Monday, April 30, 2012

Half Marathon Crasher

I arose bright eyed and bushy tailed on Sunday morning with my running snack pre-packed and my ipod loaded with a new podcast from This American Life. The sun was shining through the windows, Patch and Cooper had waggy tails and I knew that I would be embarking on a 29km journey solo (the boys can't run that far…). How did I know this, you ask? Well, you see, in my 'poor me' state last week, I didn't take the initiative to arrange any running buddies to meet up with. It's a sure fire way to set yourself up for 3 hours of 'in your own head' time. But then again, perhaps there was a part of me that wanted to be by myself so I could reconnect with that bliss I felt a few weeks ago in my previous 29km effort. 

My saboteur was a strong mofo last week. It was pulling me in all kinds of confused and negative directions and it's power was really occupying a lot of the space inside my mind. I tried desperately to access that superhero version of myself, but the Kryptonite inside my body and mind had spread fast and needed to run it's course. I knew that the only way I was going to overcome the negative forces was to buckle down, set my expectations of 'epiphany moments' low and grind through it. I needed to keep my emotions in check and not judge or obsess over the fact that I wasn't feeling like I came from planet Superstar. Good ol' fashioned STFU and get through it was going to have to be good enough. I had to trust that I would eventually see the bright side again.

Kelly, my former gymnastics coach, used to always remind me of my ability to bounce back quickly after a bad day or a bad week. He used to always say, "Slumps happen - it's how you react when you're in them that really defines you and your character". 

Trusting the fact that nothing is permanent is something I've been working really hard on recently in my life…

So, I ate some breakfast, smooched my hunny and the dogs, strapped on my bottle carrier and headed out the door. Time: 7:52am. 

Things started off pretty slow and arduous. My legs were heavy, but I knew that they would wake up after a few minutes of finding my stride. I was debating what route to run and kept asking myself, "should I run a familiar route so I can gage the amount of suffering I have left or should I switch it up and run something completely new to keep it fresh?" Eventually I decided that familiarity would probably be my best bet so that I could just go through the motions and not wind up at home with 7 extremely painful km's left to go (nothing is worse that making it home and realizing you STILL have longer than 30 minutes left to run). 

At 3km's, I got a very special gift from the universe. I'm thinking it knew that I needed some support this week…

I turned the corner to run towards the Glenmore Reservoir and low and behold, there were more than 1000 people clumped together, many of them wearing a similar shirt. This could only mean one thing: A race was happening! And I found myself smack dab in the middle of the pack.

I debated whether or not this was illegal or cheating or disrespectful to be an impostor in a race. I didn't pay the registration fee, I didn't have the shirt, I didn't help find any volunteers. Hell, I didn't even know what race it was until I looked really close at one of the hundreds of blue shirts that read: Police Half Marathon. I was only 3km's into my 29km run and all of these fools were 3km's into their 21.1km's race. After some internal debate about the repercussions of continuing on with the pack, I decided that I had every right to run my planned route (I pay my taxes) and it just so happened that these 1000 people were crashing MY training run :) I also decided that if I stayed out of people's way when they wanted to pass, I didn't take any water or Gatorade at the aid stations and I didn't accept a medal at the end, then it would be A-okay and the Police (of whom, may I add, were the sponsor of the race) wouldn't arrest me.

At certain points during the race, I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear. I felt like a total party crasher and I kept chuckling to myself and asking, "Is this actually happening right now?"

It felt awesome to be in a race mentality. My pace was nearly 30 seconds faster per km than I had been doing in my long runs. I was powering up the hills and getting extra momentum when I zipped past people who, based on their grimaces, I could tell had punked out on a few of their hill training sessions. My mind felt strong and my legs felt swift. I could really feel that my previous training was paying off. I also loved the fact that 21.1km's seemed like a short distance. I knew that I was still going to bust out 8km's once I crossed the finish line and there was something about that that gave me a lot of pride. 

I ran the half in about 1:56 (9 minutes off my personal best of 1:47), but it didn't really account for much because I wasn't aiming for a time. Heck, I didn't even know I would be racing when I left the house in the morning ;) What I was most proud of was the last few km's that I busted out. I felt a renewed sense of energy and strength. Something I was hoping to find when I left the house at 7:52am.

When I walked through the door, I felt satisfied. My knees were pretty achy, but my sense of purpose felt refreshed. I felt reconnected to my goal and it felt awesome to cross off April 29th/29km's on the calendar.

To everyone who raced the Police Half, thanks for letting me join. It's just what I needed.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Am I done yet?!

The past 2 weeks have been a little bit of a roller coaster ride when it comes to my marathon training. To sum it up:

1. I ran 10km in the freezing rain with Cooper and my friend Duff. We had an excellent conversation, but the elements were definitely stacked against us. I didn't have proper rain gear on and I was soaked through to my underwear when I got home. Untying my shoes and taking off Cooper's leash were nearly impossible because I couldn't feel my hands for 2 hours. I felt hardcore while doing it, but I seriously hate being wet and cold. Chalk one up in the character building column, but I will be hitting the treadmill next time the weather gods decide to piss freezing rain down on me when I have a 10km scheduled.

2. I ran the longest distance of my life - 32km's - and felt strong at the end. My knees were a bit achy, but I kept reminding myself that it's the last 10km's that are the hardest both physically and mentally. I was with Martin and our friend Don and they kept telling me the horror stories of what it's like in the medical tent at the end of a marathon. I think I might just crumble to the ground once I cross the finish line and get on the IV bag immediately…

3. I spent the past week in Napa/Sonoma hosting a group of guests with Alex Bilodeau. It was an awesome experience, but my running regime took a back seat to bike rides, wine tasting (guzzling?) and a Colin James concert. I did manage to squeak in a 6K, a 10K and a 23K, but the rest of the time was spent battling my saboteur who was trying to guilt me about not making running my first priority.

I came to a really awesome realization while I was away though. I am not training for the Olympics anymore. I am training for a marathon. I am not trying to win. I am trying to finish. It's OK to be a little flexible in your training program - especially when a once in a lifetime opportunity is staring at you in the face and begging you to live it. 

So I skipped a few runs…life goes on! Just as long as I don't make it a habit ;)

So now here I am; just over a month to go before I take on the marathon. And I'm scared. I don't feel all that excited about it. Instead, I am dreading the next couple of long runs. It took everything in my power to push through 10km's yesterday. My legs were heavy and I kept getting quick flashes of dizziness. When I was a gymnast, things always started to get easier near the end. With this running thing, I am feeling quite the opposite. 

I am starting to loathe the amount of time that this commitment eats up. I am starting to get bored with one single movement over and over and over. I am starting to be annoyed that my hamstrings are getting tighter by the day, even when I spend a significant amount of time stretching.

Is this the way most people feel as they come closer to their marathon? Please tell me I am normal because I am starting to freak myself out a little bit. I am at the point where I just want May 27th to be here so I can get this over with and start taking on a new, less time consuming and more stimulating challenge.

Deep down, I know that I am training for a marathon for a reason. And a few weeks ago I felt really connected to it. Now I'm feeling a bit annoyed and lost... 

Could it be that "staying committed to the goal even though a part of me is totally over it" is the biggest lesson I'm supposed to learn in this process? 

Is this some evil test bestowed on me by the universe to see how much capacity I have for pushing through??

Oh geez. Fine then. I'll keep going. But let the countdown begin!

30 days until 42.2,


Monday, April 09, 2012

30km's - One for good measure :)

This morning I met up with Martin and a couple of his running buddies, Don and Lawrence, for another kick at the 29km can. Coming off last weeks positive experience, I wasn't feeling too much anxiety as I ate my toast and peanut butter for breakfast. I felt like I had things fairly under control (snacks - check, water - check!) and having done the distance once already, I knew that I would definitely be able to conquer it again.

Before we took off on the trails, Martin challenged me to run 30km's today. "Why not make today another personal distance record?", he asked. My initial reaction: Gulp. My secondary reaction: It is ONLY one kilometre beyond what I did last week. And so, without too much hesitation or convincing, I accepted

I learned a very important lesson today about running when the wind is present. Whenever possible, you want to finish with it at your back. It's amazing how much more strenuous it is to run when you have the resistance of a strong wind heaving into your body. Your ears get colder too ;) The wind was blowing (gusting is probably a more appropriate term) east today, so we started out running 7.5km's to the east with the wind at our backs. After that, we switched direction and ran 15 km's west into the head winds. It was tough. Finally, we finished things off with 7.5km's to the east with the tail winds giving us a nice boost on those painful final strides. 

At some point between kilometre 21 and 22.5, I had this surreal moment of clarity. All of the chatter in my mind slowed for a moment and my purpose surrounding this marathon quest became crystal clear. I realized that I am training for this race to increase my capacity to endure. I want to improve my ability to be with discomfort and to push through it. I want to notice my patterns when I face struggle so I can continue to learn new tools to cope. And I want to fearlessly commit to a challenge that I admired in others who had completed it, but on first consideration of actually doing it myself, believed it to be beyond my capabilities. Simple. Powerful. Real. True.

One pattern that I noticed today was that as I start to face discomfort, I get a little bit quiet. I'm a chatter box at the beginning of a run, but as my feet start to feel like the concrete they've been running on, I dial it in and narrow my focus to positive inner dialogue and safe running technique. I also noticed that I have the tendency to pick up the pace near the end when things are getting painful - firstly, because a quicker stride seems to hurt my knees less; secondly, because I have no control over the competitor in me when he says "pull ahead of the pack"; and finally because after 3 hours, I just want to get the shit over with as quick as possible! :) Today, with 6km's left, I broke off from my group and zoned in on my stride. I amped up my pace and it felt like my body had taken complete control while my mind just followed.

I had a conversation with a friend on Saturday night who was really intrigued when I mentioned my marathon training and how I'm seeking confirmation and evidence that my inner strength exists. She was slightly confused and asked, "well, didn't the fact that you won an Olympic Gold Medal and came back from two broken legs in gymnastics give you that confirmation?" Good question. And obviously one would assume that's the case, but I believe that courage and willpower are like muscles. If you don't flex them consistently, they start to fade away. It's been a while since I've taken on a challenge that seemed impossible...

It's very easy to get complacent in our society and world. It's remarkably simple to stop pushing yourself when you don't have a goal that burns deeply inside. Since Beijing, I had a really difficult time finding a goal that resonated with me. I tried things on, but nothing felt like it fit quite right. My life started to feel like it was slowly spiralling into a sluggish trap and indolence and apathy were becoming strong forces in my daily approach. This reality scared me a lot because I've never had much respect for those who don't seek evolution in their lives. I didn't want to join that team because I know that particular lifestyle doesn't suit me. But I felt stuck in the middle. Gymnastics always came so naturally to me. I was born for it and I believe it was in my destiny to be an Olympic Gold Medalist in the sport. But when I was done, I knew that I was physically and mentally done. My body couldn't take one more arabian double front and my mind couldn't take one more expectation being placed on my shoulders. But I had no clue about what came next... 

I was not a natural runner, but there was something about running that attracted me. Maybe it was the fact that it didn't come natural to me. There would be no pressure and no expectation to be good. I could just enter races, train for them, show up, run, cross the finish line and feel great that I committed to a goal from start to finish. And that's kind of the path that my running life has taken. I started with a 10K two years ago, then slowly built up to a half marathon and now here I am, on my way to completing a full marathon. It was progressive and in no way easy. Hell, I used to run 24.65 METRES full speed towards a stationary object and flip over it backwards. Now I've built up my personal distance record to 30 KILOMETRES. That's huge growth and I've gotten to this point because of commitment, determination and action. Not because I was born to run. 

As I sit here with ice bags on my knees and a stupid grin on my face, I can't help but nod my head in understanding. A no fail way to improve your sense of well-being is to pick a goal and fearlessly commit to it. To not let any excuse get in the way. To hold yourself accountable to taking action. Because the further you get along in your plan, the more invested you become. As you plug along, you begin to recognize and appreciate that you are where you are because of your effort. And that feels pretty awesome. 

I'm really diggin' where I'm at right now. I'm feeling the momentum churn inside of my body and mind and getting to this point makes me believe that I have a greater capacity to endure. It makes me believe that I can be with discomfort and push through it. It's giving me new tools to cope with my patterns of struggle and I'm proving to myself that NOTHING is beyond my capabilities. I think I'd like to stay here for a while...

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Hardcore Hills!

When you're training for a running race of any distance, Wednesdays are usually dedicated to "hills". On hills days, I get together with a group of my buddies (who are training for a triathlon) in the evening  and we run the dreaded, but invigorating, Memorial Drive stairs/hill.

The whole purpose of running hills is to increase your power and endurance and to create some balance and variance in your training. It's important to incorporate this activity into your program because although it hurts, it helps you make valuable gains. You're forcing your body to access new muscles and systems and therefore you gain strength, speed, lung capacity and perhaps a little hardcore factor :)

Look way way into the distance and you'll see the stairs of death!
I'll admit, hills are not the most joyous of activities, but you can feel that pleasurable burn of "I'm getting better" as you endure them so you know it's worth it.

Hills are much easier to conquer when you have a group of friends hacking through them with you. It's really rewarding to high five your buddy as you are both leaning over, grabbing your thighs, gasping for air and spitting up wads of phlegm. You always push yourself harder when you have an accomplice sneaking up behind you. A little healthy competition is always a good thing. Finally, like mentioned in a previous post, it's always easier to endure suffering when a buddy is present because it's comforting to know that you're not the only one having to conquer that voice inside your head that is enticing you to quit.

On Wednesday, we all started out with the best of intentions. Emails were going back and forth as we put the finishing touches on our plans for the gruelling suffer fest. It was decided that we would all meet at 6pm, run our 8 hills and then head to an awesome yoga class at the top of the Calgary Tower taught by Jeff Mah in support of the Calgary Humane Society. Sounded like the perfect way to spend a Wednesday evening...

Well, good ol' reliable Calgary weather turned on us mid-day and the wind started to gust. When I got off the airplane on Tuesday from Ottawa it was sunny and a balmy 16 degrees celsius, but just 24 hours later, the snow started to flake and by 5pm my inbox was going rampant with emails indicating that everyone had made alternate exercise plans in the safety and comfort of indoors. Apparently the previous day's sunshine, lollipops and rainbows had misled my running gang into bringing their shorts and tank tops to work instead of their toques, pants and mittens. Imagine that...

It appeared that I was the lone soldier willing to fight the battle with the elements. I simply couldn't concede because of a little  cold weather and snow. No excuses, no regrets. The Memorial stairs are the pinnacle of "hills training". Nothing else in the city compares to them and their impact and I committed to leaving no stone unturned in my marathon training journey. I need to stand on the line on May 27th in Calgary and know that I did everything I could to be prepared. Grinding through a sloppy wintery run in the middle of April was going to add a layer to my confidence and increase my "warrior" factor. I also kept singing "Ain't nothin' gonna break my stride. Ain't nothin' gonna slow me down. Oh no. I've got to keep on moving" to myself and that gave me a significant boost of confidence as well :)

I drove into the city from Airdrie (where I was observing and learning tons about Trampoline for my upcoming colour commentary gig with CTV in London) and parked 2 km's from the stairs. I grabbed my water bottle, mustered up every ounce of positivity and motivation I had inside and headed out into the wonderful spring blizzard.

Caution: Slippery when wet!
I both hated and loved the next 45 minutes of my existence. I hated the fact that it was cold, slippery and lonely and that my eye balls were being pummelled by snowflakes. But I loved the fact that I was out there pounding through my sets and feeling the burn. With each journey up the stairs/hill, the layer of snow got thicker on the ground, but my mission got more empowered.

I had one slight hiccup after hill 5 - I got super light headed and had to take a breather for 5 minutes to convince myself that I wasn't going to pass out (that would have been bad as I didn't even have my ID! - Kristin hates that). I was about ready to pack it in when I started to feel dizzy because I didn't want to risk injury or embarrassment. It took some solid internal convincing to keep me going, but after a quick mental scan of my mind and body, I knew that I wasn't hospital bound so I continued to persist. I'm so glad I did because I wouldn't have been too proud right now if I would have given up.

One of the highlights of the night was when I ran into a Special Olympian who's training for her very first 5K! We high fived each time we passed and not only did it bring a smile to my face, it also made things a whole lot easier.

When I finished my 8th and final set, I zoomed back to my car to grab my yoga mat and headed to the Calgary Tower for some sun salutations and a good post-run hamstring stretch. I felt a lot of self-satisfaction knowing that I took the road less travelled. I could have easily given in, but I chose not to and I know that it will make all the difference.

"Two roads diverged in wood, and I
took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference"
- Robert Frost 

Monday, April 02, 2012

A Blissful 29Km's

To start this post off right, I have a confession I need to make. I take complete responsibility for the choice, but I full on skipped my 19km long run last weekend. There was no way I could do it after being on my feet for 5 days straight at KSGF 2012. I had the best of intentions to buckle down and lace up, but when push came to shove, I had to make the right decision for my long term health and safety. I felt a bit guilty when I made the choice, but I also knew that it was in my best interest because I was completely and utterly exhausted. As a consolation to myself, I probably ran more than 19km's during the weekend anyway so it all evens out in the end :) 

Now that that is off my chest, let's get on with it, shall we?...  

After a hellish (yet, upon further reflection, also an extremely elevating) 26km experience, I knew that I needed to come up with a strategy of how to NOT encounter a scenario like that again. Although challenging, it made the thought of future long runs rather daunting. If I suffered that much doing 26km's, how much more would the even further distances hurt? Would I actually be able to push myself further?

There were a few key errors that I made in my torturous 26km run. In no particular order, they were:

1. Physical Preparation - I didn't rest well and I was sitting for way too many hours beforehand.
2. Mental approach - I didn't psych myself up. I just went and hoped it would get easier.
3. I ran solo. Never a good idea when you are going to face agony. Suffering alone just isn't fun!
4. Nutrition - I brought a handful of craisins and a small water bottle. This was NOT enough to sustain me for the amount of energy I was exerting.

So, like any sensible athlete/person, I decided to take action and target all of the above items so I could set myself up for a more enjoyable and motivating experience the next time out. Like the old saying goes: You can never make the same mistake twice, because the second time you make it, its not a mistake, it's a choice..

To be in the best physical condition possible, I cleared my schedule for the evening before so I could lay low and roll out with my travel roller. I ate well (carbo load!) and tried to stretch and get my legs up as much as possible. I was in bed by 10:30pm. Good boy, Kyle, good boy.

To strengthen my mental approach, I wrote in my journal and did tons of positive self-talk in the week leading up. 29km's? No problem! You're a champ, dude. It's going to hurt, but you can handle pain better than 99% of the people out there. Feel the groove. Be proud of how committed you're being to this. You're doing so awesome. You may as well enjoy the struggle - just think of the new capacity you are creating in your life. Etc. Etc. Etc. I also got an interesting, yet kind of freaky, sign from Kristin's sister, Amber, about the importance of being positive. She went to see a clairvoyant (aka: pyschic) and while there, she got a very important message to pass along to "that guy in her life who she considers her brother". That would be moi. The message was this: He needs to slow down and focus on the important stuff. He's trying to do too much and it's spreading him thin. Oh, and he appears to be really positive on the outside, but he really needs to stop with all of that negative self talk that goes on constantly inside his head. It's really toxic and it's not helping him one bit. 

Now, I don't generally believe in psychic messages, but this one felt really different to me than others I've received in the past. Amber only saw the lady for about 30 minutes and for some reason she was getting a lot of information to share with me. It was kind of cosmic because I was exhausted from the KSGF and, to be explored further in another blog post, I have been considering taking a few new risks in my professional life. A believer or not, these messages really resonated with me and were a sign that the universe was noticing.

Running long runs solo is pretty lonely and awful, which I learned all too well a couple of weeks ago. To set myself up for success in this department, I decided that I was going to latch on to a group, any group, that could be my companion(s) while we enjoyed the suffering together. One small problem: I had to do my long run on Saturday because I was off to Ottawa on Sunday for CCES board meetings. And everyone I know is doing their long runs on Sunday's. This was going to be a bit of an obstacle…

I asked more than 10 people if they'd be open to running on Saturday, but I had no takers. I've got to admit that "Hey, do you want to meet me at 8am on Saturday morning and run 29km's for 3 hours" is a pretty tough sell :) I thought that atleast ONE person in my facebook network would give me an enthusiastic, "Hell ya!", but it didn't happen. So, I went to my local running store (Strides) to see if there would be a group run on Saturday morning. Much to my delight, there was! Jackpot. The group would be meeting at 8am and I was going to tag along.

Finally, I went for a 10km with my friend Dean (he's an Ironmaner - no big deal) and he gave me some really sound advice about nutrition. Based on my weight, I should eat anywhere from 200-300 calories an hour. I should also drink sips of water every 15 minutes and try to find an electrolyte supplement to add to my drink. He reiterated Martin's comments about how you need to start eating at the beginning of the race, even if you're not hungry, because come 32km's your body starts to crash and you need all the reserves you can muster. I went to a store in Calgary called Tri-It and bought a bunch of delicious snacks including Gu's, Stingers, Hammer Gels and Nuun electrolyte tabs (of note: the running nutrition biz must make BIG bucks because I spent an arm and a leg). I wanted to arm myself with a few different options so I could test out what works best for me. I also got some sage advice that pretzels can be the magic food while on long runs - they have salt, they have carbs and they are crunchy for entertainment so I stopped at the grocery store and bought some of those too!

I also decided to arm myself with a waist belt. I so desperately wanted to be hardcore and wear a camel back, but after trying on 10 different brands, I just felt restricted and annoyed. I opted for a Nathan brand waist belt because it had great wicking capacity (I get major swack and swass when running), it was really comfy and it had lots of options for interchangeable doohickeys (that's the technical term for food pouches, water bottles, camera holder, etc). 

With a great week of hills and stimulating short runs combined with all of the above, I was fully prepped to have a kick ass 29km run. Bring it on!

I woke up early on Saturday morning and quietly tip toed to the kitchen to get some breakfast. I didn't want to wake up Cooper because he would think he was coming with me and that is about 3 times too far for my sweet sweet little pooch to run. I hate looking into his sad eyes when I leave wearing my running gear and he has to stay home. Tear. 

After breakfast, I got ready and stealthily left the house at 7:45am. I got to the "meeting place" at 8:00am sharp, only to find that no one was around. "Uh oh", I thought, "does this mean I'm going to have to do another long run painfully alone??". Maybe my watch was a little slow or perhaps I got the venue mixed up, but one thing was for sure, I was the only soul around. I decided that I would start running and perhaps catch up to a group and just gleefully cling on to their energy.

Although crisp and cool outside, the first 10km's started things off on a really smooth and silky note. My body felt loose and strong, my arches felt in tact and my mind was clear, positive and determined.  Already a much more positive experience than previously encountered :D

Km's 13-18 were literally blissful. I've heard about the infamous runners high and I think I just might have broken me off a piece of that. At 14.5km's, I felt euphoric and floaty and as if each step was effortless. There was no today, no tomorrow and nothing to solve - I was fully immersed in the world just as it was at that very moment and it was pretty fan-freakin'-tastic. I looked down at my watch and thought, "Shit ya. I'm half way done. This is going to be smooth sailing, baby! Bring on the marathon, b*tches!!". I was flipping through radio stations, but I mainly listened to the American Country Countdown, which for some odd reason was keeping me highly entertained. After the half way point, my speed actually started to increase which was a huge motivator as well.

Km 22 is when it started to hurt a little bit. My hip flexors, shoulder blades and feet began to give tiny pings of discomfort, but I felt invincible and the power of positive thinking kept pushing me along. I was running a very familiar route so I knew exactly the scenery that I would be encountering. I started creating little focal points for myself such as, "When you get to the _____ bridge, you've only got 5K left. That's no problem when you've already ran 24K! Stay focused on getting to that point and then let's re-evaluate". It was as if my inner coach was giving me tips along the way. 

My knees and IT bands started to suffer in the last 3km's, but it wasn't excruciating. In fact, it felt more like progress than anything. When my watch eventually hit 29km's, marking the glorious end, I ran a few extra strides just to prove to myself that this wasn't my full capacity. I still had gas left in the tank :) I was also grinning from ear to ear like a total nerdbot knowing that I just completed the furthest distance of my lifetime and it wasn't even 11am! Boo-ya! Now, how's that for a productive start to the weekend?!

Positive thinking, a relaxing pre-run day and proper hydration/nutrition seemed to play a huge role in making this run 1000 times better than my 26km hellish experience. The only ingredient that was missing was a companion, but to tell you the truth, I'm kind of glad that I didn't have a running buddy. I really enjoyed my own company. And that might have been the biggest victory of all…

Rock out!