Mind, Motion & Matter

Running, Essentially . . .


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In pursuit of a fast 5K

Pity the man, who must console the racer, faced with a disappointing race, morphing from his role of  Sherpa into that of sports psychologist afterward. Such was my husband’s lot as I was thwarted in my quest to go under 21 minutes for 5K. Buoyed by a 21:04 on March 31st, I set my sights on breaking 21 minutes in the short-term and am hoping that my 50-something legs might still carry me to run under 20 minutes – just once more is all I ask.

My Sherpa takes great photos too!

As I stood waiting for the race I gathered my thoughts, meditating on my good fortune on being able to set ambitious race goals although, what I might like to call ‘prayer”, in the context of the quest for fast times, seems suspiciously closer to a less mature desire for wish fulfillment.

Prior to the race, I gave the course 8.0 points on a 10 point rating scale for fast courses. Memory however did not serve me well as a decade later, I’ve downgraded m  its rating to a 6.0.  My time was 22:14 seconds at the Bread & Honey 5K.

Here are four things that were different from my last 5K and what I think it cost me in time . . .

  • Last race, I was very pleased with my evenly paced effort, aided by my watch and the kilometer markers. Yesterday my watch malfunctioned and I could not gauge my effort (+15 seconds)
  • Last race the course was out and back with the turnaround being a gentle curve, similar to the curve of 400 meter track. Yesterday there were eight sharp corners on the course (+16 seconds)
  • Last race the course was pancake flat. Yesterdays course was not hilly but rolling and not at all flat  (+20 seconds)
  • Last race I was four pounds lighter. According to Tom Osler every pound above your ideal running weight will cost you 2 seconds per mile so 2 seconds times 4 pounds is 8 seconds times 3 miles . . .  (+24 seconds)

I made these time estimates off the top of my head and was surprised when I did the calculations, that the total of 75 seconds, when subtracted from 22:14 equals, 20:59. WooHoo . . . I know I can do it!  It is said that high performance athletes internalize good results, and externalize bad results 🙂

For the record, I am 5 feet 1 1/2 inches and currently weight 111 pounds. My ideal racing weight is between 104 and 107 pounds and according to some medical charts, 107.5 pounds is the perfect weight for someone of my height. When I was a child we had the World Book Encyclopedia’s Childcraft series. Part of the series was a parent’s guide to child development with a chart of height-weight ratios. I studied this chart intently, obsessively in fact and was troubled that I never made it into the low end of the chart through childhood. I was that girl who disappeared when I turned sideways and I never did break the 100 pound barrier while in high school. At age 56, I’m no longer complaining about having good genetics for distance running.

As for the good habit of running, I expect to have more to say about that once I finish “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. I picked this book up yesterday afternoon and am halfway through its 350+ pages.

You can hear the audio interview with Charles Duhigg that piqued my curiosity HERE at Great Work Interviews.

Candid Camera –  à la Sherpa – Napping, a GOOD post-race HABIT


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On blogging, baking and running around

Yikes! My goal is to post at least once a week and I am behind. I am seriously busy these days but my running is going very well. It just leaves little time to blog. And I do miss blogging and both my husband and son read my blog. I think they miss the blogging me 🙂  I also miss having the time to bake but was able to squeeze in a lemon-poppyseed pound cake for my boss’s  birthday and some wild pig shaped gingerbread cookies which I mailed to my nephew in Phoenix.

Havelina (wild pig) gingerbread

I’ve been taking a course which takes about 15 hours a week of my time. I’m in the throes of organizing a gala which my husband and I Co-Chair and work is fairly intense these days. I hope to run under 21 minutes later this year for 5K and have been joining my track team 1-2 times a week for speed sessions.

I ran 6.5 miles yesterday in the most broken up fashion ever in trying to fit everything in. I’m planning to run a 5K in the beaches area and the race is a throwback to the days of small community driven races. There is no on-line entry and no mail-in entry. The registration takes place over the course of six evenings from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. way out on the other side of town. A real dilemma for the time-crunched. I considered finding another race but I’ve run this one a couple of times and I like the low-key atmosphere and the course is a fairly fast, out and back route along the eastern beach.

Lemon poppyseed pound cake

There are a couple of friends who live way east of me who I’ve not seen for awhile. I sent an email in the morning to see if they might be able to meet me for coffee during my rare appearance in that neck of the woods. Bingo! One friend had a date nearby that meshed with my timing.

Here is how my run went:

  • 5:00 p.m. Run half mile to subway
  • 5:05 – 5:20 p.m. Read course material on subway
  • 5:20 – 5:50 p.m. Run from Coxwell subway to friend-meeting point at Book City on Queen street.
  • 5:50 -7:00 p.m. Catch up with Dolores and enjoy bowl of seafood chowder with slice of bread
  • 7:00-7:05 p.m. Run to community centre to register for run
  • 7:05-7:20 p.m. Register for run
  • 7:20-7:55 p.m. Run to Coxwell subway station
  • 7:55-8:10 p.m. Finish reading course material on subway
  • 8:10 – 8:15 p.m. Run home

Total distance run over 3 hours and 15 minutes was 6 1/2 miles. Perhaps the lowest quality run ever. However, I’ve been having really great workouts since February including the night before. It was magical to be able to run on the Varsity stadium track at the very end of winter. WooHoo! I ran 6 x 1000 meters at a steady pace.

The week before I was really pleased with my result at the Canadian Masters Indoor Track Championships. I ran the 3000m in 12:32 which was a very solid national class age-graded score equivalent to running 9:52 in the open category. My confidence has really been boosted by racing on the track.

That's me on the left in the outside lane

As for the course, I just finished an assignment that is due Saturday. I’m frantically trying to get ahead of the game as the date the big project is due coincides with the gala. Enough, is enough and I’m now allowing myself the luxury of a blog post.

This is not a sustainable pace and I look forward to life post-gala. But the effort is worth the result and sometimes, there is no other way to get things done than get into fifth gear for awhile. If I get this post done tonight I still have ten days to get two more done by the end of the month.

I have no one to blame but myself for this state of affairs. But I do feel quite fulfilled and it won’t be long before I can take my sweet time and hopefully run a 5K under 21 minutes at age 56 with enough time to smell those roses afterward. According to the age-graded calculator my new motto should be:

20:59 is the new 16:59 . . . sigh


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62 Miles = 100 Kilometers

Nowadays when I tell people how far I’ve run or my weekly mileage tally most people assume I mean kilometers not miles. So, for the record I ran 100 KM this week.

NYC Marathon

That would be miles, not kilometers

A highlight of the past eight days was that I ran with two new people. The first was our roommate Alain, a friend of my son’s who lives with us. We enjoyed a 10K run at a faster-than-usual easy day pace. A few days later I ran with a 19 year old friend from Afghanistan who hasn’t been running at all but did come second in the city wrestling championships in the 55 kilogram category. He easily ran with me for five miles through High Park including Deer Pen Road, the steepest road in the Park. He did this while wearing his wrestling shoes. We are planning to run again. It feels good to be able to run with fit youngsters who have mothers 10 years my junior.

I enjoyed introducing him to High Park. He lives less than a mile away but had never visited. He really enjoyed the trails and particularly enjoyed the part I dread most, the off-leash dog area of the trail. As it turns out, he had a dog in Afghanistan and as he started to tell me about his large Russian bred dog, said, “Things are different in my country” which was perhaps in my little world, the understatement of the year. I rightly guessed that his dog was an attack dog, trained to protect people and property.

He got quite a kick out the packs of unleashed dogs playing on the trail and encouraged one to run alongside us, to the chagrin of the owner. I do confess as a tending-to-cower runner in the presence of dogs, I rather enjoyed this show of confidence. My friend thought it quite funny that I would be scared of Canadian dogs. I asked a friend from Sierra Leone about the dogs in his country and he confirmed that owning 2-3 dogs trained this way was a necessity.

As for NYC Marathon training, the week went very well and I felt surprisingly good today after my 18 miler yesterday which went a big way in getting me past my minimum target of 60 miles for the week. Mixed in to those miles was 35 minutes of tempo running and 10 x 1 minute hard.

Yesterday I woke at 4:00 a.m. and set out on my 18 miler at 6:40 a.m. The morning grew hotter and more humid and while the run was hard, it was not a slog. I napped for a couple of hours afterward to make up for rising so early.

My goal for next week is to hit 65 miles minimum. I’m going to have to tighten up my time management as I’m heading into a very busy period at work.  Today I learned how to make lists on my BlackBerry which I hope will be one tool to improve my ability to Get Things Done.  One thing I’ve been doing this year to save time is to avoid shopping if at all possible. You would be amazed at how much time you can save if you decide just to get by with what you have and avoid stores.

Best to save that leg power for running not shopping.  Marathon training can save you money 🙂


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Warm Winter Surprise

I skipped my run this morning and went to work early instead, in spite of my husband’s disapproval for allowing the bleak morning to deter me.  The run-plan, an early departure from work and an indoor run to follow.  A very good plan indeed with today’s escalating snow storm.

Once again, I sing the praises of working a mile from home.  How pleasant it is not to rely on public transit or a car.  One of many walking route options takes me past a supermarket, where I stopped to buy spinach and carrots and then a Tim Horton’s where I picked up an orange-carrot whole wheat muffin.  This muffin $1.10 tax included, is delicious and great value.  Then on to the YMCA, just ahead of the post-work rush to easily find a free treadmill for an easy three miles.   I’m enjoying taking a mileage break.  It is very unusual for me to do three milers, let alone three of them in one week.

It has been over a year since I’ve used the full locker room facilities at the Y.  I usually run to the Y from home, store my outerwear in a locker and after working out, head home to shower.  What better day to luxuriate in the whirlpool and then dry off in a sauna.  Nicely warmed up I even found myself looking forward to shoveling our sidewalk.  As our walk came in view, I saw that our roommate Alain had already shoveled and salted.  I shoveled the 1/2 inch or so that had accumulated just because I felt warm, happy and fortunate.  I hope the day was not too trying for others.

Happy Day Muffin


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Spring Things

In 2008 our front yard crocus blossomed on April 5th and in 2009 it blossomed on March 21st.  In spite of this late arriving spring, the crocus blossomed a bit earlier than these years, flowering just in time for St. Patrick’s Day.

Early arrival of crocus.

I’ve been sporadically recording the dates of when things bloom since 2005.   I expect to see periwinkle and forsythia in early to mid-April with many others to follow shortly after.   We planted some snowdrops in the fall of 2009 and only ONE came up.  I had planned to plant more last fall but got lazy or busy or something like that.   Another sign of spring is that babies come out of hiding.

Yesterday I was quite stiff after my Thursday night workout and were it not for the three errands I could do on my run, might have taken a day off.  I ran three miles with a very clipped stride, first to drop off a baby gift, then to the post office and finally to the bank.  I ended my run at Starbuck’s, ordering a triple-venti-whole milk-vanilla latte.

Barely three weeks old!

Given my near hobble yesterday, I was well pleased to feel fairly comfortable running 14 miles this morning. It bodes well that my body is bouncing back from a hard workout in 48 hours. The pace for the run was relatively slow but good enough at this point in my training. A big surprise was the runnable condition of the beltline. For the Toronto runner, that may be one of the top five signs that spring is around the corner.


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Run, Run, Rest . . . RUN

Way back in the mid-eighties, I discovered the benefits of the easy week.  I like to think of myself as one of the early adopters of this principle. The hard-easy day principle of training was well ingrained in anyone who had read articles from Runner’s World and Running Times but not so, the easy week.

One reason for experimenting with easy weeks was having spent half of the my first five years of running – injured. Out of necessity those first five years of running were all about trial and error and a lot of research into how the body works.

Fortunately, I was never prone to running through pain so I did not set myself up for chronic injuries. Just as the body carries the memory of hard-training and top fitness, making the road to achieving this easier, once traveled, my sense is that the body also remembers when the warning signal of pain has been ignored and the time for healing replaced by pushing through or masking the pain, a recipe for developing a lifetime chronic running injury.

The easy week, is all about distribution of effort. The hard weeks are more challenging and the easy weeks, well easier. Over the past decade or more, I was running similar weekly mileage to my peers, as an average, but thrown into the mix, would be some blockbuster weeks of say, over 100 miles and weeks with mileage lower than most “serious” marathoners would consider worthy. The concept of the easy week can be expanded to think of easy years. For example, I knew I wanted to be in the best shape of my life when I turned 50. Leading up to this key racing season, I mixed in an easy year just before. I was increasing fitness, however, I was banking all-out race efforts for when I changed age-groups.

Author - Dr. Jim Loehr

Maximizing performance through distribution of effort can be applied to how we manage our lives. I enjoyed The Power of Full Engagement written by Jim Loehr. He says, “Managing ënergy not time is the key to full engagement and optimal performance.” and I think this is relevant to marathon training as well as life management.

In spite of the faulty analogy Loehr uses to describe his insights, unflattering comparisons of marathoners with sprinters, the basics of what he says rings true for me. As for the analogy, Loehr is a tennis player and his sprinter versus marathoner metaphor demonstrates that he is unfamiliar with the training methods of high-performance distance runners who in fact, must draw on several energy systems  to perform optimally.

In running and in life, knowing when is the best time to do what, and the energy demands or complexity of those tasks is a step towards improving RESULTS.


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Don’t Stop Movin’

The best way to aggravate back problems, lower back problems particularly, is to SIT for long periods.  The worst thing to do in the morning after six or more hours of immobility is to SIT in front of your computer.

I incurred what I refer to as an under-use injury when I flew from Frankfurt to Toronto this fall and due to 8 hours of inactivity my sacroiliac joint locked up.  If you use a laptop my tip is,  move your laptop to a height from which you have to work from a standing position.  Another benefit of standing while on-line is that you are less likely to find yourself aimlessly surfing or getting sidetracked in cyberspace.

Sitting at my desk for 7 hours of work aggravated this state-of-affairs and was at times painful.  Naturally, I felt great when I was running, with its massaging motion!  The sacroiliac joint eventually let up, in part due to a routine of regular walks at noon hour.  It is my view that noon hour walks are one of the most under-used exercise opportunities there is.  Lunch can be eaten prior to a walk with no digestive troubles and a quick lunch can leave you with up to 50 minutes for a brisk or leisurely walk.  Whatever the pace, it is a quantum leap from the alternative of SITTING in a lunchroom to break up a day of  SITTING at your desk or sitting in a lunchroom.  I formed the habit of having a pair of running shoes designated for walking, by my desk.  And you don’t have to miss out on socializing with workmates if you invite colleagues to join you.

Lunchtime Walks in Hogg's Hollow

When the weather worsens, I make use of my metropass to travel underground to different Starbuck’s locations.  The air is not as fresh as an above ground walk but at least you are movin’ and have the chance to do some stair climbing.

I am a firm believer in taking a full hour for lunch when at all possible.  I find the break, makes me far more productive in the afternoon.  I would rather take that hour and stay late, when work piles up, than skimp on a lunch break.  I have indulged in noon hour walks even on days when I have run a few miles in the morning and then 8 miles home from work.  A walk is like a  third workout for me while marathon training.

Too much SITTING when not balanced by movement is a degenerative activity and with the computer, left, right and centre of our lives, proactive measures are needed to counteract the ill effects of the inactivity it engenders.

It is no surprise that a so called,  Fat Habit #3 has been identified by one writer as Not Multitasking While Watching TV.  My mom had strong views about television.  She once issued a list of shows that were banned in our household; on that list was one of our favourites, Get Smart (we loved that show!), although I don’t think this regime really took hold as she had strong views but was not particularly strict.

She also insisted that we be involved in other activities while watching TV.  Thus, I would draw, sew and sometimes iron to satisfy this criteria.  I carry the multi-tasking habit with me to this day.  Thank you mom!