Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Pain is the high (and the high is the pain)

(modified version found here on the Runner's World website)

I'm back to training. In some ways, it's not a huge change from offseason: I run, and yoga, and do cross-training in the snow going up a mountain.

In one big way, though, it's different. The runs I do hurt more. Coach John gives me times and workouts and I follow them - sort of. But really, I follow my body: the unevenness of my breath, the building nausea in my stomach, the shake in my legs. Part of how I train well and race well is doing a couple workouts every week that hurt, and doing them well. Pain is a paradox: it hurts, and I want it to stop, and once it stops, all I want is to do it again. I used to run with the idea that it had to be comfortable. Now, I run with the idea that, on the right days and in the right way, it's supposed to hurt.

Training, for me, is about normalizing pain. I don't want to fear hard workouts. I want to meet them, on trails or on the seawall, after coffee but before sun-up, like an old friend. I think I'm getting there, but the journey has taken some pretty large detours.

pound it out
October was a rough month for me. There were some amazing, sunny days where I ran down mountains with some of my best friends. There was good workouts on the seawall, surrounded by the soothing lights of the north shore. There was also days where I felt sad, tired, and way too out from shore.

I met Angela and Allison one Tuesday morning after a mostly sleepless night. I had woken up to gusts of wind shaking my window. On the way to our meet up spot, the wind blew against me so hard it was like I was standing still. The entire seawall had become a lake from the waves crashing over.

As we met, we did the quick minute of chat to touch base before we all hit our watches and disappeared towards second beach. When asked how I was doing, I said the truth: "not great." This wasn't the spot for soul-searching. We were all training for marathon (them) or longer (me). We were all tired, and we were all going to a long day of work right after the workout. The next morning, we were going to get up, still tired, and keep going. It wasn't time for a long talk or a group hug. We were facing down 20k of hard running, and the wind was already starting to grate. Angela set her watch, and turned to me: "Just pound it out."

I started, and I immediately felt tired. We got soaked by a wave in the first km. I didn't bother to look at my watch. My entire world was my breath. I watched Angela's feet, and did whatever I needed to hang onto her. There was no point looking at pace - sometimes, with the wind at our back, we screeched along corners. Other times we lost all momentum when we encountered gusts. The ocean heaved and the seawall was covered in seaweed and shells.

I used to run to shut off my thoughts, shut off my brain, wash away in endorphins. This run was all jagged: I felt my tight hips, the crunch of clam shells underneath, the chill of the wind. I saw the brightening line on the horizon, and Angela's shirt in front of me. I felt the ache of caffeine in my stomach, and a throbbing in my head. Every other step I wanted to quit, and every other step I committed to finishing. Angela and I said a couple words, telling each other good job, telling each other to keep going.

And I did - we both did. I did 20k at a 4:14/km pace. I finished, alone, gasping, and walked uphill back to my apartment. My mind had the kind of peace the exhaustion brings.

In yoga class, I have some teachers who talk and talk. They talk about breath, and edges, and space, and lightness. During the class, all I can think about is what I will eat after (if I'm hungry), if it is normal for my hips to make those noises, the outfit of the girl next to me.

Outside, running in the damp air, what the teachers say starts to make a lot more sense. The goal of the training I do is pain: how to reach it, understand it, and move with it. Week in and week out, I work to get to that place, and keep going. This is not something you can block out and ignore. What yoga teaches is to find space within the pain for yourself, and for the fierce joy that comes with riding your body past limits. The trick is to breath into the pain, expand, and find room for strength and gratefulness. The pain is a reminder of the power in your bones.

let me be honest here
I do not run to lose weight. I do not run to stay healthy, or live longer, or have a balanced life. I run to find the edges of myself, and I run to make them hurt less, sometimes. I run because I feel sad, or scared. I run because my thoughts can get loud - and I need quiet. I run when I have so much joy and feel that there is so much beauty in my life that I want to hone down and focus it into sweat and aching. I run, alone, when I feel empty - to prove to myself that this hour, this workout, can be enough. I run with friends and feel pulled along by our energy, the quiet togetherness of our breath hours into a long run.

second time smarter
So how is training going, just coming back? I am working to learn between pain and pain: to ride out the good kind, that will make me stronger. To watch for the bad kind, that means injuries and rehab. I have some awesome awesome races coming up this year that I am beyond excited, and a little nervous. I feel sometimes that each workout is such a babystep towards everything that I want to do.

At the end, though, no matter how the races I enter go (or don't go) - this is all I have: starting out with my friends under a night sky and hidden moon, the first couple minutes of chatting, then silence, each of us alone with the burn in our lungs, as the seawall curves darkly in front of us.

pillows make you go faster

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Offseason - Take 2

Some things, I need a bit more time to get things right: giving directions, finding a nail polish that matches my two black toenails, doing any sort of operating system update on my iphone. Also - taking actual time off of running.

The first go of off-season didn't really go as planned. I would argue I got a mental break by only doing the runs I wanted to do (yes to trails, hell no to track). Arguably, though, this was how I'd been training since August. The issue with this approach is that I still ran a lot. I was pain-free the entire week of trails in Maui. Two days back, and two runs on pavement, and my foot was sore.

In the end, this was the best thing that could have happened. It taught me to remain grateful for being able to run, and to treat every opportunity to get outside, get lost, and get out of breath as a gift. Under the watchful guidance of doctor / coach / high-strung runner therapist Ramsey, it also finally got me to take an actual offseason break, recover, and get ready for another year full of awesome. Luckily, the foot has healed up, and I'm back to training this coming Tuesday. I did learn a couple things with my three weeks off, though.

Here is how an offseason is actually (I think) supposed to work.

Weekly run mileage equals marathon-training tempo mileage
I was instructed to run no more than 30km/week. During peak marathon / ultra training, I was running a 21k tempo, plus a couple kms warm-up and cool-down, before work in the mornings. Instead, I now get passed on the seawall by people with water bottle fanny-packs. On the plus side, I have an excuse to do all runs at conversational pace, so have had some great chats with my run partners. (Fanny-pack runners - beware! I am coming for you next week).

Misty seawall

Less caffeine. Less food.
Normally, I am an eating and coffee (okay, and wine) machine. I usually need to do a top-up grocery run each week. leftovers stay leftover. I do not eat two breakfasts. If I drink coffee without doing a couple hours of sweat to burn it off, I am awake and twitching all night.

snow is pretty fun
It's been cold and rainy outside (and will be until about June), which means there is tons of snow on the mountains. It's been fun to "visit winter" by heading up the BCMC (a trail parellel to the Grouse Grind), do a hike on Hollyburn (Cypress Mountain), and snow shoe on Mt. Seymour. I also got my classic cross-country skis back out and did a four-hour explore in the trails on my trip to Big White (with very minimal wipe-outs downhill). 

misery (balancing, planks, hip-opening and deep breathing) loves company
One of the main causes of my foot problem is, weirdly enough, a weak core. So it was time to get back on the mat and start upping the amount of yoga classes I attended. A while back, Barry had expressed mild concern that he couldn't balance on one foot. I talked him into getting a 10-class pass at yyoga...the studio conveniently located closest to my apartment / workplace. I am by no means a yoga expert, but I have been attending somewhat regularly for the past six months. In the past six months...Barry has maybe stretched a couple times.

Barry decided to make his yoga debut two days after his awesome 2nd-place finish in the Fat Ass 50k run. I will admit that I have been jealous of Barry's continued trail running, compared to my 30-40km/week offseason regime. As a result, I wanted to do an activity where I could show I had at least some skill. As a result, I decided it was time to yoga.

We attended a "flow" class. I think "flow" means a mix of strength and stretching or "do whatever the instructor feels like, plus music." The class started with holding poses for what seemed like ages. Then a series of poses designed to open and stretch hips. It was then that Barry asked for extra blocks, and explained to the (somewhat unimpressed) yoga teacher that he had just done a race longer than most people's weekly mileage.

Despite the somewhat challenging start, Barry returned (with support in the form of Amber) for another attempt at the flow class. This time, he prepared by running over 42k on trails the day before. The class was packed. The instructor mentioned that we could only have 2 blocks each, as there was a shortage. Barry, however, hoarded as many as possible in hopes of being able to make his way into the pose - and refused to give any up when the instructor made a pointed comment to share.

After feeling triumphant about my yoga win over Barry, I attended a power class with Allison. The class kicked my ass (and, if it had been a competition, Allison would have too). It is always risky to attend yoga classes with a physio, since they can then find out whether or not you've been doing your core exercise homework. We did hard poses in a small, dimly lit room, to rap / dance was awesome, and worth all the sweat and flailing around I did.

The pinnacle of 7 months of doing yoga

immune system takes offseason, too
My immune system does pretty well on injury-inducing-mileage of 100k a week, likely too little sleep, and likely too much wine and caffeine. However, as soon as time off or a taper is close, things go south (or maybe that's when I just can't use running a lot to resolve life issues anymore?). Whatever it was, I was forced to complete the rest of my reduced running thanks to a nasty cold. The upside of the time off: I have now figured out how to upload workouts from my garmin (going back to 2010!) and have pink painted nails.

okay, let's do this
Thankfully, both my cold and nagging cuboid seem to be on the way out. I get to start physio-approved tempos this coming week. I think running amnesia is a key part of training, as I have already forgotten how sore and tired I was last year. So...let's get this year started!

Friday, 11 January 2013

FITS Socks

Back in December, I was given a pair each of FITS trail socks and road socks. I am notorious for misplacing / losing my normal run socks, so I was very happy to have some replacements brought in. I was even happier when I laced up my road runners: no blisters, no chafing, and my feet were as warm as is possible while living in Vancouver during a very bleak December. The trail socks kept my feet warm during snowy BCMC trail hikes and snow shoe and cross-country skiing adventures.

A month later...I still have the socks. And Barry and I have a sponsor! We are going to be members of the FITS trail running team. This means that we get to do more of the stuff we love (and the stuff that stresses out my parents / coach John): travelling to the USA to do ultra trail races. This support means that we get to have a lot of adventures, likely incur some new scrapes / bruises, and explore new mountains and trails.

Our first trip is to the Chuckanut 50k race in Bellingham this March. In this trip, Barry will work to balance his beer consumption with minimal ankle rolling. I will try to race as well as possible, in order to impress my underage ultrarunning crush, Dakota Jones (and avoid any serious injuries). Training for this race will include all my favourite things: snow, running on snow, trying to route-find in snow, rain, running in rain, running on wet rocks...and mainlining coffee and carbs post-run, all while planning to do it all over again. It should be a great time, and we really appreciate the support!

The Vancouver FITS team after doing the North Face 50 mile race, with typical recovery beverages

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Thank you, 2012.

poetry section
"It's a fingertip on a cliffside - you can hold on, or let go." - Margaret Atwood

This is one of my favourite quotes. To me, it says: "I'm sort of fucked, so I might as well take charge, and embrace the mess." It means that things are difficult, uncertain, and go wrong, and at some point, I will get tired of fighting the inevitable. So why not let go already, and enjoy the view on the way down (until you hit the ground, anyways)?

How does this somewhat bleak quote tie in with 2012 and all the running (and falling) I did? The whole year was a see-saw around what I wanted to do and what I was scared to do. It was a give and take between my mind and my body, and figuring out what my limits were.

I started out 2012 so much in my head: I was worried that I couldn't go fast enough, and didn't want to try in case I burnt out. I was worried about too much mileage, too much speed. I was worried that, if I started to go fast, it would be a fluke that I couldn't maintain.

Then I just started doing it. I stopped looking at my Garmin, and started feeling my breath. I stopped worrying about volume, and just started getting up, showing up, and putting in miles. I still got scared - I just did everything I wanted to do, anyways.

sorry, coach John
Did this mean I had a smooth season, a season with controlled build-ups, carefully planned tapers, and well-executed A-races? Pretty much the opposite - and it was the season of my life.

I pushed hard, and ran scared. I found out my limits by going past them, fucking up, and then picking up the pieces to come back stronger and perhaps smarter. There is a reason that my physio's phone number is in my favourites, and that my main google searches involve injuries. There is a reason I ran the last month of marathon training in some sort of pain. There is a reason I had to take a week off in the middle of North Face 50 training because I was injured and just so damn tired. But I also trained to a level I never thought I was capable of.

This run season (and the year in general) had more highs and lows than I thought possible. It had runs where I felt like I was floating along the seawall, accompanied by an icy clear sunrise. It had days where everything felt too loud and too close and at 7pm I would curl up into bed.

By pushing too hard, I grew to have faith in myself, and my ability to recover. I'll mess up - get injured, get tired. And I know I'll be able to come back from whatever happens.

As I write this, I am rehabbing a recently acquired cuboid injury....caused entirely by not taking enough rest early enough after my race. This was the price I paid for having an amazing week trail running in Maui - and it was totally worth it. (plus, now I know that when coach John says active rest, he sure as hell means it.)

what is left
For me, the best things about the year aren't summed up in race results, times, or rankings. I ran a lot, and I was happy with how my body performed when I pushed it. I went places inside myself that were new. But the best parts happened in the in-between: the texts we all exchanged after Tuesday tempos, the discussions on long training runs, the after-brunches, the long weekend trips and adventures (Olympic Penninsula, Whistler, Portland, Howe Sound Crest, Victoria, Sunshine Coast), the after practice drinks and the hundreds of small happy memories.

I am so grateful to the past year for making me tough, and making me happy. I resolve to be okay with letting go: to worry less, and do more, and trust that even if things aren't okay, and don't work out - it doesn't matter. I'll be okay - and have a couple stories to tell afterwards. I want to be brave this year.

the difference a year makes
January 1, 2012 saw me put on my toque and running gear and do an easy seawall run. January 1, 2013 has me put on the same toque and get outside again. I think that the way you spend January 1 shows how the rest of the year will go.

I woke up today slightly hungover, with sunlight coming through the blinds. I had a gorgeous seawall run, and got to see my friends at the end of their 50k. I had brunch with my running friends, and dinner with my non-running friends. My apartment is still a bit of a mess from New Year's Eve, and I never did get around to the laundry and chores I told myself I would do. It's going to be a great year.