Mind, Motion & Matter

Running, Essentially . . .


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A Canadian reviews America’s 10 Best Cities for Runners

Running in Washington D.C.

It’s all about the sights on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

While visiting Austin, Texas in January I happened upon a Forbes Magazine article listing the top ten cities for running in the U.S.  I was surprised to see that I had run in 9 of the cities on the list. As the ten cities were not ranked, I’ve listed them in alphabetical order.

  1. Atlanta
  2. Austin
  3. Boston
  4. Boulder*
  5. Chicago
  6. Minneapolis
  7. New York
  8. Portland
  9. San Francisco
  10. Washington

*Boulder, Colorado is the only city I have not run in (or visited). However, having run in Santa Fe which is 7,199 feet above sea level, when I had a slight cold, which exploded into a very painful chest cold after a lung-searing run at that altitude I have little desire to run in Boulder which has a slightly lower altitude. I’m taking the liberty of substituting Sacramento, California for Boulder on my re-ordered ranked list below.

Austin-Running

Running through the center of Austin, Texas on a Ladybird Lake trail.

  1. Austin
  2. Portland
  3. Washington
  4. Boston **1998, 2000. 2007, 2008, 2013, 2014
  5. Chicago *2006
  6. San Francisco
  7. Sacramento *2007
  8. New York *2009
  9. Minneapolis
  10. Atlanta

* *Years that I have run a marathon in a city

Austin, Texas

It was tough to decide between Austin and Portland but Austin won out because of its dirt trails with overhanging trees which line Ladybird Lake. Portland’s prized bike-running path, the Springwater Corridor is mostly paved and does not have much shade.

Portland, Oregon

One feature of running in Portland is the ease of bike rental on the river trail. This is a great way to have a non-running friend or spouse join you for your run.

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Portland Rail Trail, The Springwater Corridor

Washington D.C.

Running is the best way to see some of the sights like the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorial. Another bonus is the number of clean public restrooms around the public parks and monuments.

Boston

Boston is well, Boston, but apart from the marathon, a run along the banks of the Charles river on the Cambridge side while rowers pass by makes for a storybook setting.

Sacramento

Love the slightly downhill course of the California International Marathon in Sacramento. There is also a long-standing distance race in November which serves as a tune-up for the marathon. The Clarksburg County Run used to be 30K but is now a 20 miler with a 5K, 10K and half-marathon option. Proximity to San Francisco, a 2 hour drive, is another plus.

San Francisco

Running along the waterfront route from Market street over the Fisherman’s Wharf is one way to avoid hills in San Francisco. Love the idea of their women’s only marathon but not on the hills of San Francisco.

Chicago

Runs along the lake are pleasant but summer races in Chicago can be stinking hot. The Chicago marathon course is my favourite. I ran it once when it took place on the third, rather than the traditional 1st weekend in October.

New York

New York is near the bottom of my list as I’m personally inclined towards the urban outdoor experience of west coast cities like Portland and Seattle. But I do love the shorter races in Central park organized by the New York City Road Runners.

Minneapolis

I’ve been to Minneapolis twice. Once for a convention and the last time a quick overnight stay to visit the World’s Biggest Mall a.k.a. “hell on earth” according to my husband. Nothing memorable to report other than feeling safer than I did in Atlanta and I’m sure summer runs in Minnesota are cooler than Atlanta as well.

Atlanta

I ran in Atlanta nearly 25 years ago while attending a convention. I think I was the only runner in the group of 2000 attendees. It was one of the muggiest runs of my life. My friends worried for my safety and I have to confess, I did not feel particularly safe there even though I stuck to the tourist zones.

I was going to say this post was part one of a series, with subsequent posts providing more detail on running in these cities. However given my poor record of following up with promised part twos, I’ll leave it at this and invite your comments or recommendations.

Happy vacation running!

Lynn

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16 weeks to the Boston Marathon

I needed the reminder that arrived via FaceBook that the countdown to Boston has begun and the B.A.A. has training programs for the beginner or intermediate and advanced level. I’ve been delaying my return to training but did make it out tonight for an indoor track workout with my team the UTTC Masters.  These two things signalled that I can say today is the day, that my marathon training kicks-off.

I’ve been running fewer miles since the cross-country season ended in mid-November but my regular cruising pace has improved. This, thanks to a marathon-less fall and a focus on shorter distance training for indoor and outdoor track and cross-country races from 4K to 8K.

I was happy with my workout of 4 x 1200 with a two-minute recovery. I got progressively faster with 4:30. 4:18, 4:15 & 4:12. I felt good about the final fast one, as I had planned to do just 3 of the repeats.

I’m planning to get my marathon mileage in by doing a lot of doubles, to and from work. This will nicely  sandwich my very sedentary job at which I roll around my office from computer to printer to filing cabinet on my chair.

A teammate and I chatted about the extraordinary cost of hotels in Boston this year. The place I booked, is now $200 higher than when I booked a couple of months ago. My son the software developer has alerted me to the fact that just the act of “viewing” hotel websites can drive the cost up.

I’m planning to devote a future blog post to all the stuff one needs (or at least I feel I need) to be ready for any type of weather for the Boston marathon. One aspect of this is the fine-art of staying comfortable in the athlete’s village for 2-3 hours while waiting for the marathon start. A key item is shown at the top centre of the photo below. The camp chair is guaranteed to make you feel like a king or queen of the athlete’s village. I took this photo last year to remind myself of all the clothing combos needed and to start looking early at Value Village for suitable “throwaway clothing”.

So there is the training and there is the gear and then there will be much contemplation of why I will be running Boston despite being on the verge of semi-retirement from the marathon.  As the day draws nearer, and the runs get longer, I expect the emotions for all those training for the big day, will deepen, and the reasons why I feel compelled to go back one more time, will become more clear.

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Gifts for your favourite runner

Picking out gear for runners is not easy as the bigger items are somewhat technical and your favourite runners might prefer to make their own choices.

Choosing useful accessories is a much easier route to go. Here are some favourite items that have stood my personal 32 year, test of time and trendiness.

Foot roller

As I write my foot is resting on my foot roller. The simple foot roller picture above above is the most durable. The type with moving parts may eventually fall apart. I took mine on our vacation in September and left it behind, I replaced it shortly after.

foot roller

Smart Wool socks & Fox River socks

Nothing worse than socks that don’t fit properly. Most of my socks have some wool in them as I’ve found it to be the best wicking material of all. Strangely, the pair of Smart Wool socks that I bought from MEC that were specifically for running were unsatisfactory. But the regular line is fabulous and I wear some of the heavier styles for running. MEC sells Fox River socks. The biggest selection of Smart Wool socks I’ve seen in Toronto is at the Australian Boot Company. But the price points are high here in Canada and the selection extremely limited. Essential Apparel ships from the U.S. for a reasonable price and I just noticed that SportChek has a buy one, get one at 50% sale at the moment.

I travel with Smart Wool socks to wear while running and while walking. How much do I love great socks? My screen seems to be filled with images of socks and more socks!

smart wool 2

The Stick

I don’t use this often but there is nothing like this self-massager for loosening up some hard to stretch areas like the IT band and the outside shins.

Buff Multi-functional Headgear

I bought this years ago in Whitehorse, YK. So handy, so versatile and nice selection of patterns too. I mainly use it as neck warmer.

Buff-339-150x150

Amphipod

Perfect solution for shorts or pants without pockets. The Amphipod has a clip to fasten to the outside or inside or your pants or anywhere actually. It’s also a great little wallet.

Amphipod

Japanese Self-massage thingy

I don’t know what this is called but I bought it at our local Japanese grocery store and it has lasted for nearly a decade, despite the rigours of back massage and more. It recently broke and I am scrambling to find a replacement. The item below is the closest thing I’ve found to my broken back massager.

bongers


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The Boston Marathon, be prepared

The Canadian fall marathon season peaked at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon with the stunning performance of Lanni Marchant who set a new Canadian record of 2:28:00 for the marathon. The former record of 2:28:36 has been famously held by the humble and unassuming Sylvia Ruegger for 27 years. Ruegger at times has seemed almost embarrased for the record to have stood for so long and was at the finish line to greet Marchant.

My fall season will not include a marathon for the first time in 3 years. With the sharp decline in my marathon performance, in relative terms, I have decided to run fewer marathons, with a focus on running a marathon mainly as a celebration of a significant birthday. Last fall I ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, in 2011 it was NYC and the year before, the California International Marathon in Sacramento. I have my eye on the Marine Corps Marathon as the stage for my next big birthday celebration.  An exception to this general marathon reduction scheme is the 2014 Boston Marathon. Like most who ran last year, returning in 2014 feels necessary in bringing a sense of closure to the 2013 experience.

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This is where it all begins

My fall has been about cross-country running and after November 16th, when the final race of the Ontario Masters Cross-Country Series takes place, my training will be focused on the Boston Marathon.  The first step to being prepared for Boston 2014 it seems, is finding a centrally located Boston hotel that is less than $400 a night. Prices seem to have jumped more than 50% from last spring. Advice to those training for Boston is to make your hotel reservation ASAP.

Earlier this fall we passed through Boston on our way to Cape Cod and could not resist taking the exit to Hopkinton.  We had some fun checking out a few start line attractions that one might not see while while lining up for the race with a cast of 30,000.

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The town of Hopkinton’s motto is “It All Starts Here” and the motto is captured in a bronze life-size statue of George V. Brown the legendary starter of the Boston Marathon for over 30 years. We also enjoyed the newly erected statue of my heroes Dick and Rick Hoyt who I met at the Boston Marathon Race Expo last spring. While viewing the statue a woman walked by and told us that her last name was Hoyt but while she was not related to the famous Hoyts, she wished she were.  The Hoyts were mentioned in President Barack Obama’s speech at the Interfaith Service after the Boston Marathon tragedy.

“In the words of Dick Hoyt, who has pushed his disabled son Rick in 31 Boston marathons, we can’t let something like this stop us. This doesn’t stop us.  And that’s what you’ve taught us, Boston. That’s what you’ve reminded us, to push on, to persevere, to not grow weary, to not get faint even when it hurts.”

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I’ll be thinking about Dick and Rick Hoyt when I run up Heartbreak Hill in the spring.

Yes we can!

Plaque-Hoyt


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The Boston Marathon, a bigger picture

Toronto_Marathon_1995

Running a first marathon with mom

Before I met Amy, the author of this blog post, I met her mom, Jeraldine Ballon. But the circle has closed and now Amy and I are members of the same track club. Knowing something of what the Boston marathon means to her, I asked her to share her very special memories of her mom and their shared love of running. Here is her beautiful story.

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It has been 12 years since I last ran the Boston Marathon, but this time of year still brings back many memories of Boston and my mom. Of the 10 marathons my mother ran between the ages of 51 and 56, four of them were Boston. This is her story of becoming an athlete, and her road to Boston.

Boston marathon 1997

Boston marathon 1997

Always the last kid picked to be on a team, I don’t think my mother thought she had an athletic bone in her body. Plus, as someone with a penchant for beer and potato chips who happened to be rail-thin, she may not have thought that she even needed to exercise. Everything changed when she won a membership to a posh, downtown Toronto gym. I remember the day she went in for her fitness assessment in a pair of sparkly sneakers she’d purchased on vacation at a K-Mart because they were the only ‘runners’ she owned.

The positive experience she had in the gym quickly snowballed and she fell in love. Not only did she enjoy watching her body grow stronger, but she discovered running. Her goal of running a marathon followed soon after and she planned to run the New York City Marathon. As I stood on the sidelines that day, both our lives were changed. My mom was hooked, and I was inspired. I promptly began training for my first marathon

Together we ran marathons in Toronto, Chicago and Washington. My mother also went on to run Paris. Our times decreased and our love of running increased while we logged hundreds and hundreds of training miles together. My mother started to get really fast, consistently winning her age category. I counted myself lucky to have this special relationship with both running and my mother.

Boston 1998

Boston 1998

And then there was Boston. My mom ran Boston in 1997, 1998 and 1999. And she ran with me after I qualified in 2000. Boston in 2000 was also special because it was just six months after her hysterectomy. She had had emergency surgery after cancer had been discovered in her uterus. Funny enough, it was her running that led her to self-diagnose. Her training had made her so aware of what was going on in her body, that went things started to feel ‘off’, she advocated for herself very quickly. She was treated, given a clean bill of health, and a 98% survival rate.

Things were good that fall: I was newly married, newly graduated from business school, and working in a great job. Training for was going well too, until one day when my mother told me that she didn’t think Boston 2001 would be in the cards. She wasn’t feeling well.

A few months later her worst suspicions were confirmed: Against the odds, the cancer had metastasized and her body was riddled with it. She was told that she had a few months to live. Nothing could be done to treat her.

In April 2001 I traveled to Boston with my husband, my dad and my mom who came to support me. My mother was not in great shape. It took a lot of effort to walk even a block or two. But she managed to score three passes to the finish line seats on the bleachers on Boylston Street. (Thank you, Adidas!) That was not an easy race. Heartbreak Hill took on a new meaning for me that day. Choking back my tears, I saw my family in the stands as I crossed the finish line. Boston was the last trip my mother took. She died a few months later.

Losing my mom was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. But how lucky am I that I had a mother who, by inspiring me, introduced me to running and changed my life? How lucky am I that I got to run the Boston Marathon with my mother? How many people get to say that?

Boston 1999

Boston 1999

I haven’t run Boston since that year, and in fact took a ten year hiatus from the sport. But I have started to run again. Who knows, maybe I’ll be back on Boylston Street one day; maybe with one of my own daughters. One thing I know for sure: When I run now, the inspiration my mother provided is right there with me.

~ Amy Ballon


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Friends, Runners & Committee Members

Much going on and there are nice intersections of the above. Monday was the start of a ten day training blitz, my peak training for Boston. My plan is to average 10 miles a day for this ten day period. I ran 18  miles on Monday during which I picked up the pace through 10 miles to the end. Two days before I raced 3K at the Canadian Masters Indoor Championships and was happy to have my best performance of my four-race indoor season of two 5K’s and two 3K’s. I was able to raise my age-graded score by 1% over each race. My 12:30 for 3K translates into a 9:42 as an open female, a solid national class time. It was an honour to be awarded the Ontario Masters Athlete of the Month for February. You can read about this HERE . . .

April is the Busiest Month

The Boston Marathon is on Monday, April 15th and the People4Kids Gala on Wednesday, May 1st. My husband and I are Co-chairs and what we thought would be a two- year commitment now has a life of its own. The funds raised at the gala go towards an orphan sponsorship program in Ethiopia which is run by the largest community group of Ethiopians and Eritreans here in Toronto, People to People AID Organization Canada (P2P). We have sponsored a little girl for a few years and while on my runs, I often visualize myself running in Africa, especially while listening to the song Viva Africa which has become a favourite of my Boston 2013 training cycle. You can have a listen at the YouTube link at the bottom of this blog.

View from my Laptop

View from my laptop

The photos to the left of “little Tigist” – so called because the Chair of P2P Canada is our “big Tigist” – were taken at Christmas. She is wearing a hoodie that was a gift from us along with a schoolbag and Christmas card. We hope to visit her soon. Our friend Ambaye, who is on the Board” of P2P traveled to Ethiopia in December and kindly offered to take these gifts with him.

Earlier in the month, I enjoyed planning a breakfast reception held in the Old Senate Chamber at University College to celebrate our gala supporters and kick off year three. We have a committee of eleven which includes four Ethiopian-Canadians. Defying stereotype, none of the Ethiopians run while five of us, including four Asian committee members do. Three of us are on the UTTC Masters track team, as is one of our key supporters.

We in fact sold two gala tickets to a runner friend who challenged our Ethiopian friend to do, what for Ambaye is the improbable, run a 5K.

Yesterday I jogged an easy 3 miles in the morning and in the early evening did a 10 mile run on the treadmill which included 60 minutes of running at marathon to half-marathon pace. I broke it into sections of 1 x 20 minutes, 2 x 15 minutes and 1 x 10 minutes, running progressively faster for each section. Tomorrow, I’m running 16-18 miles with the Saturday Guys. Although two of the four are lucky to be in warmer places . . . sigh. On Monday, I plan to do intervals with the team, the longer the better and will reach the summit of my training on Wednesday with a final long run of 17-18 miles which will include 8-10 miles of progressively faster running.

At right, big Tigist

At right, big Tigist

Did I mention that I’m doing Boston for fun?! That and to raise funds for P2P. Yes, my training is not what it used to be and I’ve resigned myself to doing well at shorter distances but not being able to maintain the quality of performance over the long haul. Lacking natural endurance I used to compensate by running a lot of mileage but at age 57 the miles don’t come as easily.

I am hopeful that my recent foray into more track racing will result in some self-knowledge gains that will point me towards how to  best train for marathons in my late-50’s and early 60’s. While I am happy to be able to run Boston this year, I don’t plan to return until 2016 when I will be in the 60-64 age group. I turn 60 in the fall of 2015. Can’t get my mind around that one. Three cheers for the prospect of being able to run marathons at age 60 but make no mistake  . . . 60 is *NOT*  the new 40.


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Treading winter on a treadmill

I’ve been running long enough to remember when treadmills were an exotic species of gadget, used almost exclusively for tests administered by exercise physiologists.  I”m not sure when they started to become part of your standard gym equipment but thank goodness for that.

Over the past month I’ve done two 18 milers and both were done on the treadmill at my local YMCA due to very messy weather with treacherous footing. I’m an old hand at treadmilling but over those runs I learned a new trick. I can READ and RUN at the same time! If I set the font size on my Kobo reader to large, I can read without any difficulty. This is quite a discovery for someone who is trying to make it through the 1200+ pages of Les Miserables. I’m now 48% of the way through.

A cautionary note here. I think I can easily manage this feat as not many people have logged as many treadmill miles as I have. My theory is, that since running is second-nature for me and requires very little concentration, the door is open to multi-tasking. I think some of the findings presented in Thinking Fast and Slow by Nobel prize winner, Daniel Kahneman would support my view. Nonetheless, one should not get too cocky. Last fall I stumbled and fell on a treadmill and was hurled off. Thankfully I was not going very fast. I can’t imagine what would have happened otherwise. Wearing the safety catch while on a treadmill is a good idea.

Treadmill

A surprising development

For the latest 18 miler I did this. For the first hour, I listened to Thinking Fast and Slow, the audiobook. I own the hard copy of the book but had stalled at page 135 and knew that I needed the ease of the audiobook to get me back into it. I would like to have the “reader” option but three options for one book, seems excessive not to say, expensive. The book is a bit demanding so I knew that after the first hour, switching to Les Miserables would be in order. For the third hour, I listened to music. The week before I looked at all the “tags” I had collected on Shazaam, the music identifying app, and downloaded those from www.legalsounds.com for a pittance. It is always motivating to run with new music in hand.

No,it has not been easy getting geared up for winter marathon training, most of it on my own, but thank goodness for all these toys!