Mind, Motion & Matter

Running, Essentially . . .

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Running up those hills, Seattle

Cal Anderson Park fountain

The week leading up to our getaway was busy with work deadlines, a visitor and preparations for some painting at our home. Thankfully, our son and our roommate Alain took care of moving the furniture from our guest room and bedroom in our absence. We’ve been away for just over a week and spent three days visiting with my husband’s 96 year old dad. His dad is under the watchful eye of his son the rehab med doctor and continues with a weight lifting routine of many decades.

From Edmonton we took the 100 minute flight to Seattle and stayed at the Sorrento Hotel where we were the lucky recipients of a fabulous room upgrade. At check-in, we were offered the chance to upgrade to a suite for a small increase, which we agreed to this but checked to make sure that our room had a bathtub. We’ve discovered in our travels that increasingly, hotels that have undergone renovations oftentimes have only spa-style showers.  And, indeed when we found that our suite only had a shower so we asked for another room. This error was corrected in grand style as we were given a room that was three times the size of the tub-less suite.

We are sorry to have inconvenienced you. Please accept our apologies.

The concierge told my husband that this corner suite was once occupied by Francis Ford Coppola. He also said that it was used as  a  set for “Sleepless in Seattle” to mimic a Manhattan apartment. Thus enjoying great hotel coffee with our laptops perched atop a large round, wood table, set in a very large bay window area, with a tiny bit of waterfront peeking through tall buildings has become a memorable urban holiday moment. The suite included a large bedroom, a large wooden bar, an office area and a living room area. The open style lobby-bar area was extremely inviting but we never did check it out, due to the excessive comfort of our room. The only down-side to this luxury was the worry that our tipping was not as generous as that of Coppola.

Volunteer Park, Seattle

When I asked about running routes at the front desk, the young man who checked us in admitted that the running in downtown Seattle is not great. My vision of a scenic waterfront running path did not materialize. He pointed us towards Volunteer Park as preferable to the waterfront. I’ve heard that the Seattle marathon is hilly, but the reality of hills only sunk in on our first short run of four miles. Not great for my husband’s knees but it did lead me to finally use the googlemaps pedometer elevation function for the first time ever.

Volunteer Park is home to the Asian Art Museum. It is not a large park with a running circumference of about one mile but it is lush and has well-maintained washrooms. The residential areas surrounding the park are very well treed, with beautiful gardens and colourfully staid facades that matched the Seattle of my imaginings. The hills in some of these residential areas seem frankly, improbable. In doing some research on Galer Street, which seemed one of the steepest hills I’d run, I found it listed on a blog which offered advice on training for hiking in Nepal I ran up this hill after exiting Washington Park, home to Seattle’s Japanese garden.

Run for the treats

Three of my Seattle runs ended at Sugar Bakery and Cafe just around the corner from the hotel. And the treats were sweet and a cut above the usual including; salted caramel croissants and blackberry oat scones and supremely moist carrot, walnut muffins. I ended one run in the fitness center to maintain the momentum of my weight training regime. My husband joined me for his workout and took two photos of my routine, one dignified and the other not so dignified and possibly hilarious.

Curls for biceps

In control

Showing the strain

Apart from the hills, a highlight of our Seattle story was very much about our stay at the Sorrento. The crowning moment of the energetic and superb service at this hotel came as I ran up to the main door at the end of one run and wondered what the doorman was doing as he quickly ducked behind a curtain by the lobby door. He emerged with bottled water which he handed off to a grateful me.

One item for the to-do list: Write a positive TripAdvisor review of the Sorrento Hotel.

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New York City Marathon, A Shot of Adrenalin

Yesterday I enjoyed a longish, leisurely 14.5 mile run on a favourite route. I don’t often run it however as the group I usually connect are oriented to a different part of the city. All the photos from my run were taken with my Blackberry.

Palace Pier bridge

Humber river bridge near Palace Pier

Running west along the lakeshore, past the Boulevard Club, Marilyn Bell Park, the Argonaut Rowing Club and along the Sunnyside beach boardwalk over the Palace Pier bridge and through what I refer to as the Humber river spit.

My favourite view of Lake Ontario

Favourite view of Lake Ontario

When I get to this spit, I go clockwise once and then counter clockwise for a scenic two-mile section.  On the southern shore there comes a point at which you cannot see a single building.  I love that!

Favourite view of Toronto skyline

Favourite view of Toronto skyline

Regular enjoyment of the most scenic parts of urban Toronto is one of the pleasures of running.  All the better when done in the early morning. The final five miles loop back through the Humber River butterfly garden and through the southeast corner of High Park.  It always feels much easier than any route that goes north as it is fairly flat.

Humber river

View at my Humber spit turnaround point

While crossing the Humber River bridge at Palace Pier the image of marathoners crossing the Verrazano bridge during the NYC marathon flashed through my mind.  I felt a surge of adrenalin.  Yes, I am training for the NYC marathon.

Later in the day I received an email from the NYC marathon telling me that the deadline for choosing transportation to the start line is July31st.  Yikes . . . such is the way when you run the mother of mega-city-marathons and I’m already too late for the bus option which loads a block away from my hotel.  So I chose to travel to the start on the 6:15 a.m. Staten Island ferry, followed by a bus to the start. Marathon morning anxiety begins to kick in and I ask myself, though I feel confident I know the answer, is this marathon worth the logistical hassles?

For past marathons and Around the Bay 30K I have printed out tiled route maps as part of my visualization process.  I think its time to print out the large map of the NYC course to be hung in a prominent location. Yesterday I jotted down a 17 week training plan.  The peak training weeks will be the last week of September and the first week of October.  If all goes well, I hope to hit 80 miles or more for those weeks.

A few years ago I would have aspired to place in the top three for my age category of 55-59 however, I’ve had a hard time keeping focused on intensifying my training lately and I think my goal will be to better my 3:42 time at the Sacramento Marathon.  This time was run on a net downhill course and New York is not a fast course so, that in itself will be a challenge.

But I’m feeling fitter with consistent mileage since our vacation and last week I started weight training again, and it feels fantastic.  I’ve done upper body weights for most of the past 30 years and lower body weights for the past decade. My recent lapse of a couple of months from this routine was unusual.  Partly to blame was a vague plan of replacing some of the weight work with plyometrics and circuit training, a plan which never took shape.

I’ve done four sessions of the anatomical adaptation phase for weight training as described in my post:  Weight Training, Love It or Lose It and I’m looking forward to the maximum strength phase when I get to bulk up a bit.  The goal of the lower body weight training is to maximize the the musculoskeletal system in preparation for the heavy mileage that will come later on.  While I won’t be trying to log the 100 mile weeks I once did, the time has come come to run, run, run as much as I can!

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Geese, Galas & More

I found my 9.5 mile run with speedwork, done yesterday, tough. My legs have been feeling quite heavy lately, which may well be the effects of the Maximum Strength (MS) phase of weightlifting that I am going through. I’ve done squats with 110 pounds on the Smith machine and 210 pounds on the leg press machine. My goal is to squat about 1.2 times my weight and leg press, 2.3 times my weight of 110 pounds.

Walking on Water

I stopped during the run to watch geese on Lake Ontario walk gingerly over the ice, which due to the very temperature was covered with a thin layer of water. There was quite a bit of slipping on the part of the geese, which led my husband to remark that Toronto geese are urban critters, who have lost some of their natural coordination.

The day was full and with evening plans, a post about what is keeping both my husband and I very busy seemed appropriate.  This being,  People4Kids, a Gala to Benefit AIDS Orphans in Ethiopia. The idea to create this event came out of my experience with gala events, including the Grocery Foundation SuperGala at one time the biggest gala in Canada with over 4000 guests and over $3 million in funds raised.  The Beach Boys (or what is left of the Beach Boys, post-law suits) and Nelly Furtado were the headliners during my years of involvement.

Our gala is a baby Gala and a labour of love. We were motivated to get involved with People to People AID Organization Canada as one of my husband’s workmates, who came to Canada as a refugee from Ethiopia many years ago, works tirelessly as a Board member towards the sponsorship of greater numbers of orphans.

Subaru Concept Car

In the evening we were off to attend a preview of the Auto Show as special guests, along with the 8,000 or more other special guests. This is an educated estimate as the SuperGala took place on one floor of the same venue and this crowd seemed at minimum, twice the size, using three times the area.

What a spectacle! The show is not about the legions of women wearing the most sparkling of dresses and the highest of heels, it’s about the cars, cars and more cars. The evening involves a lot of walking so by the end of it, many women were seen in stockinged feet, carrying their shoes.  One woman remarked to me, “You are doing well, you’ve still got your shoes on.”  I consider wearing heels over two inches to be something of an athletic accomplishment.  One of which I am not capable.  If those men who admire the high-heeled “look” knew what it feels like to wear high heels, I think their appreciation would be greatly diminished.

Car Painter

The event is sponsored by the Toronto Star. Throughout the Metro Toronto Convention Centre are drink and food stations. A few years ago some of the Japanese auto makers were serving sushi. The fare this year was fairly standard with one exception. Tucked away in a quieter corner, Rodney’s Oyster House was serving four different types of oysters. My dad has always loved oysters and as kids we used to have them with shoyu (Japanese soy sauce).

Thank you Rodney's Oyster House

Signs are that automakers are feeling optimistic about business and have done a big paradigm shift,  post-meltdown, adapting to the need and demand for high efficiency vehicles.  There was an area highlighting cars earning national kudos for efficiency.

Here is a photo of us in front of a sign at the Mini-Cooper display. The screen behind us was flashing various words and I was hoping for the word SPORTY.  However my eyes were closed for that one.  But at the moment the word INSPIRING makes me think of my husband, who has pushed himself very far outside his comfort zone to ask a lot of people to support the Gala with tremendous results. Well done my love!

Going the distance for the Gala!


Weight training questions? Talk to the Blog

My husband and I were discussing what stages of weight training each of us is in.  I am in the Maximum Transition (MT) phase and he is in the Maximum Strength (MS) phase.  He asked a few questions about how many repetitions he should be doing and how many weeks.  My answer; um, you could check my blog.  Said he, “So now you won’t talk to me, I have to talk to the blog?”.  I chortled but I think he was hoping for some sympathy.

There is a certain convenience in having some of my thoughts about training collected and recorded.  With 30 years of running experience, I get asked the same questions with some regularity.

A recent question in response to my post on weight training was a recommendation for a current book on the subject that is easily available.  I asked my weight training consultant, champion triathlete Beverley Coburn of Active Age Fitness for her thoughts.

Here they are:

“Really like the book, Encyclopedia of Muscle & Strength by Jim Stoppani (Human Kinetics). This book has everything in it for building programs for beginners up to bodybuilders. I especially like the details. Stoppani describes the muscles and exercises for each muscle group i.e. shoulders with isolation and compound exercises for the front, rear and medial deltoids – great for developing muscle balance. Another book that has great pics is Strength Training Anatomy by Frederic Delavier.

I’ve seen Strength Training Anatomy in bookstores for around $25. Encyclopedia of Muscle and Strength, I purchased on-line through Human Kinetics – possibly in bookstores too (somewhere around $25-$35).”

Would someone you love, like to receive this as a Valentine’s gift?

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Legs in Motion, A Legend

Following my post about weight training, a reader asked for recommended reading. I was reminded of this groundbreaking book from the early 80’s by Gayle Olinekova which inspired me to begin my weight training routine. Gayle was ahead of her time in that she incorporated weight training into her marathon training schedule. This former Torontonian ran world-class marathon times and yet felt a little embarrassed about her very muscular legs, which did not fit the typical marathon runner mold or the prevailing feminine ideal. Eventually, she was discovered by Sports Illustrated and covered in an article called The Greatest Legs to Ever Stride the Earth.

Photo by Helmut Newton

Sadly, Gayle died in 2003 at the age of 50.  Gayle’s book Go For It! was written at a time when books on athletics written by women were almost non-existent. It may be out-of-print but available used.

Go for it!

I can claim a shared experience, as she was at one time a member of the Toronto Olympic Club which I belonged to for a few years. From wanting to hide her legs to inclusion in Helmut Newton’s “Strong Women: A Portfolio of California’s Super Athletes” Gayle can be given credit for blazing a trail.  Here is part of an obituary from the Los Angeles Times.

Gayle Olinekova, a marathon runner and fitness guru whose chiseled, muscular legs helped change cultural views about beauty in female athletes in the 1980s, has died. She was 50.


Weight Training, Love It or Lose It

Since blogging about the start of my off-season weight training regime, I have indeed been working through the first phase of Anatomical Adaptation as defined by Joe Friel, in the Triathlete’s Training Bible. My friend uber-Ironman triathlete Bev Coburn introduced me to this method of periodization of weight training.  I’ll never forget how she, in her low key way, said once you start this routine you’ll be doing this for the rest of your life.  In fact, I been doing upper body weight training since my early twenties however I had never done lower body weights, as I felt that running was enough of a leg workout AND I had never systemized my weight training.  You can find out more about Bev’s athletic accomplishments and work as a personal trainer and fitness consultant at Active Age Fitness.

Ed Whitlock, Beverly Coburn, Bob Moore

So she was very right, as nearly a decade later, I’m sticking with the program and see no end in sight.  My favourite part is the Maximum Strength Phase as this is where you really see yourself bulk up a little.  So why not time this phase to coincide with a reunion with your high school basketball team or a holiday when you will be mainly wearing a swimsuit. The reality of my training is that the maximum weight phase does not coincide with key races.  Once the serious racing begins, weight training shifts into maintenance mode and my focus is on becoming very lean and wiry.

Anatomical Adaptation (AA) phase * (2 sets)
Total sessions/Phase 8-12
Sessions/Week 2-3
Load Select loads that allow only 20-30 reps
Reps/Set 20-30
Speed of Lift Slow to moderate, emphasizing form
Recovery (in minutes) 1-1.5

* Table from Triathlete’s Training Bible

Here is a list of the weight machines or free weights I use.

Lat pull-down machine
Chest press machine
Seated row machine
Free weights or machine for pectoral muscles
Bicep curls with free weights
Reverse wrist curl with free weights

Squats on Smith machine
Leg press machine
Calf raise on leg press machine
Knee extension machine (no periodization – 3 x 8-10 reps ongoing maintenance)
Hamstring curl machine (no periodization -3 x 8-10 reps ongoing maintenance)
Hip adductor machine (no periodization – 3 X 8-10 reps ongoing maintenance)
Hip abductor machine (no periodization – 3 x 8-10 reps ongoing maintenance)

For my next weight workout I will enter into the Maximum Transition (MT) phase and then into the Maximum Strength Phase, shortly after.  For all the details click on Periodization of Weight Training

Maximum Transition (MT) phase * (3 sets)
Total sessions/Phase 3-5
Sessions/Week 2-3
Load Select loads that allow only 10-15 reps
Reps/Set 10-15
Speed of Lift Slow to moderate, emphasizing form
Recovery (in minutes) 1.5-3

* Table from Triathlete’s Training Bible

What happens if you find that you cannot learn to love weight training? If you are a middle-aged woman, you will experience fairly dramatic declines in strength which can result in poor posture and the hunched shoulder look. You might find opening heavy doors progressively more difficult as well as carrying bags of groceries for more than a short while. If you learn to LOVE the results of consistent weight training, you could be bounding up the double set of long stairs, at the York Mills Subway Station, arriving at the top first, while many of the morning commuters are standing or slowly walking up the escalator.

Subway Stations, A Good Place for Circuit Training

A funny thing happens to me while taking public transit.  I often get offered a seat by kind, younger men and women, sometimes I happily accept this offer, secretly telling myself that yes, my legs could use a break from all the miles I’ve run.

“Citius, Altius, Fortius.”

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Life at Minus 26 Celsius

Our flight to Edmonton was comfortable and passed quickly with a bit of napping and inroads made into The Sea Lady, the sixth or seventh Margaret Drabble book I’ve read which after 120 pages, seems well worthy of the praises sung on its covers.  The  long drive from the airport to the suburb of St. Albert was another story.

The Edmonton area has been hit with record snowfalls lately, along with very low temperatures making for treacherous road conditions.  Shortly after leaving the airport we saw several vehicles in ditches, including an overturned jeep.  Along the way, we spotted numerous abandoned vehicles.   Later we were told the likelihood of securing tow truck services during this spell of bad weather is very low.  Tough going but an evening peppered with my father-in-law’s stories of prairie life on the farm, pre-depression certainly gave us an it-could-be-worse perspective.

View From an Edmonton Parking Lot


As is our habit while here, we had our coffee and then drove to the Servus Centre for a morning work-out.  Upon arrival we noticed that it was the busiest we have seen it and discovered that it was the second day of  The Continental Cup, a world-class curling tournament featuring competition between the best teams from North America and the best in the world.

Curlcast coverage included this news item.  “Andrea Schoepp doesn’t have the use of a bicycle during the Continental Cup at the Servus Credit Union Place this week.  If she did, the current world women’s curling champion skip claims she’s be riding from the hotel to the arena and back every day, and never mind the minus-20 temperatures or the ice-bound streets.  “Oh yes,” she was saying this week, “you don’t have it cold here. This is great weather. Definitely not too cold for biking.”

Um, well, I beg to differ.  Sounds foolhardy and life threatening.  Is this bravado the equivalent of curler’s “trash talk”?

As my husband was about to hand over our entrance fee, I interjected excitedly, “Hey look, YOU are a senior!”.  As the attendant reworked the total, he joked that he was disappointed that she did not ask him to show his I.D.  Said I, “I don’t think that is the first time she’s heard that joke”.  At this juncture my observation may not have been wholly appreciated.

I ran six miles on the treadmill, did upper and lower body weights and was pleased to see that they had the sled style leg press machine. You should definitely have a trainer in your gym show you how to use this machine and if a novice, should start out with no weights. The lock and unlock feature on this machine varies a great deal so be careful if you are using a new machine. The demonstration below is a good one.

I also do ankle raises on this machine by positioning the balls of my feet at the bottom of the machine and flexing the ankles up and down. You don’t unlock the machine for this as the range of movement does not require unlocking and to do so would put you in a vulnerable and dangerous position.

View of My Feet in Position for Ankle Raises on Leg Press at Servus Centre

Workout done, I stopped by Booster Juice for a Ginger Hammer, a mix of apple, carrot and ginger juice as an appetizer to a regular outing during our Edmonton visits, a trip to Ricky’s restaurant. My usual choice is one of my indulgences, like my love of poutine, one of four Big Breakfast choices called the Perogy & Egg Platter which includes; 3 eggs, 7 perogies and Bavarian or Chorizo sausage and toast.

Perogy & Egg Big Breakfast

With the 1 p.m. timing of our breakfast, I devoured this treat with gusto, save for two perogys and 1/2 an egg.  Certainly, not the basis of a healthy lifestyle but a reasonable twice-a-year meal for an omnivorous runner with no family history of heart disease.  And there is something to be said for insulating layers of fat when living at minus 26 Celsius.

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Marathon recovery weeks & weight training

After the marathon on December 5th, I took five days off with 6 miles on the following Saturday and a couple of miles on the Sunday.  The next week I very comfortably ran 36 miles and today, completed a 40.5 mile week.  Feels like business as usual and I look forward to running at least 45 miles over the next seven days.

Tomorrow, I’ll start my off-season weight training routine beginning with the muscular adaptation phase of very easy upper and lower body weights in sets of 2 X 20-30 repetitions.  The starting point is about 40-50% of the maximum weight lifted during the maximum strength phase.  I would have started a couple of weeks ago however the weight room at the YMCA has been under renovation and is set to open tomorrow.

My favourite part of weight training is doing squats on the Smith Machine. Here is a good YouTube “how to” on how to use this piece of equipment. The best thing to do when you start up is to use no weight at all, just the bar, in order to get used to how the machine works and the proper motion. Done properly, squats should not hurt your back. My maximum lift when doing 3 X 4-5 reps is 135 pounds which is close to 130% of my body weight. This is about what is recommended for open-age women. I’ll have to double-check my reference book, Triathlete’s Training Bible by Joe Friel to see what the percentage is for men.

The order of lifts should go from the larger muscles to smaller. This is simple to figure out as the more weight you can lift, the larger the muscle.

I figure I’ll be lifting weights for the rest of my life as like running, I’ve grown used to the well-being that comes with sticking to this regime. Highly recommended!