Saturday, July 26, 2014

Learning to run

Running those loops were endless, it seemed, back in the Grade-school days before I knew what running gear was or even that running was a thing to do outside of school-time Participaction. Our gym/Grade 5 teacher sent us off on that 2.2K loop around my school and I now wonder what kind of running shoes my parents bought me, more likely acquired when my mom visited the local Bi-Way -- she was, after all, famous for scourging sales, the dregs from the the discount bin where she could mysteriously find matching outfits for my brother and I just in time for school pictures.

The loops that we ran on random mornings was part of "training" for our meagre cross-country team. I was third and also the slowest of my group of boys. The loops didn't prepare me for race day that saw me try to crest a stupid hill -- there are hills and grass in cross country?  I had advanced through the first set of local races and found myself toeing the line of a city-wide cross-country race where for all but me it was really a run until my fitness was compromised. To this day, I remember distinctly the hill, trying to run to the top it and realizing the best thing next to starting a run at a full sprint was taking a walk break.

How did I come to run? Who made me do this? How do I do this running thing anyways?


They say that running is what we are meant to do. They also say that running with shoes is against nature, just ask anyone seeking a refund from Vibram what natural running really is. In truth, we like to say that if you want to see someone run without abandon, watch a kid run, and while that is good enough to see what type of joy you can have on a grassy field, do we really know how to run?

I've been asking myself that more recently as I pound out year after year on asphalt, trails and concrete. I've been wondering why -- talent and effort aside -- are others more efficient, why do elite runners look so perfect when we do not.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Race report: Pride and Remembrance 5K 2014

I may actually tolerate the 5K now.

Actually, I still hate them, this type of speed is just not my thing -- or at least I don't think it is, yet. I've never had a chance to run the annual Pride and Remembrance 5K (results here), which is amazing because I've done just about every major race in town. Part of it is that I just am not a fan of 5Ks, especially in the summer.

But since running the Moon in June earlier this month, where nothing was really working that well, ending the race slowing instead of speeding up, I felt that maybe I needed to try again.

A bunch of my teammates were running and by the time it was race morning, I realized that I knew a good portion of the front runners -- nice to see everyone from the different running clubs representing. A few days ago, I volunteered at the Hipster Run hosted by Black Toe, so I combined a yellow headband and calf sleeves that Brooks gave us with my yellow singlet. Felt perfect for Pride.

Mike and I chatted and we figured we'd go for somewhere around 3:50 to 3:55 average pace. I felt that maybe a 3:46-3:47 was possible to take a shot at sub 19, but after fading earlier this month, I just wanted to run smart, comfortable and see if I could kick it up at the end.

We seeded ourselves in the sub 20 minute corral, and as the confetti filled start jumped started us, I felt myself holding back, knowing that sometimes we all accelerate to way faster than goal pace.

At the start (I'm in yellow). Photo: Michael Lin

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mid stride

Mid stride, you just don't care about all of those things.

On a normal day, many "things" start to grate. Some things pile on, weight to my shoulders, tasks to complete, more challenges to tackle. Work, life obligations, they come at me and I have little choice but to sidestep, or to take it head on.

The first few strides are floating, always. They happen usually after I see the lights turn green, or after I close the gate of my townhouse. The first few strides are heaven. It's as if with the swing of the arms and my soles slapping pavement, or concrete, or grass, that I am unshackled.

Today felt like many of those days. Too much in my thoughts, too many things left undone, the to-do is so long that I have to scroll down for pages to catch all of the things.

After work, I'll often pick a city route. There, unlike the uninterrupted waterfront trails where I can run for miles and minutes and to the horizon, I'm constantly interrupted. I'm stopped at a stoplight, my hands on my hip, breathing hard, waiting to hit the start button again. I'm swerving pedestrians, people who have similar to-do lists and weights on their shoulders. I'm running into the road, giving way to oncoming cyclists and in-a-hurry cars that are trying to beat the city traffic. I'm running along side, and toward, other runners, sharing a wave, a nod.

Running in the city, on side walks, on roads, watching a busy life stream by but somehow transcending it, makes me feel like I'm floating above all of it -- as if I'm watching the 'city life' stream around me as I do the unlikely thing: run while they are commuting, run while they are entering a restaurant, run while they are toting their briefcase to the next destination, run while they are slogging. Run.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Putting away the scale

I used to love weighing myself after a summer long run. If I had a light breakfast and didn't hydrate, I'd instantly lose a few extra pounds. It was a nice bonus to being a long distance runner.

Today, that scale is tucked away in a closet and I can't really remember the last time I used it. And although me, like you, obsess over this, I really couldn't care less to weigh myself.

What a long way I've come.

I have a hate-hate relationship with weight loss success stories. The last decade, with reality TV shows turning the healthier you into a neatly packaged network schedule, along with the racks of magazines that tout ways to lose the extra pounds, I've realized we're always looking for an easy, short term solution to too big a problem.

When the spotlight goes away, or when everyone stops noticing, many sneak back into habits. We read stats about those who inevitably gain back weight.

What we don't have enough is how to maintain a healthy lifestyle over the long run. That, unfortunately, doesn't make for good TV -- the struggles, grabbing a pint of icecream on a stressful evening or the big bag of chips that keeps on mysteriously shrinking over the course of an evening.

I'm not alone in that struggle, but at some point over this past year, I've just put the scale away.

These aren't easy things to say, but 10 years ago, I was overweight, clearly so. As  it usually does, a milestone birthday and looking at a snapshot of myself helped me realize I had to do something about it. I took up exercising, I started to watch what I ate. I dropped the weight, I started running and soon enough, I was a marathoner. Success story, right?

The road from couch to exercise to marathoner with a stunning weight loss only begins that journey. For those of us who lean on eating for comfort, usually because of stress, anxiety or depression, or all of the above, you never quite shake the feeling.

As a runner, I've always known that exercise has been a key ingredient in shaping the better me. Embracing running, and even becoming a runner, you know you're guaranteed to start 'working off those calories.'

Through periods of stress, I've realized that no matter how many miles I'd run, I'd always find ways to consume those calories right away. My first marathon, like many I gained weight instead of losing it. For many years, as I was doing three to five marathons a year, I just reconciled the fact that I could never figure things out.

Then something changed -- my whole approach morphed, evolved, jolted into a new way -- I FINALLY practiced mindful eating and meal planning. And I put away the scale.

What does this mean?

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Race report: Moon in June 5K

I don't avoid many things in running -- running in rain, -20C or tempo runs. One thing I've successfully avoided for four years was a 5K race.

I have done one since 2010 and haven't full out raced one for five years. Since I'm in the final weeks of off season, I looked at doing this race to see where my fitness was and also see where all the gains this year have taken me.

My goal was to target 3:50s to 3:55s, sort of in the pace we were doing for faster intervals during the training season. The race is in Burlington and I had last run it in 2008, and this year it was a bigger event, more runners for sure. I went down with Lee and Julie and milled around, saw Emma, but mostly I was wondering what the day would bring.

Funnily enough, I was not as nervous about this as my hard workouts. I knew that if I were to run a hard 5K on the edge, the whole thing would feel like a good effort.