but one 800 in 2:40 or under and 400s in 78-79. It actually felt good to do some quicker stuff for once! Of course, now going into the Goodlife half, my insanity has once again caught up with me and my legs have been suffering since Wednesday. That being said, I do feel better than I did before SL, so I am hoping for a solid run - and hopefully a PB - in the morning! After all, it's all downhill from here - tomorrow - and until Ottawa!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Celebrating a life




"My legs are super tired, it's been a big week."

"You are in shape, and if you want to run fast, you will."

Those were my last words from Danny Kassap, expressed just minutes before the gun went off at the Sporting Life 10k on Sunday. They perfectly encapsulated the kind of positive and encouraging person he was. I learned from him that if you want to run fast, you - above all else - must believe that you can; work and train like you are the slowest, but believe that you are the best. He emulated this in his grueling and unforgiving training regime and ambitious goals, such as making the Olympic team for the marathon. If it were not for his tragic heart attack at the Berlin Marathon in 2008, I have no doubt he would have been able to achieve this goal and gone on to make Canada extremely proud.

Not that he hasn't already. In his relatively short time in Canada, Danny has affected and inspired the lives of countless runners. Before even being close to attaining his ultimate goal, he was already a hero to many after coming out of nowhere to win the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 2004. This, three years after being separated from his family in the Congo, fleeing to Canada and working at a fish and chip shop to make ends meet. But this isn't why Danny's spirit is so engrained within our hearts - it was his sunny, energetic disposition, his benevolent heart, his youthful optimism and his passion for life - and above all running - that made him so memorable. His pure love of running meant he could identify with any level of athlete, whether you were an elite competitor or a recreational jogger. He was just as enthused about advising someone doing their first 5k as he was about learning to race the best in the world in the marathon. This is what made Danny such a special human being, and such a vibrant part of the running community.

Danny winning the Waterfront Marathon in 2004


If I know anyone with a truly genuine joie-de-vivre and generous heart, it would without a doubt be Danny. He had so little, but was willing to share everything. Whether it was personally delivering a pair of Nike Zoom milers to my husband - free of charge - so that he could race on fresh spikes, or making sure the Commerce Court Running Room always had a pair of size 10 Gel Cumulus' for 'Big Foot Coolis' over here, he continually went out of his way for the betterment of others. Not only that, but he did it in the most joyous way, as if he were doing himself a favour in the process. Given what he has had to endure in his life, I have always been incredulous of - and admired - his imperviously happy disposition. And it was infectious; when you were around Danny, it was impossible not to be in good spirits. I can't remember a single conversation with Danny where I wasn't smiling and laughing.

After Danny suffered a heart attack in 2008, his running would change forever. He was advised by doctors that he shouldn't train too hard and would not be able to attain the same level of running as he had in the past. This didn't stop Danny. Danny continued to do what he loved, and in many ways lived for; he continued to prance along the beltline in what seemed like effortless 5-minute miles, to come to road races and share in the fun and competition, and above all smile to every runner he came across. It didn't matter if he was unable to finish a race, if he ran slower than he had in the past, or was merely jogging by - he looked just as happy as he ever had. And he never once complained. It was obvious: he loved to run, and was grateful for every minute he could, no matter what the pace or outcome. Danny exemplified some of the most reverent of human attributes; kindness, determination, compassion, selflessness, modesty and unwaivering enthusiasm. Every time I run down the beltline trail in Toronto, I will remember his long stride and even wider smile and be reminded never to take the simple joy of running for granted.

With tired legs and an aching body on Sunday, I took Danny's advice, and believed I could run a personal best. I pushed all the excuses out of my head, and simply focused on running hard. I knew I would have to dig deep to make the legs go that day, and I did. The last 3k was a struggle but I kept telling myself to push harder and to catch the two women in front of me. When my pace began to slow, I surged, until I had passed them both and my legs were wobbling. I crossed the line in 35:43, 22s faster than last year and 4th overall. I was very happy with my time and placing given how I had been feeling that day and the days leading up to Sporting Life. As usual, the course was a treat, and I look forward to running it again next year on fresher legs - and now, with Danny's spirit in my heart.