Sunday, January 15, 2012

Winter over water

I was so comfortable living in denial of an impending Ontario winter, but alas (perhaps quite appropriately), on Friday the 13th I was smacked in the face with it. I jogged to the gym in shorts at 5am under a light drizzle, hammered 90min on the elliptical, and innocently stepped back outside, only to be flung sideways by a massive gust of wind and blinded by a pelleting snowstorm. Awesome! I somehow made it to my Southern destination of Starbucks despite jogging at a 45 degree angle, where I anticipated being greeted with incredulous stares at my naked, flushed stems. Instead I was for once treated like a normal human being. What the? The Starbucks employee even asked me – quite nonchalantly - if it was slippery out. Seriously?! Did she actually think I went for a legit run in shorts in -20C and snowing?! I suppose I am beginning to comprehend just how crazy they think I am.

The next day, however, I bundled up in some impressive ninja attire and did 90min along the Lakeshore. It was -25C with the wind chill, but it actually didn’t feel so bad. After this run, however, I got a slew of comments from everyone all along the lines of “I can’t believe you are running in this!” A familiar face from Starbucks, Matthew, introduced himself to me and proceeded to ask me if I had a certain inclination to running in extreme conditions: “I saw you run every day in the summer through some pretty bad heat waves. And it’s like -20C today! You must run marathons.” I have to say Matthew is pretty astute – he recognizes all kinds of crazy when he sees it. And after watching the marathons in Houston this weekend, I agree you have to be a little whacko to keep at this marathon game. As someone very intelligent once said, “running is a very hard thing.”

All weather aside, it feels great to be back running and doing workouts that do not involve the pool. I think I’m actually scarred from all the swimming and pool running I did. I am terrified at the thought of ever entering a pool again! It did nothing to help my injury and is now only associated with feelings of hoplessness, sadness and despair. Perhaps you may think that I am overreacting but I beg to differ! However, I should probably make up a more hardcore story to defend my pool phobia, like almost freezing to death in the ocean or something. Actually, now that I think of it I did have a near-death experience in water before. It was in the South of France when I was about nine years old. I was playing in the water pretty close to shore when a GIGANTIC wave tore through the water and sent me crashing face-first into the rocky ocean floor. It was terrifying. I didn’t know which way was up or down and spent a good minute just getting grinded into the ground (twss). I thought I was going to die. Suddenly I felt a pair of hands grab me and lift me up. It was a French lady who began to scream things at me that I couldn’t understand, so naturally I ran away from her and found my parents, who were up on the beach...probably sipping on Champagne or something (they never were the overprotective type). My terror quickly turned into pride as I began to tell them in grandiose fashion about my battle with the giant wave and struggles to escape the swallowing seas. I showed them my scrapes from rocky encounters and bruising from my initial impact. I described how my life flashed before my eyes and I contemplated giving into the water’s strong arms, but then valiantly fought back and conquered Mother Nature’s force. My parents ooohed and aaaahed as if I were reading from a Jules Verne story, not really believing a word I said. This made me pretty frustrated, so I stomped into the streets of Nice and bought a huge pack of postcards and decided to write my story to absolutely everyone I knew in Canada, including my entire fourth grade class. They would believe me! When I got back to my parents’ blanket they actually showed genuine concern, since the frazzled French lady had come and yelled at them for neglecting me. Ha! Still, I wrote my story on every postcard and sent them out. It got pretty tiring writing the same story thirty times over, so the story got progressively shorter. My old babysitter still laughs recalling the postcard she received reading ‘Hi Paula! I am in Nice, I got hit by a wave and almost drowned. Bye!’ However, I did return to fourth grade a hero and a veteran of the dangerous Mediterranean. That was pretty cool.

So there, now I have a legitimate reason to be afraid of the pool, right? I suppose a pool story would have been better, but this will have to do. After all, I would never just make up a story...

So running-wise I’m putting in about 70k a week with one day off and supplementing with a ton of cross-training. I am actually enjoying my elliptical workouts since it’s the only time I can really push the intensity and get in a tough workout: my jogs are still executed in grandma-like style. I am happy to report, though, that I have graduated from extended laps around my block to legit out-and-back routes! The shin soreness comes and goes so I know I still have to be careful and continue to strengthen it. I’m rocking the 30lb weight dorsi-flexion routine so if that doesn’t eventually get it strong enough, I don’t know what will! Well, I guess I do, but it involves a lot of sharp pins and electricity coarsing through my tendons and muscles, which is much less pleasant than weight-lifting.

Speaking of weight-lifting, I’ve decided to work on my all-over strength, so I am rocking the weights with a bunch of big dudes every other day. I’m getting pretty into it. Need to work on my grunting and dramatic , face-twisting, torturous finishes to the last lifts of each set, but otherwise I think I fit in just perfectly!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Thank God it's over (twss)

2011. What a year.

The Angels sport their new singlets in 2011! Thanks to the Angel crew for helping me through the year! :)

2011 was a very strange year, as I experienced some of the happiest and saddest times of my life. I am not sure whether to write it off as the worst or best year, so I will instead describe it as one of those rare ‘life altering’ years. I learned more about life – and myself – last year than in all my years combined (won’t mention how many those are). In terms of running, my experience was similar – I had one of the best races of my life and ran the most mileage I ever have, but also went through the most difficult injury I’ve faced to date.

In my first blog of 2011 I wrote a list of goals for the upcoming year. One of them included ‘running my first 100-mile week’. As my buildup for a spring marathon began in January, so did my mileage. I ran my first 100-mile week almost exactly a year ago. What I didn’t acknowledge was that I did it completely outdoors, through snow, slush and cold, in pitch black, either waking up at 5-6am or running late at night. I also did it through a time where I lacked a futon (let alone a bed!) so I was sleeping on a hardwood floor...when I was sleeping at all. I eventually got a futon, I think when I started to get hamstring issues and thought that a soft spot to sleep on might help my recovery. Ya think?! In the moment I did not acknowledge any of these peculiarities, but looking back it was all pretty ridiculous. Perhaps I have just gotten soft after so many months off running?

Morning runs

Wintertime racing and my three Angel rocks.

Another one of my goals was to run a sub-1:18:00 half-marathon after my 1:19:00 half in the fall of 2010. I was dubious as to whether I’d be able to take so much time off my PB since I had already bettered it by 2 ½ minutes in that race. In May I ran the same race as I ran in the fall off yet another 100-mile week, hoping to squeak under 1:19:00. I stopped looking at my watch after a slow 2k and 3k split and still, to this day, have no idea how I ran 1:16:43. To be so far under my goal without realizing it was incomprehensible to me. However, it made me realize what consistent hard work can do in a matter of months. Crossing that line in disbelief was a huge turning point for me in running. I really started to believe that anything was possible.

The Goodlife Half-Marathon

Unfortunately, I was sick, stressed and a general mess in Ottawa a few weeks later, and my goal of running sub-2:48 would not be. And even though I got fitter throughout the summer, hitting up to 140 miles a week and running faster than ever, my shin injury forced me to the sidelines for the entire fall racing season. It was extremely disappointing, but I know that I will come back stronger and more motivated in 2012.

What were my other goals? One strange one was to rekindle my love for ballet and take one class per week. I realized that goal...for about 3 months. I actually really enjoyed the classes but they were pretty expensive and most of the time I wanted to sit on my...futon?... after a hard Saturday morning workout instead of go to a 90min ballet class. It probably didn’t help that I went to the National Ballet School in Toronto and jumped into level III, making the classes *slightly* more challenging than anticipated for someone who hadn’t danced in eight years. I think this year I’ll try and do more running-specific yoga instead, just to keep up my flexibility.

I also wanted to run 3k and 5k PBs somewhere in the midst of my marathon training. I’m not sure how realistic that was but perhaps I didn’t yet know I’d be aiming for both a Spring and Fall marathon. I still intend on bringing my 5k time down and think it will happen naturally as I get stronger and faster in the upcoming years. At one point I’d like to take a season off and focus on short distances again as I did in the summer of 2010. As much as I find it extraordinarily painful, the track is a fun, challenging place to be and a good way to shake things up and get stronger.

Unfortunately, my number one goal of staying healthy was an epic fail. Too bad. I thought I was pretty good about listening to my body but after stringing together resilient week after resilient week all year it was easy to get overconfident. I was probably at the brink of something for a while and it only took one bad decision to push me over the edge. Of course, a ‘bad decision’ being running an entire marathon at faster than planned pace on a sore shin. Yep, maybe just *slightly* over the edge!
I am on the comeback now and it’s never felt so good to work out! I feel like a real athlete again. Even just doing legit elliptical workouts feels amazing. I still get frustrated that I can only run 45-50min at a time at a snail’s pace, but when I think back to a few weeks ago when I would get sore after 30min every other day I realize that things are coming along. I have no race plans as of yet I just want to focus on being completely healthy and enjoy running again.

Thank you coach N for everything! You are my mentor and inspiration.

I must also thank countless vodka martinis for getting me through the year! Glad I didn't keep count, it was a big year for the vodka martini.

So my goals for 2012? There may be some race-specific times depending on what I run, but really, I just want to maintain my health and happiness. No matter what, those will be my top priorities. Fitness and good races will follow.

Happy New Year everyone!

And now...for my Top 11 memories of 2011

11. Becoming a CENTURION runner!

10. Edging Nic at the line of the Grimsby Half-marathon (cost me a hamstring, but still a proud moment ;)

9. Breaking 7:00 on the MPC 2k loop, finally!

8. Breaking my shin in the middle of an epic workout at MPC. Not a great memory, but still, pretty engrained in my head!

7. Running crazy (130-140) mileage at a conference in the shanty village of Lewiston, Maine. My blisters were so bad I burst into tears in the middle of a run. Insane or motivated? Not sure.

6. Sporting a wetsuit on the pool deck of the YMCA...and my condo pool. Glad there is no photo evidence, it was slightly embarrassing.

5. Running a ‘Sporting Life PB’ of 35:43 when I thought I had nothing in me.

4. Running a mournful 3km in memory of Danny Kassap, who will never be forgotten. RIP.

3. Running a 2 ½ minute PB in the Toronto Goodlife Half-marathon in May. WTF?

2. My first run back from 2 ½ month layoff on December 1st, 2011. A blissful 20min jog through the dark downtown streets, so reminiscent of morning runs from the winter previous, and so happy they were mine again.

1. Meeting le blog du Rob in person. He made the most depressing layoff of my career somehow one of the most joyous times of my life. He was there not only for one of my physical turning points but also played a huge role in an emotional change that has made me happier than I’ve been in a long time. Rob, you are an awesome dude and we’ll always be friends. Thank you for legitimately helping turn my life around.

Shoeless Coolis and le Blog du Rob