Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Running lessons: April showers bring May flowers (I hope)

Another long silence. This is becoming a habit. Sorry about that. I have a good excuse though. You see, we got more bad news a few weeks ago when Husband's father passed away.  "Pa", as everyone knew him, had been living with Alzheimer's for years so his passing was a blessing in some ways - though it was still desperately sad because he was so greatly loved by all who knew him.

Pa was larger than life. At well over six feet tall, he had a booming laugh and terrific sense of humour, and was unfailingly kind and generous towards others. He and Ma (pictured above on our wedding day almost 25 years ago) raised 9 children (including two they adopted) and provided guidance and encouragement to dozens of others. They genuinely savoured life - developing each property they owned, hosting friends and family for meals and parties, supporting church and community, and traveling as much as they could. They knew the value of hard work and the importance of rest and relaxation.

Husband was tasked with giving the eulogy at Pa's funeral last week. It was a wonderful tribute but my favourite passage was this one:

Pa was serious about his Christianity, not so much the rituals but the lessons for leading a caring and just life. [C.S.] told me that one time when they were talking about what was a fair amount to contribute to the poor, Pa said “it's not how much you give, but how much you keep”. 
To me that’s a challenging lesson to not just step up for those in need but also to face our greed. Ma and Pa shared for their whole lives, even in lean times, with their church and many charitable causes. 
I believe Pa will live on in the things he taught us: kindness, patience, acceptance of others, compassion and love.

I couldn't agree more. Having Pa as my father-in-law was a great gift. He offered the rarest kind of love - the unconditional kind. Even in recent months when he no longer remembered everyone who came to see him, Pa opened his arms and his heart to all he sensed were friends - expressing sincere gratitude for every bit of love and caring he received. It was a beautiful and extraordinary thing to see,

Needless to say, it's been another tough month as we come to grips with his passing and do our best to get back to our normal routines.

Fortunately, winter has moved on so we're (finally!) able to train more seriously. While we were in Ottawa for Pa's funeral, I invited my sister-in-law to join the Smokey Mountain Daredevils for the Cabot Trail Relay - an invitation she enthusiastically accepted - so the two of us are now officially signed up. I'm looking forward to spending the weekend with her in beautiful Cape Breton at the end of May. It feels good to have another training goal.

I've agreed to run leg 14 which is relatively flat and 19 kms long. It's been awhile since I've run that distance so I've got my work cut out for me. After months of slogging through snow and ice, my pace isn't where it needs to be to "make the mat" so I'll be doing plenty of hills and speed workouts in the coming month. Here's hoping experience and enthusiasm count for something come race day.

If all goes well at Cabot Trail, my next race will be the Nova Scotia Marathon in July, which means I'll be doing some lovely long runs along South Shore roads through May and June. I won't set a time goal for NSN. I'll just run it "to finish" in hopes I can complete another marathon at a faster pace in the fall.

In other news, I'm still reading a fair bit, though I haven't managed to add another title to the list posted on this blog lately. The trouble is I haven't finished anything, though I'm half way or more through reading each of the following:
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
  • The Beat Goes On by Ian Rankin
  • The Virgin Cure by Ami MacKay
  • Island: The Complete Stories by Alistair MacLeod
  • What I Learned About Politics: Inside the Rise - and Collapse - of Nova Scotia’s NDP Government by Graham Steele
In addition, I've read the first hundred pages of James Robertson's And the Land Lay Still. What I need is two weeks on a beach without distractions to get through them all but, alas, there's no such holiday in my immediate future.

Unfortunately, I haven't had much time to pursue other hobbies lately. I managed to paint for a couple of hours one day a few weeks ago and occasionally pick up my camera, but mostly I've been too busy with other stuff. I went on a short photo walk last week during which I took this shot, which I thought was kind of fun.

Husband and I decided to put our country house on the market this spring so there's been heaps to do to get it ready, including finishing the half bath he built in under the stairway. What a clever fellow!

That's it for now. I'll do my best to post more regularly on running topics now that I'm back in serious training mode. Until then, happy running and writing, friends!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

About that half marathon training...

So, it hasn't been a great week of marathon training. If you saw my last post, you'll understand why. Snow. Ice. More snow. More ice. Freezing winds. I'm soooo tired of running in crappy weather.

I know, I know. "Winter runs make summer bodies." And it's true. I am getting back into shape - in the sense that I'm building muscle and shedding fat - but I'm tired of wet shoes, treacherous footing and too tight muscles.

Normally, even when I don't run much during the week, I manage a longer run on the weekend, but that wasn't an option yesterday. With rain in the forecast last night, Husband and I figured we'd better deal with the snow piled on the roof and cut new trenches through the ice dams to prevent water backing up into the house again - not a small operation.

First, there was the small matter of digging out the ladder, buried under 30-40 cms of snow.

Then, Husband shoveled enough snow to let us position the ladder. (Husband's been doing a LOT of shoveling this month. That snow bank to the right is almost entirely his creation.)

While I steadied the ladder, he climbed to the edge of the roof and used a shovel and hatchet to cut trenches through the dams to let water run more freely off the roof.

Oh, and did I mention we both spent an hour or so shoveling snow and ice from the lower roofs? Husband's pile was a good metre high while mine was only half that.

When we finally finished the roof clearing operation, I donned my running gear and headed up the road for a short run. My goal was to work out the kinks caused by all that shoveling but I can't say it worked awfully well.

Needless to say, we both slept long and soundly last night.

This morning, Husband hustled us out the door while it was still relatively warm and sunny in hopes we'd manage 8k, but we gave up after 6k. We were both too tired to do more - especially, given the lousy footing.

We decided to make up for the shorter-than-planned run by heading out to Rissers' Beach for a snowshoe, stopping at Lahave Bakery en route for a low cal brunch (not!). (BTW, that's eggs benny with locally smoked salmon, wonderful local sausage and fried potatoes with homemade catsup. Delish!)

By the time we reached the beach, the wind was howling, more snow was falling and temperatures had plummeted but we still managed to snowshoe along the trail behind the dunes for about a kilometre, before heading down to the beach for the return journey. The waves were spectacular so I stopped to take a few shots with my Nikon. Unfortunately, I had the settings on the camera all wrong so didn't manage to get any photos I really liked. However, I hope these give some sense of what it was like.

All in all, we got heaps of exercise this weekend - though not much that will help us run a half marathon in May. Here's hoping Winter moves on soon so that we can get some serious training done.

Happy running and writing, friends.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Running lessons: Ice can be a good thing

No, I'm not injured. The ice isn't cooling an inflamed knee or ankle. Or cooling a rum and coke. It's on sidewalks and trails, clinging to trees and covering lakes and rivers. In the past couple of months, we've had more ice in Nova Scotia than I can remember us having in years. In Halifax and on the south shore, sidewalks and side streets have been coated with six or eight inches of the stuff for weeks. Repeated bouts of snow followed by freezing rain followed by frigid temperatures have made it virtually impossible to get rid of it.

Here's a photo of particularly nasty patch I ran across last weekend.

As you can imagine, all the ice has made running outside a challenge. Nevertheless, I've consistently run three times a week, risking life and limb in an effort to regain some degree of fitness. I can't say I've always enjoyed it but at least I've seen some results. I've dropped the weight I put on over the holidays and running is feeling a lot more comfortable. In fact, over the past two weeks, I've had a few awesome runs - the kind that feel so good I don't want them to end.

In a weird way, I think all the ice has been a good thing. It's forced me to focus on form and slow down so I don't end up on my ass. It's strengthened core muscles and improved my balance. And it increased my confidence by making me feel like a seriously badass runner.

What it hasn't improved is my pace. It's embarrassingly slow these days - slower than it's been in years. On the upside, the slow pace leaves me feeling invigorated rather exhausted at the end of my runs, and I seem to recover more quickly.

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm intrigued by the notion of "effortless exercise" so plan to use whatever winter weather remains as an excuse to run much more slowly until my body lets me know it's really wants to go faster. Based on yesterday's long run, I think there may be something to it.

Husband and I did the first 7k together. (This is us looking cold and happy at the 5k mark.)

Since he's just getting back into to running, I was particularly careful to start slowly and set a pace I hoped would be comfortable for him. At the 7k mark, he headed  home (he only wanted to run 9k) and I did another loop along the river (for a total of nearly 14k). On the second loop, I noticed my body still felt good though a little twitchy - as if it wanted to go faster - so I slowly began to speed up, finishing at a pace 45-60 seconds per km faster than our starting pace. Despite running the second half so much faster, I arrived back at the house feeling better than I have at the end of a long run in months.

As expected, we weren't able to run today. We got six inches of snow again last night, followed by rain, freezing rain and snow showers today - in short, a helluva mess. On the upside, I got a few nice photos when I ventured out late this afternoon, including these two and the one at the top of this post.

Another nice thing about today's weather was that Husband and I had to time to talk about how we want to celebrate our 25th anniversary in a few months. I jokingly suggested we have a photographer take a picture of us in our wedding clothes so we pulled my dress and his suit out of our closets and tried them on. Amazingly, they still fit - though we may want to move a button on Husband's suit jacket an inch or so. Not bad for a couple of old farts. Too bad the dress is sooooo 1990s.

That's it for now, folks. I'll be on the road early tomorrow on account of the road conditions so need to sleep soon. Until next time, happy running and writing!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Reading, Running and 'rithmetic

Centennial Trail last weekend 

My major accomplishment last week was finishing three books. Two were running books my friend Janet lent me. The other was a book recommended by another friend, who said it helped her deal with some difficult work colleagues. For very different reasons, all three were worth the read.

Effortless Exercise by Grant Molyneux starts from two premises - that most people only exercise consistently when they find it enjoyable, and that most runners (and other athletes) push themselves too far too fast, compromising both enjoyment and performance. His solution is to encourage "effortless exercise", which involves listening carefully to your body and increasing intensity as and when you body is ready to do so. Most of what Molyneux says makes intuitive sense and is consistent with the Chi Running techniques I've practiced in recent years. However, I found one suggestion particularly intriguing - that is, to breathe through your nose and let intensity build only to the point where you're forced to breathe through you mouth.

For my long run last weekend, I decided to give the technique a try. I'm not sure I was entirely persuaded. Of course, conditions weren't great. There were still heaps of snow and ice around (see photo above), which made running more challenging than usual and Husband and I had done 8k the day before so my legs weren't entirely fresh. Taking time to work my way into the run gradually felt okay, but my inner Type A wasn't happy with how slowly I had to run to avoid breathing through my mouth and the slow pace left my legs feeling wonky. 

To be fair, it may have been the footing as much as the nose breathing that slowed me down. The treacherous conditions were bound to make my legs feel tight and sore after 11k. Molyneux promises that exercise will feel effortless and my performance levels will improve if I follow his suggestions so I'm motivated to keep trying but I hope my next few runs feel a bit easier.

The other running book on the list, The Non-Runners Marathon Guide for Women, isn't really a running book at all, though it is pretty entertaining. I can imagine recommending it to someone like my sister, who's always been very fit but never trained to run distance. She'd enjoy it for its entertainment value but have the sense to seek better advice on prepping for a marathon. I wouldn't recommend it for a genuine newbie. It seemed to me the author, Dawn Dais, hadn't really listened to her coaches' advice. Her account of running her first (and presumably only) marathon is truly harrowing. I've run 7 marathons and a 50k race and none of them came close to the pain-fest Dais describes. Clearly, she was nowhere near ready to tackle a marathon. 

The third book added to the list this week, Emotional Vampires, is one I'd recommend to anyone seeking strategies for dealing with difficult people. Emotional vampires, Bernstein explains, come in many shapes and sizes (antisocial, histrionic, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, and paranoid) but, there are practical things you can do to protect yourself so they don't drain you dry. I was particularly intrigued with the chapters on obsessive-compulsive vampires since, for many years, I've suspected I fall into that category myself. Bernstein provided a checklist that confirmed my suspicions, together with a list of strategies for mitigating the worst of my OCD tendencies, which I hope will be helpful. The book also contains some great advice for dealing with bullies and narcissists, who are far too common unfortunately. 

I hasten to add that I've been reading fiction as well as non-fiction over the past few weeks. In fact, I've got three books on the go at the moment. I wonder if other people read the way I do - four or five books at a time. I sometimes find it frustrating because it takes so long to finish anything. On the other hand, I like having a variety of books to choose from depending on my mood. There's another snowstorm in the forecast for this weekend so, with luck, I'll finish one or two.

In light of the forecast, I'm only planning one run this weekend - a 13k long slow run tomorrow morning. Husband and I are still on track to run a half marathon in early May though we haven't registered for a race yet, and I'm still hoping to tackle a marathon in July. However, I have yet to work out a detailed training schedule, and my total weekly mileage has been nothing to brag about so it's time to break out my calendar and do a little arithmetic.

I'm really proud of Husband for taking on the challenge. He's nearly 63 and has had a number of serious health issues in recent years but he seems more determined than ever to "use it or lose it". The galling thing is how easily he runs. Though he hadn't hit the road in ages, he joined me for a 5k training session a month ago and barely broke a sweat, and he's already ready to tackle 9k this weekend. Impressive!

Time to sign off and hit the road. I've got another post half-written, which I'll try to finish over the weekend. Until then, happy running and writing, friends.