Mind, Motion & Matter

Running, Essentially . . .

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Winter Running by the Lake

My total miles run for last week was 60 and about 48-50 of those miles were run outside.  While there were some cold days, the wind has been relatively tame making runs by Lake Ontario quite pleasant.

I was pleased to find the Empire Sandy, a tall ship landmark at Spadina Quay in spring, summer and fall, docked nearby at Queen’s Quay.  I also enjoyed the outdoor art near the pond, now skating rink,  just outside Queen’s Quay.

The Empire Sandy, Docked for the Winter


Today I was drawn to run outside because of the wonderful blue sky.  It was however necessary to get into full winter gear to stay warm, a key item is the facewarmer.  These items are described in two previous posts, Winter Running Gear Accessories and Winter Running Gear: Base, Middle & Outer Layers.  It’s hard to pick out in the photo below but I am wearing a  vented-bandana-style face protector made by Seirus which was bought at Dick’s in the U.S.  You may find one of this particular style at a store specializing in snowboarding gear but specialty running stores like New Balance Toronto and Mountain Equipment Co-op usually have the plain black styles in stock.

Cold, but too blue to stay inside.


Just East of Ontario Place

Here are photos from the outdoor art display near the Power Plant by Harbourfront Centre east of Queen’s Quay.

Harbourfront Outdoor Photo Exhibit

More Outdoor Art

Now that I am taking a photography course, I’ve become acutely aware of the limitations of my mini-camera.  However, I just can’t see myself running with the Nikon SLR camera lent to me by my son.  Even if I did not mind the weight, I’m sure the movement would not be good for the camera.  The instructor will be showing us how to take shots of fast moving objects.  I asked her whether that would apply to the opposite situation, when the photographer is the fast moving object.  She said we will cover that later.  Here is a photo I took for my course with a few painterly touches courtesy of PhotoShop, which I am learning to use.  I think I’ll call it Alley Series: #1 🙂



Saturday Run Configured

Planning our Saturday route and its timing took a fair bit of communicating with emails flying between four parties well into Friday evening.  “R” wanted to run 8-9 miles and had to be home by 8:15 a.m. while “D” was to be out late Friday and requested a not-too-early start time.   I questioned a plan that had the four of us running separately along routes which in an ideal world would see us converge.  Four moving objects running along icy sidewalks in -9C seemed to me a formula for confusion and missed rendezvous points.  Been there, done that and it is far too cold to risk the possibility of standing on a street corner, wondering if so and so is late or has already gone by and should we wait.  I asserted that I would only go along with this plan if we were all running with cell phones.

With the help of  Google’s Pedometer I drew up a new plan and thanks to a couple of Blackberries  and an IPhone, consensus was achieved for this new route.  “R” ran by my place, we ran to “D”s and then we ran to “J”s.  From there we went to “R”‘s arriving at 8:15 a.m. on the dot, our most important mission accomplished, and so on, all done with all the waiting done, in the warmth our homes.  One day, there will be an APP to figure out how to organize a group run minimizing time spent running alone, coming from disparate points and all with different mileage targets.  Here is what each of us got out of this group run.

Lynn = 14 miles, 2 miles solo

R = 8.75 miles, 1.5 miles solo

D = 7 miles, company all the way

J = 6.75 miles, 0.9 miles solo

Recently, I was showing our roommate how to use Google Maps Pedometer and he immediately noticed a function that I had never used.  Once you have calculated a route, you can turn on the calorie counter, input your weight and voila,1165 calories burned for 14 miles.  Time to eat!

Gmaps Pedometer

Total Distance: 14.0102 miles
Last Leg: miles
Draw route: automatically (for runners)
automatically (for cyclists)
manually (straight lines)
Turn off mile markers
Turn off calorie counter
Weight: 110 lb
Calories Burned: 1165.8345148371207110
Elevation: off small large

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Winter Running Gear – Base, Middle & Outer Layers

“One must maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter.”
Henry David Thoreau

HTO The Urban Beach - Thursday, January 6, 2011

A tip to get better prepared to run in the cold is to don your running gear ten minutes or so before you head out so that warm air pockets develop between the layers of your running gear.  Those air pockets are one of the reasons why dressing in layers is the warmer way to go.  Unless you overdress, a bit of chilliness for the first 4-5 minutes is inevitable when the temperature falls below -5C.

A favourite running jacket is the Cannondale Morphis jacket I’m wearing in this photo from my morning run to the lake.  It is made of waterproof Gore-Tex and because of its limited breathability is a warmer choice than most running jackets, in the dead of winter.  It is in fact a cycling jacket.  I bought this jacket in Boston prior to the 2008 Boston marathon.  Boston was hit by a severe nor’easter in the days leading up to the marathon and there was serious and unprecedented talk of canceling the marathon.  Thus the marathon chatter was devoted exclusively to what to wear.

I was a very happy camper when I found the perfect solution to the threat of torrential rains in the form of this jacket with its removable sleeves, secured by easy-to-detach zippers and magnetic closures.  And the only size left was my my hard-to-find XS.

Cannondale Morphis Gore-Tex Cycling Jacket

On race day, the sun peeped through the clouds not long after the race start and we experienced the tiniest sprinkling of rain.  Conditions could be described as “not bad”.  I wasn’t long into the race before I removed the sleeves and tied them around my waist and felt comfortable the rest of the way.

Boston Marathon 2008, jacket sleeves tied around my waist & NB lightweight trainers

Before buying this jacket, I had never owned a running vest.  Since I already owned a few very serviceable and good looking New Balance jackets, I was relieved to get a lot of wear out of this emergency purchase afterward, the vest in particular.  The jacket features a two-way zipper, two side pockets, a back pocket and a small breast pocket.  The only drawback is the Gore-Tex material is not very flesh-friendly so it is best worn as a vest, or when the weather is cold enough for a long sleeve-shirt underneath.   I think it was $129 at the Harvard Square location of  Eastern Mountain Sports.

The other outer-layer piece is the New Balance yoga-style pants which at $59 cost much less than most yoga-specific warm-up pants.  I also find the fit more flattering than the upscale brands I’ve tried on

As for the base layer, my favourite sports bra is also by far, the cheapest sports bra I’ve seen, priced at $16.99.  It is a Champion brand item available at Target.  I also purchased mid-weight Champion tights at Target a few years ago for $17.99.

Kombi Merino Wool and Polyester Blend Base Layer

My long-sleeve base layer is a Kombi merino wool and polyester blend top of double thickness.  I think it is regularly $35 but I bought it on sale for $19.99 at a Sportchek type store.  I recently purchased a similar top for my husband at Target for $17.99 and it has become his preferred top for really cold days.

Finally, an additional upper, mid-layer piece for the coldest of days is a thermal hoodie from MEC.  The hood on this jacket is a highly functional, multi-tasking piece.  It looks good enough (without the hood on) to wear about town.  I wore this on New Years Eve with a mauve silk-like top underneath and festive scarf.   I usually wear this on plane trips as it is as comfortable as a pajama top.

Thermal Hoodie from MEC with Seriously Constructed Hood

The one thing I have not discussed is the most important of all, my shoes, the New Balance 759’s which I wore for my marathon. I love my New Balance lightweight trainers! But, that and my running shoe endorsement tale is a story for another day.

Stay warm!

New Balance 759's


Winter Running Gear – Accessories

Fundamentally, I find  running in the winter far more comfortable than through the very humid and hot days that we often get in July and August.  The most challenging part of the winter is poor footing, particularly when attempting to run faster workouts.  As far as cold temperatures, wind speed makes all the difference.  When the temperatures drop below -5C with windchill, it makes good sense to figure out a route that minimizes exposure to strong headwinds.  If you do have to run into strong winds wearing suitable accessories can make a big difference.

Here are the accessories I have to face temperatures up to minus 20C.  In addition to the headgear shown, I would most likely don my thermal hoodie from MEC.  The key design feature of this piece is the well-constructed hood which comfortably wraps around the face and forehead.

I find that wool with its natural wicking properties works best.  I got my favourite wool hat free, at a swap meet in the Yukon more than 10 years ago.

Wool hat

I bought this fleece neck warmer at MEC for $4.99

Fleece neck warmer

This vented-bandana-style face protector made by Seirus was bought at Dick’s in the U.S.  you may find one of these at a store specializing in snowboarding gear.

I bought this Buff multi-functional headgear in the Yukon prior to taking part in the Klondike Road Relay in 2007.  It can double as a head band, neck warmer or face protector.

These double-lined fleece mittens have been my favourite for years.  They were bought for $7.99 at Chocky’s.

Again, wool seems to work best for warmth and wicking.  I like these Wigwam hiking socks with merino wool content, bought at MEC for $7.50

“I please myself with the graces of the winter scenery, and believe that we are as much touched by it as by the genial influences of summer.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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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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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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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!