Mind, Motion & Matter

Running, Essentially . . .


30 years of running, 20 marathons run

As I work towards deciding which marathon to run this spring, I quickly jotted down, in chronological order a list of the marathons I’ve run and my times. It is the first time I have done this and eventually I’ll add more detail to this record which at this point is a draft, more or less. In bold are the top three highlights.

  1. Toronto Marathon, October 1981 — 4:11
  2. Ottawa Marathon, May 1982 — 3:37
  3. Toronto Marathon, October 1985 — 3:15
  4. Shamrock Marathon (Virginia Beach), March 1987 — 3:07 (gave birth to son Steven on December 19th, 1987)
  5. Toronto Marathon, October 1996 — 3:30 (9 1/2 years since last marathon)
  6. Boston Marathon, April 1997 — 3:28
  7. Columbus Marathon, October 1998 — 3:14
  8. Boston Marathon, April 2000 — 3:14
  9. Columbus Marathon, October 2000 — 3:15
  10. Ottawa Marathon, May 2002 — 3:07:02 (personal best, age 46)
  11. Ottawa Marathon, May 2003 — 3:11
  12. Ottawa Marathon, May 2004 —3:10
  13. Detroit Marathon, October 2004 — 3:11
  14. Mississauga Marathon, May 2005 — 3:14
  15. Detroit Marathon, October 2005 — 3:10:09 (Ontario age-group record, 50-54)
  16. Mississauga Marathon, May 2006 — 3:12
  17. Chicago Marathon, October 2006 — 3:13 (1st in 50-54 age-category)
  18. Boston Marathon, April 2007 — 3:17:54 (3rd in 50-54 age-category)
  19. Boston Marathon, April 2008 — 3:22 (7th in 50-54 age-category)
  20. California International Marathon, December 2010 — 3:42 (1st in 55-59 age-category) (2 1/2 years since last marathon)

Ottawa marathon 1982 - Nice headband!


Best of running 2010

Heading out for the first run of 2011 in a drizzle

Happy New Year all!  Here’s a repeat quote which was my very first blog post, along with my top ten list of running-related bests  for 2010 in chronological order.

Take care of your body with steadfast fidelity. The soul must see through these eyes alone, and if they are dim, the whole world is clouded. Goethe

    Hard packed sand at Cox Bay, Tofino, ideal for beach running

  1. Running with my husband on January 1st, 2010 and whenever his knee allows
  2. Saturday runs with the smart guys
  3. Running up sand dunes in Death Valley, California
  4. Racing 4 miles in Central Park, NYC
  5. Eight days of beach runs in Tofino, B.C.
  6. Discovering the joys of running with a camera
  7. Killer, chest pounding 40 X 200 metre interval workout at Varsity Stadium
  8. Discovering audio books as a pleasant alternative to music while on the run
  9. 8 mile tempo and interval runs home from work, with the fast sections run on the downhills
  10. Finishing my 20th marathon, the California International Marathon in Sacramento

Sand dunes near Furnace Creek, Death Valley CA

Barefoot and running

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Dylan Wykes upset winner of the California International Marathon

Congratulations Dylan Wykes!

Leading from start to finish, Dylan Wykes carried the day and is in good position to make the 2012 Olympic team. CLICK HERE for local coverage of the CIM. “On the women’s side, defending champion Buzunesh Deba, 23, of Ethiopia won easily in 2:32:13. She finished 5 minutes 20 seconds ahead of runner-up Erin Moeller, 33, of Mt. Vernon, Iowa.”

As for my race, I was surprised to find my name mentioned in the context of a report on “seasoned athletes” at the CIM. CLICK HERE TO VIEW It was not an expression I had ever heard to describe masters athletes so I had a bit of a chuckle.

Dylan Wykes a Canadian, winner of the CIM in 2:12:39, 150 yards from the finish line

I was a co-presenter with Dylan Wyke’s mentor-coach, Steve Boyd at the Ottawa Marathon race expo in 2005. Steve holds umpteen Canadian masters records and also has a doctorate, I think it is in the history of political thought from Queen’s University. Our presentation was about training as a masters runner. Shortly after that I wrote an article on Steve Boyd which is somewhere on the hard drive of an old computer. I hope to retrieve this one day (so many things to do, so little time) and post it on my blog.  Below are three photos from the California International Marathon awards ceremony.

Defending champion Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia accepts her award.

A happy but tired Dylan Wykes at awards ceremony.

Out of focus but happy, "seasoned athlete".



The final mile, a state of grace

By the time you get to mile 23 the prospect of the final .2 miles of the 26.2 mile marathon distance seems magnified.  Why 26.2 and not an even 26 miles?

It is helpful therefore when the race course has a one-mile-to-go sign at the 25.2 mile mark, as on this course.  During that final mile I think of myself as running a mile on known terrain such as two laps of Winston Churchill Park or the final mile of various routes out and back from my home to make the remaining distance seem less onerous.

The day before the marathon, a trip to the finish line to visualize race finish

I began to push harder on the homestretch and there were a lot of people along the course to cheer us on.  As familiar as I am with the event when I am a spectator I feel a world away from connecting with the unique mind-body experience of running a marathon and feel at a loss for an appropriate cheer.

There are a couple of mantras that I repeat to myself, “rhythm, relax, focus” and the other which I feel a bit embarrassed about revealing, “strong as a bull, smooth as silk”.   I particularly remember repeating this last one in the 2007 Boston marathon when I placed 3rd in my age-category.

I once read that the difference between your average fitness runner and those running for optimal performance is that the first group disassociates while racing and the second group does the complete opposite.  My experience has been that two elements that have made a difference for me are; belief in the remarkable capacity of the human body and the ability to experience your body in the moment and react accordingly for the task at hand.

For me a part of achieving this balance and fluid mental state involves what you could call prayer.  I recognize that while there are factors under my control that allow me to run and race, there is so much that is out of my control and that is a gift so I give thanks for this state of grace. So, part of being in the moment is a mind-track, if you will of bits of traditional prayer as well as the self-composed.

With around 700 meters to go, my husband spotted me but too late to get a photo.  He was trying to pick out the red singlet that I been wearing in the morning and I had stripped down to my base layer.  He shouted encouragement in very emotional and endearing terms and I increased my pace through to the finish, my 20th marathon completed, the 25th anniversary of our first date celebrated —  in the final mile.  I crossed the finish line and felt a surge of emotion —  as joy, fulfillment, satisfaction and relief converged. 


There’s a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Leonard Cohen

Finishing my 20th marathon in 3:42 at age 55

A few minutes after the finish with finisher's medal, teary-eyed, elated and exhausted


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Mile 13.1 to 25.2 miles

It occurs to me that like doing “minutes” writing about a race experience is a lot easier when done right away.

My state of mind at the halfway point was very good. I tried to focus on each mile and I felt hopeful that I might be able to go under 3:40 which was my dream goal. I found myself looking forward to hitting the 20 mile point and proving to myself that I would NOT hit the proverbial wall.  I wish I could give a blow by blow account of my splits but my inability to read the fine print on tattooed on my wrists created a bit of confusion.  In spite of running well within my heart rate comfort zone for the first half of the race, my pace slowed through the race.

Before the 20 mile mark I realized that the race bib pinned to my shorts was a bit askew.  I was worried that this might result in no race photos as they used the bib number as the identifier.  So, for the second time I had to undo the four safety pins and attach the race bib to my sports bra.

My average pace for the first 5.9 miles was 8:08 and I slowed to 8:16 between 5.9 and 13.1 miles.  From 13.1 to 20 miles my pace was 8:23  and then the most dramatic slowdown was between mile 20 to the finish where my pace averaged 8:55.  It didn’t feel like I had slowed that much because I passed 277 runners and was only passed by two runners between mile 20 to the finish. One of the two runners that passed me was a guy who was pacing a young woman, the other runner that passed me.

So at some point after 20 miles I realized that I was not going to go under 3:40. I worried that I might not go under 3:45 but although I was getting slower, I pushed harder. My heartrate monitor had gone on the blink around mile 20.

Around mile 22 I passed a woman with grey hair who I thought might be in my category and indeed that was the case. She ended up finishing a couple of minutes behind me. I dye my hair so it might not be so easy for another 55-59er to spot me from the rear.   The fact that unlike the open men or women, age-groupers can’t tell who their competition is fairly odd. In triathlons, age-groupers have their age-group written on their legs.

Around mile 24 I passed by a water station where every single marathoner was walking. It was in fact, a little hard to get through that section. I find it surprising that so many people, slowed more than I did. I guess I’m used to running with a faster, more experienced crowd and relative to my time, I have far more experience with the distance, than the 3:40+ marathoners I was running with.

I wish I could have something dramatic or funny to say about the race, like the author of What I Talk About When I Talk About Running who found himself counting the dead cats and dogs when he ran the original marathon route in Greece. I suppose the lack of drama in my account is partly to do with this being a “getting-back-in-the-game” effort rather than a full out race. Nonetheless the final mile is always something special but I’ll save that for the final installment.

Thanks for your interest!

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Holiday intermission from the marathon story

A pitfall of running a marathon so late in the fall is that I’m playing a bit of catch-up with the holiday spirit.  Those cookies I promised to blog about have yet to materialize.  There is not a trace of Christmas decoration about.   Much of that, I hope will happen today and tomorrow.

The evening of the marathon, we had a very slow and rainy drive from Sacramento to San Francisco.  The rain stopped shortly after we arrived and we walked the two blocks from our hotel, The Larkspur (formerly the Cartwright) to Union Square to take in the holiday decorations.

Union Square's trademark palms

Union Square, Macy's quintessential holiday windows

The following Sunday we were back in Toronto and spent the afternoon at the theatre with 3 nieces and 2 nephews. All enjoyed A Year With Frog and Toad at the Lorraine Kimsa Young People’s Theatre. Frog was played most charmingly, by Louise Pitre.

Party of seven

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The first half

And we are off – sort of.  Although I was only 20 meters from the start line where the transponder chip attached to my running shoe registers my start time, it took me 37 seconds to get there, more than the 23 seconds it took me to cross the mats at the Chicago marathon.  So there you have it, the distinction between “gun” time and “chip time”.

Transponder chip, tied to running shoe

Concerns going into the race; would my heart rate watch behave, would the hitherto unknown sports drink Ultima throw off my usual routine of marathon beverage consumption, would I be able to read my pace tattoos with my rapidly deteriorating middle-aged vision and would I experience foot cramps which I’ve had bouts of recently.

Pace tattoos in place

Following the advice of the three, 27 time-CIM-runners I took the significant downhill in the first mile very easy.  I was relieved to see my heart rate register on my watch as the night before I realized that I had brought the more complicated watch of the two I own, the one that I don’t really know how to operate.  I had frantically downloaded the manual and spent much time pressing this button and that, each press triggering a high-pitched beep, to my husband’s dismay as he quietly read.  Together we were able to get the watch into a mode that would display both the heart rate and elapsed time.

I missed the one mile marker but was running around 8:25 pace at the two mile mark and it felt quite easy.  I noticed some runners stop at porta potties and realized that I too, had to pee.  Canadian masters legend Diane Palmason suggests that you should drink continually up until an hour before a marathon.  And then, have another drink 10 minutes before the marathon.  I had forgotten this and so I spent the next 8 miles in search of a porta potty with no line-up or a some sort of private spot a little forest or such.  In spite of this slight discomfort the pace was very comfortable as I ran with my heart rate from 140-145.  At this point I had no trouble keeping my heart rate under 145.  What was interesting is that a few times my heart rate went down to 135 a lapse of concentration perhaps.

The weather was turning out to be perfect.  I had tossed my hat at the one mile point and knew that it would not be long until I would feel the need to take off my vest.  That would be a complicated maneuver as my race number was pinned to the front.  But, first I had to find a pit stop.  Shortly after mile ten we went by an industrial park which had a freestanding brick wall as part of the landscaping.  I had no choice but to quickly and discreetly duck behind this makeshift porta potty.  Ahem, well on the subject of  TMI my husband overheard the following conversation on marathon day.  A woman was explaining to her male companion how she had made a pit stop but that her muscles were very tight and she could only pee very slowly.  The lack of modesty shown by long distance runners in discussing these matters has something in common with the intense physical rigours of childbirth and the willingness of participants to discuss the details thereof.

Race bib

The logistics of removing my vest while running loomed.  I relaxed into the race for a couple of miles and then tackled undoing the four safety pins holding the race bib in place and redoing these same pins to attach the race bib to my shorts.  Then I removed the vest and tried unsuccessfully to tie it around my waist.  There was not enough length to do this.  So I put placed the vest around my waist and fastened the lower part of the zipper so it encircled me.  Then I twisted and twirled the vest so that it fit snugly around my waist.  You may ask would it not have been easier to just stop.  Well, as I write this I wonder too.

I ran the rest of the race in my short,shorts and sports bra, a racing outfit that my son used to refer to as a bathing suit.  Consider the embarrassment of teenager who has a mother who has raced down Yonge street in her bathing suit.  Now that I’m closer to 60 than 50, I do not feel inclined to expose so much of my body and avoid this “bathing suit” look when at all possible.  However, such were the weather conditions on this day and with all that training on the line, the seconds gained by cooler body temperature won out over vanity and dignity.

As for the race tattoos.  I should have given more thought to their placement as they were virtually unreadable in spite of pulling my skin this way and that.  Bottom line, print too small for middle-aged eyes.  I should have stuck to my old method.

So the first half passed with much distraction.  My time for those 13.1 miles / 21.1 km was 1:48:19.  It felt great to be able to finally focus on the race.  And as they say for the marathon, the race really begins at mile 20.

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Photo finish

Taking photos of runners is not easy.  One of my favourite photos was taken by a friend who had his wife positioned 50 meters ahead to alert him that I was about to run by.  The wisdom of this method is illustrated by this photo from the Sacramento marathon taken by my husband of where I was seconds before. He made up for the photo-less-ness with some very exuberant cheerleading.

Where I was . . .

Fortunately, there are always professionals along the course and at the finish ready to record our moments of glory, for a price. In this case, I purchased three of the digital images taken of me during the race. While $49.99 seems pricey the logistics of taking all those photos and sorting them by race number must be onerous, not the easiest way to make a buck.   Here is one of the shots of my finish.

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The race expo, a love-hate relationship

At best, the marathon expo is draining.  At worst, it is a bit of a circus with sideshows of minimal interest to the long-time runner, catering as it may to the novice runner or the flavour-of-the-day in training methods.  The CIM distinguished itself by having Jack Daniels, one of the most respected coaches in distance running, as its headliner.

We arrived in town a couple of hours before the expo opened and all seemed quiet in the vicinity of the expo, located a block from our hotel.  It was a surprise to find the convention center packed a mere thirty minutes after opening time.  And, I mean near-gridlock type of “packed”.  I do not like crowds.  A manifestation of this is that after a total 27 years as a Toronto resident I have never attended the Canadian National Exhibition, the CNE, the EX.

The days before a marathon are not the time to be fighting crowds, rifling through boxes of running gear in search of bargains or sampling new sports drinks, bars or supplements.  As for shopping, as when on vacation, context is everything and souvenir doodads and apparel entice but may lose luster upon returning to the regular grind.  For example I briefly considered buying this t-shirt.

Yours for $19.99 or two for $35.99

A nice aspect of blogging is that the act of posting a picture of something that catches your eye gives you a bit of the thrill of acquisition, and diminishes your desire to possess that object.  It is unlikely that I would ever wear this t-shirt, had I purchased it.

The most tiring expos of all is the Boston Marathon expo. I’ve run Boston four times and the last three times have ducked into the long corridor where the race kits are given out and avoided the expo altogether. My alternative to the expo is a trip to the Harvard Bookstore, located a couple of blocks from the Harvard Square subway station and a block from an Italian restaurant with great lobster ravioli.  You don’t want to start pumping adrenalin at the marathon expo, wait till race day, you want to reduce physical and running related-mental stimulation the day before the race.

To be fair there are items at expos that are not readily available elsewhere.  My purchases this day included;  arm warmers, mid-weight gloves, fluorescent gloves,  powder for Ultima, the official sports drink of the CIM and Mocha Clif Shots with caffeine.  As mentioned in another post, the Mocha Clif Shots are not available in Canada. Picking up my race number, t-shirt and timing chip took little time, however there was a bottleneck at the goody bag pick-up. My husband stood in the long line to get the goody bag while I made my purchases and looked around for sports watches as he needs a new one. Have you ever noticed how the life of a sports watch seems dependent on the life of the wristband?

Arm warmers, Utima powder, gloves, flourescent gloves and mocha Clif shots

Arm warmers, Utima powder, gloves, flourescent gloves and mocha Clif shots

No sports watch bargains were to be had so my husband returned to the hotel to do a work out at the fitness centre and I stayed for the presentation on how to run the CIM. This session was hosted by three runners, each having run the CIM all of it’s 27 years. The main takeaway points were; getting to the race start by bus is the ideal as the buses stay put once there and you can choose hang out in the bus for as long as you need, stay to the left at the relay exchange points as there is a lot of activity and confusion, the location of the major uphills on this net downhill course.

I returned to the expo recharged after the hour of sitting and bought a bus ticket. Then came upon the biggest bonus, pace tattoos. I normally create a waterproof pace chart that I pin to my jersey however no need this time round as I picked up, free-of-charge tattoos with splits for a 3:40 and a 3:45 marathon.

Pace tattoos, what will they think of next!?

Very cool. I returned to the hotel feeling that the net return on attending the expo was positive. I felt that I had for the most part done as Jack Daniels advised in his seminar the following day which was to concentrate on the task-at-hand.

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Marathon morning

False start, awake at 2 a.m. Head to the washroom in the dark to the sound of heavy rain and run into the end of the partially opened bathroom door, smack on the bridge of my nose. Why, why, did I ever decide to run this marathon, why!?

I was able to fall back to sleep for nearly two hours. Rising just before the planned 4 a.m. I go down to the lobby and step outside to a light drizzle and warmish temperature. I have never run a marathon in the rain. Will this marathon my 20th, be the first?

Folsom to Sacramento

The tedious but important decision of what to wear looms. I decide on the short shorts, lighter vest and tank top over sports bra and lightweight microfiber cap. Then I bundle up with tights, warm up pants and t-shirt, arm warmers and jacket. Since rising I have been constantly drinking Gatorade.

There is a bus to the start line that stops at the hotel. I head downstairs and am the last runner to trundle on. My seatmate is eager to converse. All very well, since I discover that she is a pacer and only running about half the course. She is assisting a blind female runner who is hoping to run 3 hours and 30 minutes. We chat briefly about the Achilles Track Club, which I correctly gathered was the source of her involvement.  Any other time I would have liked to converse more fully but I am feeling quite apprehensive, especially when I find out that the race starts at 7:00 a.m. not 7:30 a.m. as I had thought. D’oh!

My friendly seatmate offers to lend me her cellphone to text my husband this news. I confess that I’m not really sure how to send a text message. I start to think about how disappointed he will feel if he misses the finish but force myself to FOCUS on the task at hand. The 26 mile drive takes nearly an hour so by the time we get to the start area, it is nearly 6:30 a.m. and I am feeling quite tense. There is a long, line-up at the porta potty so while waiting I strip down to race gear. The day is dawning with no rain and I decide to forgo the singlet, wear the vest, which can be worn around my waist should conditions warm up markedly.

Ya gotta go

Liberated from the need to pee, I dash to the baggage truck and toss my bag. Having read the runner comments about this race from marathonguide.com was helpful in giving me confidence in the bag check process. Generally, I never leave anything I would mind losing, with baggage check.

My competitive hope is to place in the top three so having noticed that age-groups prizes are awarded on gun time, not chip time, I make my way close to the front, near the 3:10 marathon aspirants, recalling the thrill of being the oldest woman in the 3:10 corral at the Chicago marathon in 2006.

Daylight is upon us with a mainly blue sky defying the predicted steady rain. I feel ready so let the party begin.  Three, two, one and we are off . . . Hallelujah!

Listen to KD Lang sing Leonard Cohen’s HALLELUJAH at the opening ceremony for Olympics.  Stunning!