Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Thawed out

Yeah, that's a sprinkling of sweat, frozen over. That's something you don't see on most touques. And yes, I wash my running skullcaps with frequency.

Winter brings the usual toughening up of the runner's will. Even as I was about to wimp out on my Sunday long run, dreading running in temperatures of -20C and with more painful windchill, I knew that I would only regret not tackling the cold, head first (more on frozen faces some other time).

So as I aimed out west into the sun and against the wind, the best motivation? Other runners, at least a dozen, who had probably lost their battle against logic and treadmills. We had head masks and multiple layers, we had wind chapped lips and red faces (sunkissed or chilled) and we all traded a wave or a nod. Misery demands it.

It's all ho-hum now, surviving another winter and the night time runs. I actually had the thought today, as I was struggling to gain traction on the snowy waterfront paths, that winter running is actually not as hard a stroll on a humid sticky summer day. I'd rather sweat inside my Asics outer shell than from underneath my Saucony singlet. At least the air feels crisp.

Winter slows you, the weight of the extra layers and the lack of sunlight give you a little lack of motivation for speed. My approach to these first weeks of January is to run without a schedule. My game plan is to get four quality runs in during the work week, two of the runs in the 10 mile range, and then save a medium long run for the weekend. That would give me about 40 to 45 miles for the next while.

The prime motivation on these days is to get the miles in, and try not to freeze, like my iPod the other day that accumulated a layer of ice during my two-hour run. Funny being cold but warm at the same time. At least the Gatorade stays cold.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

In training (at play)

There seems to be no shortage of naval gazing (over said expanding waistlines) in the attempt for all of us to process an all-too obvious fact of modern North American living.

We are fat. We need to lose weight. And no one agrees on the prescription but many a brain cell goes into dissecting this phenomenon.

The losing battle of the bulge, as some would term it, puts on highlight the usual facts and perceptions. We don't eat healthy. We don't exercise. We try to diet. We fail. We try to lose weight. We gladly spend on fast food and high-fat lattes over healthy food, fruits and vegetables. Governments have a role in putting fat tax, fitness credits, regulating bad food industry. Industry have to provide us with cheaper healthy alternatives instead of two Big Macs for $4.99.

Yes, even on the concept of personal accountability come with it an interesting series of points. We say it's hard work to avoid eating bad. Unlike smoking, I read in this piece this weekend, people note that we all need to eat. And we do, very poorly.

The personal quest for fitness and a healthy lifestyle is a little too neat. Shows like The Biggest Loser focuses on this journey to a better self. Blogs like this one present you with the 'inspiration', and we follow and tune in and look at the few obese fight with themselves to become what they always wanted to be. Fit, trim with a healthy weight.

The fight against obesity, it seems to me, is a little off course. When you truely think about it, what the hell are we fighting against other than ourselves?

The idea for this post came to me while I was on my long run today. I wasn't thinking about losing weight -- though it is on my mind -- but about setting priorities. Even more than that, it was something a little more simplier. It was about putting aside the many options for a modern lifestyle and go back to simply playing.

It's been a month or more since I've gone out truely on a long run. Today, it was bitterly cold, but as usual, I never regret setting out for 16 miles. There were many moments, long stretches kilometres long, when I was running on fresh layers of snow, when I was running into the sun, the rays warming me, that I LOVED what I was doing.

I made my way to the Beaches, and along the boardwalk, I saw urban skiers trying to take advantage of 10 cm of accumulation, other runners going long, and people just out there for a morning stroll. A woman, taking a break at a bench in -10C, was smiling, eyes closed, as she leaned against her partner, her exposed face grinning into the morning chill. It was great to be alive.

When I was younger, my favourite weekend memories involved getting on the bike and just going. I ran amok in my parents' backyard, listening to the ball game on radio while I played a single-person's game of catch. Thump, thump, thump, the tennis ball would bounce off my parents second-story wall as I imagined myself fielding a pop fly. Every catch was epic.

We don't play any more, it seems to me. A trip to the gym is dreaded, seen as work. Even a marathon program is scheduling in your play time. We don't make time to play. I've been running downtown streets after work the past month, and in the dark windows, I see plenty of people congregating at restaurant tables or coffee shops. It occured to me that when I get together with friends, it's usually for a coffee or a meal. Playing is plugging in your PS3 or Xbox, or going to the movies with a tub of butter-free popcorn and Diet coke. Playing is a game of cards with a six-pack. Sometimes, we play, like skating a few minutes in a packed ice rink, followed by a full-fat hot chocolate afterwards.

It's all too neat, those stories of those who successfully fight obesity, but is that our template? To fight obesity is to admit that you lost something to begin with, or actually gained something. The rest of us, those who are semi fit, or eats kinda well and could maybe lose 10 pounds, where do we stand? How hard do we fight?

Maybe it's not by obsessing.

My favourite snapshot of a moment during my two hours and 22 minutes of execise today was at around the 14 kilometre mark. A dog was rolling in the snow, on its back, then got up and shook off the fluffy snow. It was the second dog I saw today jumping on the ground. It looked truely happy, and if you can imagine one doing so, it was almost making snow angels. I haven't seen anyone go and make snow angels in ages. I haven't done so in decades.

Ten kilometres later, I was hurting in the best possible way. My face felt both sunburnt and wind chapped, both warmed by exercise and UV rays but frozen by the winter's chill. But I thought about how fortunate it was that I found time on this glorious Sunday morning, to commune with my own personal passion. Yes, later I may be vegging in front of the TV, playing video games, or cooking a great meal, but even in the work that went into my long run today, I found that was nothing more childish that seeking some time for myself, some time to play in the snow.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

And after that interlude

I can already feel the tan fading, and by the time I was working my way up the bridge into my first kilometre, in the snow, the reality of the training season has set in.

The reality: I've taken the mileage way down in the past month. Fine, I've extended the down period after the fall. Also, the past week of hanging out in the Dominican Republic taught me one thing. All inclusives and the appetite of a marathoner don't mix well. I'm now targetting my training efforts for the dinner table as well as the roads. So fitness and running won't be a problem, however daunting, to ramp back up to the 50 mile plus mark. My vow is to stock the fridge with tonnes of fruits and veggies and really eliminate all the junk out of my house. It works when I shop smart at the grocery store and avoid takeout for meals. It's doable.

The races are set. In exactly two months, I'll be the 1:45 pace bunny for the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington, followed by the Around the Bay 30K in late month. Next, it'll be Boson, followed by a shorter (5K race) in April, then my 'goal' Toronto Marathon in May. With all that planned, I've got plenty of work to get to race shape by the time I put on those rabbit ears.

As I was finishing up my snowy six miler tonight, I looked across the street at one of those condo gyms, which usually have two or three people working out at the supper hour. Today, about a dozen packed the room. New Year's Resolution crowd is so predictable, and I've never trapped myself into that thinking. I did have to fight the urge to stay in rather than do my run, but I think I shook off that feeling. Running in the winter is not easy, treading on snow takes a little more effort and every stride is a bit harder. I always thought that extra work helps you get marathon fit for late March and April when the snow clears and you can really go all out on the roads.

The months ahead: Night time and early mornings will be on the schedule. I'll have to break out the thermal underwear, double up on the mitts, crack open those hand warmers and face those long runs with dread. Sure, they're great four miles in, but it'll still hurt at first. On some runs, like I did today, I'll try to picture what it was like to run in the warm sand, oceanside, my fare feet striking the salty tide.