Monday, June 8, 2015

Back TO the S(u)P(e)R Angels

The amazing SPR Angels post tempo run.
Last week I made a trip back to TO to visit friends and enjoy some downtime in one of my favourite cities. I had a wonderful time filled with food, drinks, friends and – of course – running. The highlight was definitely working out with my old training group, the SPR Angels, for the first time in years.

Now if this visit was 6 weeks earlier I am fairly certain that the highlight would have nothing to do with running. It probably would have centered around eating and drinking and then drinking some more. And if I had attempted to do a workout with these fast ladies I would have been left in the dust gasping for air. But with a month of iron in me and renewed energy, I was motivated to give it a shot.
Excellent martini consumption came a close second to great running.

Brunching at French restaurants is my third favourite passtime.
I met them for a workout at 7am Thursday morning, just as I used to every week 4 years earlier. It was one of Nicole’s ‘surprise’ workouts that she likes to throw in now and again to keep things sexy and unpredictable. The night before she promised me it was going to be easy, which I knew was a complete lie, but I decided to show up regardless. After fumbling my way through drills (if I have learnt one thing about anemia, is that it is not the cause of general clumsiness and lack of coordination. Dammit!), Nicole scanned our faces with contemplative, beatty eyes. I am sure she still didn’t know what workout she was going to give us. After a minute, she exclaimed: 1k slingshot, 1k smooth, 2x500m, 2k! Let’s go!

The 1k ‘slingshot’ consists of everyone running single file and whoever is at the back sprinting up to the front, followed by the next person at the back, and so on, such that you are only running fast for a few hundred meters of the entire repeat. I was happy I found it fairly easy to get to the front of the pack, until everyone pointed out that for every 3 steps they had to take I took one. Point taken! Next came the 1k ‘smooth’. Nicole told me to stick with Clair because she was a good pacer who was planning to run 3:45. I don’t remember the last time I ran 3:45. We set out and I just followed Clair’s lead. It didn’t feel too bad, but I can’t say it felt easy. We crossed the line and I was surprised to see a 3:36 on my watch. Actually decently close to times I would run on that loop in workouts many years earlier! I went on to complete the workout at 3:25-30 pace for the 500s and the 2k in 7:32. Nothing for the record books, but by far the best workout I’ve had in years.

I recovered surprisingly well after Thursday’s workout so decided to join them on their tempo run on Saturday morning. Nicole was adamant that we not go faster than 4:00/km and for no longer than 5k. So of course we did 6.5k in 25:48 (3:58/km average). Ooops! Once again I was surprised by the pace given that we were chatting away most of the time. Could this be iron-clad evidence that my health is ironing itself out?!

This workout rounded out a solid week of training: 75 miles, two workouts, and 3 strength training sessions. Not only was the mileage solid but it felt fantastic to run on Canadian soil, where trails are actually made of soil and people say 'Hello!' and 'Good morning!' instead of yelling at you for what seems like the simple act of running down a street. In Ottawa they even go a step further, WAVING at you (with their whole hand and not just their middle fingers!). Oh Canada how I miss thee! Despite this, I am looking forward to joining a group in NYC, though nothing will replace the SuPeR ladies, who are nothing but what their name suggests.

Beautiful TO.

Sunday, May 24, 2015


Now that I’ve got your attention, no, I did not just complete an ironman. I have, however, become an ironwoman of sorts.

Let’s rewind to 2011 when I was living in Toronto, training with the SPR Angels team, and running PBs. I was running between 100-130 miles per week and I felt invincible. Unfortunately I got injured in late 2011 and between that, finishing school and moving to New York, running took the backseat for a few years. When I got settled in NYC, however, I felt ready to get back into the running scene. I started running consistently but even after months of training, couldn’t hit paces in intervals that I used to run in tempo runs. My first 10-miler I ran in 1:09, 9 minutes off my PB and a time I would have run in a long run a few years ago. I remember wondering if there was something wrong with me, but as someone who hates making excuses, I took ownership of my lackluster performances. I attributed them to a lack of training and discipline as well as taking two years off racing. Realistically, these factors probably did play into my performance, but looking back there was definitely something else that wasn’t right. It wasn’t just the times I ran, it was how I felt running them – flat, fatigued and like I was sprinting all out trying to hit a 7-minute mile.

That was 2013. Fast forward one year when I decide to run the Chicago marathon.  After making the commitment I figured I needed to start doing something other than easy runs, so I decided to hit the track once a week. I will never forget my first track workout. It felt like death. I couldn’t even hit 4:10 for a 1k repeat. To give you some perspective, 4:00/km used to be my marathon pace. My legs burned through the entire session. I felt demoralized, but again, figured it must be due to my lack of speed work over the last few years. Despite my disappointment, I was happy to be running consistently again and enjoyed the challenge of workouts, so onward I went.

My first track workout in 3 years. Happy to be back at it despite burning legs...and skin.

My training for Chicago did get easier and I did improve, but not by much. On race day I ran 3:23 – I wasn’t happy with the time but I wasn’t upset about it either. I had become used to the new slow Jane and just figured with my focus shifted to my career I would never be a fast runner again. And to be honest, I was fine with it. I love running no matter how fast or slow I am and just being able to get out there and train made me happy.

Perhaps not quite as enthusiastic about my finish?

I decided to play around and run some 5ks after the marathon to see if I could work on my speed. I ran 20:40 (3 minutes off my PB) three or four times in a row in late 2014. Again, the burning and fatigue in my legs set in every time I tried to do an interval workout or run a race. ‘I just need to train more,’ I thought to myself.

After a cold and depressing winter in NYC, I began to feel fatigued not just running but in my day-to-day life. Everything felt like a huge effort, including waking up in the morning. I started to complain, but everyone told me that I was just working too hard. They may have been right – a typical day would begin with me slogging through a 10 mile run at 7:30 in the morning, going to work around 10am and never leaving before 10pm. Sometimes I would go to the gym for a weight session at 10pm, and usually would not eat my evening meal until after 11pm. Day in and day out, yes, I got tired. Justifiable, right?
Well, turns out it wasn’t just my lifestyle. Or we could play chicken and the egg and say my lifestyle was affecting my health in more extensive ways. I finally went to the doctor about a month ago and got a full workup. My blood tests showed that I am severely anemic, with an iron level of 5. 5! I was shocked. I have never been iron deficient. Even when running high mileage my iron was always around 50, so I figured I wasn’t prone to anemia. I am not a vegetarian, I love steak, and eat lots of leafy greens. So how did this happen?

Looking back, I assume this was a gradual process. After getting injured and taking a break from running, my diet definitely suffered. My diet is always healthier and more plentiful when I am training hard, which makes sense, but it doesn’t mean you should skimp on nutrients when you aren’t running. In retrospect I appreciate that this was kind of a warped mindset. Nevertheless, I definitely didn’t take care of myself during this period. I am sure my iron levels fell, and when I got back into training while working long days I figure it just got worse and worse until it affected every aspect of my life.

I have been on iron supplements for 3.5 weeks. I can not remember the last time I have ever felt so good. I started to notice the difference about two weeks ago. I remember waking up before my alarm went off one morning, not feeling tired, and heading out for my run. It was the first time I was out the door at 6:30am by my own accord since my days training with the Angels in Toronto. I ran my usual 9 mile loop 2 minutes faster than I ever have before. What is more, every single run since then has been better than the one before. I have a bounce in my step and a smoothness to my stride I haven’t felt in ages. I have started to do tempo runs and fartleks and they feel effortless. What is more, my mood is better and according to my mother (who is always right!), I have more color in my face.

I'm white. But not THAT white!

I can’t express in words how happy I am to be back feeling like my old self. I am lucky that the problem is such a medicinal magic bullet that is easy to correct. That being said, it is a reminder to also make sure I take better care of myself so that I am healthy and productive over the long term. A lesson to be learned for all athletes when their performance is unusually hampered for long periods of time. Once my iron is back up to normal, I have decided to join the Central Park Track Club and see what speed I may have left in me, if for anything else, old times sake J.