Mind, Motion & Matter

Running, Essentially . . .

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Running in February, down by the boardwalk

Marilyn Bell Park on February 2, 2012

Never in the my personal history of thirty years of running in Toronto has there been such an astonishing weather. WooHoo! The photo above is from a run I did the day after returning from our trip to Arizona and New Mexico. Today my eight miler down by the lake was about as good as it gets in the winter. The wind gained force through the day but it was nicely in check in the morning.

Boardwalk near Sunnyside Pool, February 27, 2012

Yesterday I ran 1500 meters at a masters provincial track championship. With many years of racing under my belt, there are rarely surprises when it comes to racing times. However, the injection of speed work over the past month set the stage for a time 10 seconds faster than my stretch goal and a vast improvement on my mile time run a couple of weeks ago. Something akin to going from a 4:10 mile to a 3:58 mile in a couple of weeks.

According to the AGE-GRADED-CALCULATOR the bible of the masters runner my time was equivalent to an open time of 4:41.3. Very encouraging. One of my goals is to get fast enough so to avoid being lapped by my very speedy and younger teammates, one of whom won her age-category this year in the Fifth Avenue Mile. That is world-class running!

1500 meter race - a real high

On the heels of my NYC Marathon disappointment I registered for the Around the Bay 30K however I’m so enjoying the prospect of more track and doing a fast 5K that I’m going to pass on the 30K. As for my training, I’m going to err on the side of speed. Holding back on mileage in favour of good quality speedwork. Although for me, holding back on mileage means not going over 70 miles or 114K. Why do I run so many miles? I’ve always felt that I have more speed than endurance but I think I went over the top on that count and I’m really excited to change my focus.

I’m hoping to be running like a lion in March!

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Running for the two of us

I’m trying to boost my mileage a little but this week had to be satisfied with matching the 45 miles or 72K that I ran two weeks ago. Commuting to Mississauga for a four day in-class session of my four-month course cast a pall on my running ambitions for the week. To make it to my destination meant leaving home around 6:45 a.m. Adding to this were two evening engagements with start times not far off my usual bedtime on days when I leave home for work at 9 or 10 a.m.

Getting lapped in the mile by teammates

I’ve been too busy to write much about my renewed commitment to increased racing fitness but joining a track club was something I finally did in January after nearly two years of thinking about it. My 2012 drive to get fit was set back by turning my ankle and a bad cold over the couple of weeks while I was on holiday and this week’s challenge was to merely maintain my momentum. But I’m excited about applying myself to speed work with the track club and feel confident that I can maintain this momentum alongside my volunteer commitment of organizing the People4Kids Gala to take place on Thursday, May 3rd at C-5 in the ROM.

Part of my confidence is due in part to focusing on quality rather than quantity over the next few months. Last year at this time I was hoping to run a marathon however, the commitment to high mileage was too much to maintain while organizing the gala. I’m also banking on the hope that having a club to train with at regular times will reduce the amount of determination I need to get myself to do interval sessions.

Here is what I did this week:

  • Monday – 10 miles easy (day after 800 meter and mile race)
  • Tuesday – 3 miles easy (left for run at 5:15 a.m. and went to bed at 8:30 p.m.)
  • Wednesday – 7  miles (Decided to stay at a hotel near the course site in Mississauga to facilitate an evening run)
  • Thursday – 4 miles (threshold session on hotel treadmill)
  • Friday – 2 miles (left for run at 5:30 a.m.)
  • Saturday – 14 miles solo
  • Sunday – 5 miles
  • Total / 45 miles

My husband joined me at the hotel in Mississauga and assumed the stress of commuting to his workplace. Thankfully, the week was not as crazy as expected as the two hour commutes back to Toronto did not materialize as I received a lift home on three of the days. This allowed me to nap on Thursday before attending the gala opening of the auto show. This event is very popular as there is a lot of complimentary food and drink. In order to conserve my energy I did not take advantage of the drink offers other than juice and coffee but was extremely happy to enjoy the free oyster bar among other things.

Free oysters courtesy of Lexus

On Friday, I was also able to nap and along with members of the gala committee went to hear Waleed Abdulhamid perform. We were in negotiations to have him play at our gala and were well satisfied by his performance that he is our man.

Fellow talent hunters

Saturday morning brought sludgy snow and overcast skies which made getting out the door, with no company, difficult. But my husband reminded me of how lucky I am to be able to run injury-free and tells me that I have to run for the two of us, thus helping to prod me to hit the roads. Part of the process of getting out the door involved downloading some new music and creating a new playlist called “long run”.

I had fully intended to run to the Athletic Centre at U of T and run indoors but as I left the house it stopped snowing and the sky cleared. So with uncleared sidewalks predominating I decided my best bet was to run along Bloor the whole way, which I did for a very long stretch from St. George to Woodbine. I ran back  the exact same way. Not bad for a winter run but the tips of crocus leaves have been showing for a couple of weeks and wouldn’t it be nice if spring was early this year. Training without the company of my favourite training partner, my husband over these past few years has proven a challenge however his encouragement is at the top of the list of my arsenal of motivational tactics and inducements to get out the door nearly every day of the year.


Around the Bay 30K

Kudos and congratulations to all those who took part in this historic road race today.  It is the Ontario road runner’s equivalent of a season-opener.

While out on Friday we ran into an acquaintance who asked if I was running on Sunday.  I drew a blank.  It was only on Saturday morning that it struck me that this was the weekend of one of Canada’s foremost long-distance races, the Around the Bay 30K in Hamilton.  How could I forget?! Many of those who have been training diligently through the winter have been driven by the goal of racing this 30K.

Last year a record I had established in 2006 was broken.  A new course (and Canadian) record for 30K of 2:07 was set by Jennifer Ditchfield.  My goal when I set the record was to run under 2 hours and 10 minutes.  I was disappointed to run 2:12 and that did not feel easy.

Around the Bay on a warmer day.

My friend Michal Kapral, a.k.a. the joggler jumped in around 25K and ran with me for awhile.  I told him that I was fading and wondered out loud whether any masters women were closing in on me.  He immediately started running backwards and let me know that I was in danger of being picked off.  That is when I learned that sometimes it is better not to know.  Ignorance is more blissful than having a set of eyes in the back of one’s head.  The rival masters runner did pass me and it felt worse knowing that this was a possibility so far in advance.

Michal at one time was considering trying to set a Guiness record for the backwards marathon.  He holds or held, the record for a marathon pushing a baby jogger and for running an entire marathon while juggling three balls.  He has also won the Toronto marathon in a time of 2:31.

With my plan to run Boston next year, it is doubtful that I can do the 30K as it is my view that many a runner has left their Boston best, down by the bay. It is a challenging 30K route that when raced to the full, is not far off the effort of running a marathon. With 3-4 weeks separating it from Boston, there is not much time to recover to put your best foot forward at Boston. This has been the subject of ongoing debate among long distance racers and their coaches over the past century.

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The Long Way Home

Due to the promise of 6C in the afternoon I decided to skip my usual morning run, and run home from work.  I am now in the enviable position of living one mile from where I work and just loving the quality of life that comes with it.  But, it does mean that this run involved a 6 mile detour.  The direction of the detour was dictated by the wind from the southeast. 

Life on a Lake Ontario Ice Floe

Steps from work, is a path that is part of my route from home so it was south to the lake and then a right turn west with a bit of a tailwind. While not as warm as I had hoped, it felt great to end the workday running along the lake and then through High Park and home for a total of 7 miles. 

This winter reminds me of living in Ottawa where one inevitably lost memory of what spring is like by the end of it.  In spite of this taste of spring, I’m finding it hard to imagine running in shorts and a singlet.

Excerpt from . . . To Spring   Willam Blake

Come o’er the eastern hills, and let our winds
Kiss thy perfumèd garments; let us taste
Thy morn and evening breath; scatter thy pearls
Upon our lovesick land that mourns for thee.

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Back to the Track

Indoor Track – 3000 Meters – 2003?

I haven’t felt really perky this last week following my speed workout at U of T. And in the last leg of my 14.5 miles on Saturday I stumbled while running down Christie street and pitched forward completely sliding on my hands along the sidewalk. I was able to pick myself up and continue running but I had a bit of stiffness afterwards from the jolt. Then yesterday I did a bit of gardening which I find very hard on the lower back so this morning I was feeling quite stiff. When I hit the cold morning air, I decided to head straight for the treadmill at the YMCA where I did a very slow five miler.

My thoughts are coming together on the marathon I’m supposed to be training for. I’ve been doing a lot of research but have been unable to come up with a stand-in for Boston. I considered the London marathon but that sold out ages ago. I’m pumped for Boston 2012, and New York 2011 so I’m on the verge of deciding that I’ll start my training for the fall NOW and skip the spring marathon. The next 7 weeks are going to be crazy with gala work, so I won’t be in great shape this spring anyhow so fall marathon here I come.

A part of the decision to skip a spring marathon will be committing to regular speedwork with the Masters group at U of  T. For the first time in my life, I’m finding it hard to increase my mileage and increase the quality of my workouts in tandem. With the longer build-up I can take my time to get some speed back and then start building my mileage. So there you have it, my short-term goal. The medium term goal will be to run some shorter distance races once I get a bit of speed back. If things go well, maybe I’ll even do some outdoor track.


Running in the Winter Rain

It wasn’t until I took a hot shower a couple of hours after my run this morning that I warmed up.  Brrr . . .  winter rain, nothing like it.  Rainy weather in the transition months of March and November can make for some miserable runs.

So what to wear on days like this?  There is a big difference between running more than an hour in this weather.  After an hour or so water repellency and even waterproof  Gore-Tex begins to break down.  The temperature upon leaving home at 7 a.m. was +3C with a 9K southerly wind.

Gore-Tex membrane under an electron microscope. Size of islands about 10µm.

This was my cold rain gear of choice:  ball cap, long-sleeve wicking top, Gore-Tex jacket, 3/4 capri tights under single-layer warm-pants, ankle socks and Gore-Tex mittens.  This was comfortable enough for the first rainy hour but eventually my mitts were soaked and I had to head back into the south wind and my hands got so cold that I could barely manage to unzip my pocket to find my key.

As I write this my husband reminds me that I rushed into the bedroom this morning, waking him with the news, that “It’s a mess out there!” He says I’m losing my nerve for facing the elements.  And, he’s probably right.  I think my diminishing resolve is due in part to the absence of a solid spring running goal but I’m working on that. I sent an email to my Saturday run pals warning them that I may only run half of what I had planned.  In the end, I ran 10 miles, four miles short of the pre-rain plan.

My reward for 10 miles in the rain was a bowl of Canadian Colada Oatmeal a tribute to my favourite Booster Juice smoothie, The Canadian Colada.  I wonder if anyone has ever made oatmeal with coconut milk, pineapple bits and shredded coconut, topped with maple syrup, pecans and cow’s milk?  It wasn’t bad but I think I have some work to do on the proportion of ingredients.

As for Booster Juice, three cheers and hip, hip, hooray and a carrot juice toast.  Booster Juice has agreed to be one of the People4Kids gala sponsors!

Canadian Colada Oatmeal

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Who has felt the wind?

With the rise in temperature, I guessed that a modest southeasterly head wind would not prove overly challenging.  So off, I went down for a 9 mile run with 3 miles along the lake.  I forgot how bitterly cold the wind coming off the frigid lake and ice can be.  My fingers were never colder this winter, than after taking my mitts off to take photos.

Can you see the wind?

My 1 minute sprints were taxing and midway, while waiting for a green light the thought of quitting trying to run fast times went off like a tiny bell rung by a more sensible me.  Aargh, ugh, egads . . . that was hard.  I don’t mind feeling spent if I’ve run pushed my body to the max, but fighting the elements is just frustrating.  I suppose it is about mental training but it is just darn hard to run fast in the cold.  I staggered into the locker room at the Y, decided to skip the planned weight work out and headed home.  WINTER, I’m officially fed up with you!

This swan was hoping I had food.

Later in the day my spirits improved as I made my way to my last photography class at Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD).  The evening sun, boding spring and then a quick pre-class trip to the Art Gallery of Ontario where things were really hopping.  I checked out the sales at the gift shop and noticed a cordoned line-up to see artist-writer Shary Boyle.  The foyer of the gallery was quite full of visitors taking advantage of free Wednesday night admission.  Ah, Toronto, the 4th best city in the world to live.   Although, still lots of room to improve, as noted in the United Way newsletter we received today, highlighting the impact of the recession, Vertical Poverty (poverty by postal code).

Shary Boyle at the AGO

So an outing to arts central Toronto cheers me up and I spot this poster at OCAD that gives me pause to consider options other than that of winter running into headwinds.

What is your idea of fun?


Seen On & After the Run

I was eager to run to the lake to see the effect of warm temperatures on the ice.  The ice formations yesterday had an eerily, compelling, euw quality, similar to photos of blood platelets.

Blood doping platelets

I imagined that the ice would have an even more pronounced, rounded circular appearance. However today’s ice was not as dramatically shaped as I expected.

In the final mile of my 7 mile run, I stopped in at LIT Espresso Bar to pick up some Bolivian Buenavista coffee. I told the baristas that I have mentioned Stumptown coffee and LIT on my blog and gave them my blog address.  One of the baristas is a musician who runs.  We chatted briefly about running in snow with Yak Trax and what type of coffee my cafe owner-architect brother uses at the Baked Cafe in Whitehorse.

Stumptown Coffee from LIT Espresso Bar

It was a busy day as I had to prepare and print two photos for my photography class and demonstrate the use of various  Adobe Photoshop techniques.  Before my class I stopped at a long-time favourite concession stand, Sakura in Village By the Grange which serves homestyle Japanese cooking.  I had a large bowl of Japanese chicken noodle soup for $4.00, tax included.

Heart with a bell

Afterward, I dropped into the gift shop at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and picked up a belated Valentine’s gift for my husband and little something for my father-in-law who will turn 95 on February 24th.  A very long line-up was forming outside the gallery as the doors were about to open for the AGO’s free night.

I was a bit early for my class so I had a quick look at the student exhibit of human figure art. All this activity left me feeling somewhat young at heart, like the art student I was, several decades past, rather than the middle-aged mom, marathon runner of the present.

Check out the sampling of some of the Ontario College of Art (OCAD) student work below. I’ve tried to keep loosely to the running theme, which was not that difficult given the subject is the human body.


Seen While Running

Ice or Art?

Temperature drops nearly 20C from one day to the other. Welcome to mid-February and the mid-point of winter! It seems to me that the contrasting temperature must explain the striking ice formations, lily-pad like, I saw while running along Lake Ontario this morning.

The colour of cold!

Another unusual sight greeted me when I approached Trinity Bellwoods Park — trees laden with hand-printed hearts. Ah, Valentine’s Day! As we age, the gift of running seems ever more precious as does a special day to celebrate love in our (hopefully) deepening wisdom.

Someone's heart's afire!

In spite of a recent diagnosis of a torn meniscus, I had never seen my husband in finer form on the dance floor this Saturday past. The highlight of the evening was Van Morrison’s, Have I Told You Lately to which I shed a tear or two.

Tell your loved ones that you love them, again and again and again, every day of the year!  Belated Valentine’s Day wishes.

With love,

Love Poems of Rumi

A moment of happiness,
you and I sitting on the verandah,
apparently two, but one in soul, you and I.
We feel the flowing water of life here,
you and I, with the garden’s beauty
and the birds singing.
The stars will be watching us,
and we will show them
what it is to be a thin crescent moon.
You and I unselfed, will be together,
indifferent to idle speculation, you and I.
The parrots of heaven will be cracking sugar
as we laugh together, you and I.
In one form upon this earth,
and in another form in a timeless sweet land.


Winter Running on the Martin Goodman Trail

This morning I was feeling a little out-of-the-loop, due to learning  today, that since the winter of 2009, the city has been clearing the Toronto’s Martin Goodman Trail. I have been running through the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, over the bridge to Ontario Place and then east along the old path by the lake which is partially a parking lot ending with an uncleared section of ice and snow.  Noticing that there seemed to be runners emerging near Strachan with regularity, I googled the question, “Is the Martin Goodman Trail being cleared in the winter?” and found an article in the Globe and Mail called, How clear was my running trail by Christopher Shulgan to finally be in the know, that indeed snow clearing is being done on a priority basis.

Here is an excerpt from the article . . .

Winter running tends to be full of such (bad) moments. It’s bad enough that the activity forces men to wear tights. When these are paired with the bright hues that grace the jackets manufactured by Nike and New Balance, even the most masculine runner resembles a medieval harlequin – whose feet slide out from under him at icy corners, whose shoes get soaked in frozen puddles . . . READ MORE

For someone who has spent decades running east from Strachan through condo city, in the winter months, the option to run along the lake west of Strachan is big news.  So I enjoyed a groundbreaking run, out to High Park and then down Colborne Lodge drive to the lake.  I saw a number of other runners, walkers and cyclists enjoying the trail.

View of Sunnyside Beach from Martin Goodman Trail

My workout was an invigorating 9.5 miles with 40 minutes of tempo running.  Aware of the strong west wind, I ran west through the city and High Park, relying on buildings and trees to take the bite out of the wind, hitting the wide open of the lakefront to head east, with a strong tailwind.  Nothing beats tempo running with a tailwind.  The sun peeped out while I ran along the most scenic lake view sections so I stopped to take a few photos.

Sky meets ice in Marilyn Bell Park

Thank you City of Toronto for a wonderful winter running experience.  I hope (gulp) that MGT snow-clearing is here to stay.  Better write a thank you letter to City Hall!