Mind, Motion & Matter

Running, Essentially . . .


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!

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Travel with Running Gear in One Carry-on Bag

Monday, September 13, 6:45 a.m. Lake Ontario

I woke at 4:30 a.m. today as I’ve decided to try and move my sleep pattern towards the upcoming time zone change. My run started in the dark with a fairly steady downpour.  When I reached the lake the sun was beginning to break through the cloud cover, as seen in the photo.  On arriving home, the day fully emerged as one of those quintessentially lovely, late-summer days.

Also in preparation for my trip to Germany, I have become obsessed with the goal of traveling with one carry-on bag. I have been scouring the internet for tips in order to achieve this.  Marathoners know, that every extra pound carried over the 26.2 mile trek requires extra energy. As travelers we runners are at a slight disadvantage (although not to the extent as golfers or pole vaulters) to traveling light, as we must pack our space consuming running shoes.  If you are traveling to a race, add to that a pair of racing flats.  And, if you are racing a marathon in transitional weather, then racing gear for 3-4 seasons might be required.

I confess that while I am an experienced marathoner, I am a beginner at the one-bag-carry-on challenge.  In fact I am trying to kick my over-packing habit.  My desire to be organized and ready for anything works against me when it comes to packing.  The name of the game for the one-bagger is multi-tasking clothing items.  An additional challenge is finding multi-tasking clothing for a trip to the opera in Frankfurt.  I am someone who likes to be dressed appropriately for every occasion.  I hope to compile these tips to once I successfully enter the realm of the one-bag-carry on living.

For starters:

Tip #1 – Take along an old pair of running shoes for your runs and leave them behind at the end of your trip to make room for any purchases.

Tip #2 – A stylish pair of sweatpants can do triple duty as PJs, casual wear for a plane trip and exercise gear

Tip #3 – Wear the running top for the next day as your PJ top

Tip #4 – Don’t take more than 2 versions of a running outfit suited to one particular type of weather

Tip # 5 – If you wake early to run and your traveling mates sleep in.  Make sure all your gear is assembled before you go.  In IPod can be used as a flashlight if you have to navigate in the dark.

Please feel free to comment and add your own tips.  Thank you!

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Celebrating 30 Years

This is my 30th year of running.  My first goal was to run a marathon when I turned 30 but I ended up running a marathon a few months later at age 26.  It was my first long-distance race ever!  There were no run clinics back then so I used the 3 month marathon training program published in Runner’s World.

Sunday September 12th is the 30th anniversary of the Terry Fox Run. The Terry Fox Run was the first measured route that I had ever run.  Years later I organized Terry Fox run sites at my son’s school and at our neighbourhood YMCA.


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30 years ago the Sony Walkman which played cassette tapes, first began to appear in North America at high-end electronics stores like Brack Electronics.  One of my brothers worked at Brack Electronics and I was the first kid on the block to own one.

I wonder sometimes if I was the first runner in Toronto to run with a Walkman.  This thing was huge, about 10 times as thick as an IPod, 5 times as wide and 5 times as long.  Imagine the ingenuity required to strap this thing on without the help of special belts and carrying cases.   Now I run with a camera and IPod that together are barely 10% that size.