Around The Bay Training Blog #4: Nine Days and Counting

By this coming Monday morning, I’ll expect to be feeling the early buzz of race week for Around The Bay in my bones.

If it’s anything like my pre-marathon jitters, my moods and my nearest and dearest are in for a potentially wild ride. (Last time, sewed for the first time in years, probably terrified a Running Room employee, and sang Freddie Mercury’s AYYYYOOOOOOO loudly in the car on the way to the hotel… and for… the whole night before the race.)

This past week I did some work to try and eliminate the anxiety and stress I’ve experienced during training for this race, brought on by weather and mental health issues.

My brother-in-law and I actually went out and drove the course to see just what I was in for (spoiler alert: hills). I’ve never driven a course before, but ATB’s notorious hills were becoming mountains in my mind and I had to cut the nightmare off somewhere. The upside: I’m not afraid of the hills! Downside: I realized 30k is like… FAR, y’all.

The next day, desperately craving a change of scenery and wanting a bit of a test for myself, I headed out to the course again and parked at Dundurn Castle for my long run. I plotted to go 8 km out and 8 back, but ended up doing 18 in total.

It was wicked. I saw birds of prey and took on the hills, I waved to my fellow trainees—the only other woman I saw running gave me a high five as we passed. Lately I’ve been struggling to keep up with running, and I think running in a completely new location made me realize I’m just… bored. The missing ingredient to the sauce right now might just be changing it up.

This next week, I’ll be trying to take my sleep and nutrition as seriously as I can. The countdown to Around The Bay is on, and I plan to be as ready as I can be for whatever race day brings.

Around The Bay Training Blog #3: Surprise Dogs and Wind Storms

The countdown continues: only 20 days left until the Around The Bay race. I’ve officially entered the phase where I begin to mentally prepare myself for a DNF (Did Not Finish) or at least some physical and mental anguish — this week, training put me through some seriously pained paces.

From what I can tell, DNF’s are a fact of running life when you’ve been out there long enough—not just for middle and back-of-the-pack people, but the human-gazelle hybrids leading the races too. Whether it’s injury or brutal conditions, many frequent racers have probably, at some point, racked up a DNF. I’m not planning on making ATB mine, but I’m trying to prepare for everything. I try not to take any run or any race for granted, just in case.

On to this week’s training recap!

Bark! A Vagrant

In the middle of hill repeats on Thursday, I was interrupted by a huge brown shape bounding out of the darkness into the streetlights, heading right towards me. It moved fast enough that I only saw “dog” and didn’t have time to register anything else about it before I screamed. The big thing ploughed clean into me and I cringed, waiting for teeth in an arm or a leg. All I got was a giant curly brown mop of a dog jumping up on me while his owners called him from the porch. (I wish I could remember the dog’s very human name, but let’s call him “Owen”.)

One of Owen’s owners came to helpfully lead him out of the street and explained the door had been opened at the wrong time and he had bolted when he saw me. I wish I could have snapped a picture with him, but I was still reeling from having not been bitten feeling a little foolish and a little relieved. Note to self: look up dog safety tips for runners. Usually I’m careful seeing large and small dogs when I’m out running—and this incident was definitely enough of a system shock to bring on some research.


A Windy Long Run

Have you ever been on a run so intensely difficult because of the weather that it made you mad at nature? Sunday’s long run was one of those. It was a literal wind storm outside, cold and drizzly. I’m talking 70-80 km gusts of wind that meant giving it your all and going almost nowhere — running in place.

It was resistance training and long run conditioning all rolled into one. I’m not going to lie, with every loop I completed, it was very tempting give up and go inside — but I didn’t. I kept going, even when my legs got tired, when the wind was cutting, and when people warned me they had seen a coyote near the road I was running on. Somewhere in the third-and-final loop, my headphones started conking out, so all I could hear was the wind roaring in my ears and the growing discomfort in my shoes and my eyes watering.

When I finally got inside, my legs were freezing and aching and I honestly can’t remember ever feeling less relieved after a run. The grim satisfaction that I had stuck it out for 24 km—with hills to boot—did not make me feel strong, it made me feel exhausted and grumpy.

I feel like all the joy and momentum I gained after last week’s run kind of evaporated, so I’m hoping to spend the next 2-3 weeks using all my hard-earned grit to push hard, look after myself, and bring back some sterling positivity.

Around The Bay Training Blog #2: The Definition of Insanity

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and blah blah blah—you know the quote. Well, this week, I put this adage to the test as I completed my Saturday long run by traversing the same loop over and over…and over. You know what? It felt great. I got in a decent amount of hill work.

Insanity is underrated.

In other news related to losing my mind, breaking the run into loops actually turned out to be an incredible mental trick. In my last blog, I wrote about the running dread that was shaking my confidence in taking on the Around The Bay race—Saturday’s run gave me a little of that confidence back.

The sky was overcast, the snow was falling in big flakes, and my socks got soaked in the slush and puddles as I went running. The hills on the route got more challenging with each loop but, somewhere in the wet March weather, I found a little bit of my running magic again.

I breathed deeply for what felt like the first time in months. My legs felt strong. I temporarily coached my ears down from their usual winter hunch up by my shoulders. I felt the drain of working hard, but did not feel exhausted.

What’s more, after the run, I felt more sure that I could handle the race’s cut off time. (That’s caused me just a little bit of pre-race nerves since I’ve been adapting and adjusting my training schedule.)

I have plans later this week to go for a drive and see exactly what I’m up against when it comes to the course, and I am hoping that looking at the obstacles first hand will help get rid of that lingering fear. Around The Bay is notorious for close to the last third of the race being ludicrously hill-ridden, which is generally the last thing you want when you’ve been grinding out roughly 20km or so.

I knew about these hills when I signed up for the run back in October, so maybe that was the crazy move on my part.

Current conclusion: insanity got me into this mess, and with a little luck, it’s probably going to get me out.

Around The Bay Training Blog #1: Waiting For Lightning

The Around The Bay race in Hamilton is coming up fast. Thirty days from now, I’ll be pinning on a number for my first-ever entry into this legendary race, older than the Boston Marathon and riddled with hills my calves are already screaming about.

I ain’t ready. I don’t feel ready anyway.

People on social media are crushing elevation for dinner and running 18-milers to prepare. Meanwhile, I’ve been struggling to fit in solid runs with all of the snow and ice we’ve been getting, and my general lack of mental energy.

I had a sturdy training plan all mapped out for ATB, and this winter’s terrible weather has forced me to tactically “wing it”, while my mental health has made believing in myself into a challenge all on its own.

Now, I’ve hit the “I am so very very sick of training” wall at the same time I’ve hit the “I am so very very scared of failing at this race” wall. We’re 4 weeks away from race day.

Cue: freaking out.

This is not how I imagined this training season going.

On the other hand, that’s the cliché “running is a metaphor for life” kicking in right? Things won’t always go according to plan and you just have to show up and do your best. You have to keep reminding yourself that you chose to do this, and you love it. It helps to remember that the worst thing that could happen is survivable. It also helps to imagine hot cups of coffee and tight hugs and tears at the finish line.

More than anything, it helps to remember that I haven’t been lying around doing NOTHING, even if I haven’t been sticking to my ambitious plan.

I’m still running 4x a week, with my long runs building in distance. I’ve been trying to incorporate hill work—last week I unplugged my headphones and ran repeats for about an hour, just me and the road. (This week, I had plans to push it even further and run MORE hills—and then we got 20 cm of snow dropped on us. I did as much as I could. I ran until I REALLY didn’t want to.)

I’ve got four weeks to mentally and physically prepare.

Cue: re-strategizing.

In the meantime, I’m still waiting to be excited. I’m still waiting for lightning.

"Before and After" Photos Need A Serious Culture Makeover

Unless you’ve lived under a rock with no access to internet, television, or print media, you know about before and after photos.

On the left there’s a head-to-toe photo of a person who seems to be frowning with their entire body; on the right there’s a photo the same person, slimmer, beaming and possibly holding up an old pair of blue jeans.

These photos sell exercise equipment, workout dvds, weight loss programs, gym memberships, shakes and supplements. What they don’t do is sell us the truth—there’s no such thing as an “after” photo.

Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t set goals and track them, whether you want to crack that tough yoga headstand, run a marathon, or just feel hot in a pair of jeans. Goals are individual personal decisions for everyone to make for themselves.

If you find posting the photos empowering, good. If you find them inspiring, good! If you want to scrub them all off your timeline—that’s great too. You’re in charge and you know what’s best for you.

I’m saying we need to take a closer look at before and after photos and give them a makeover built on a foundation of realism. We should call them “accomplishment” photos instead.

Change the name, change the culture

Maybe you’re rolling your eyes at this tiny suggested edit. Who cares what they’re called? What’s in a name?

To that I say: naw.

Words still matter. Words affect mindset. Mindset is everything.

“After” is to “before” what “finished” is to “started,” and anyone who has achieved a weight loss or fitness goal will tell you there’s no “finished.” The work of maintenance and healthy is never over. Take it from someone who lost 80 lbs, regained 50, and then dropped 30 again—change is constant.

Calling them “accomplishment photos” instead of “after photos” raises a couple of key points. The photo is a celebration of something you’ve achieved. It also emphasizes the fact that this photo is a moment in time, and after that moment is over, you’re going to go back to doing what you do best—kicking ass, putting in the work, taking care of yourself.

If we tailor the language and the way we think about comparison photos, we can build a more transparent health and fitness culture. We need this now more than ever, when resolution season is peaking and “bathing suit season” hysteria is just around the corner.

Setting Realistic Health and Fitness Goals

I’ll say it again: accomplishment photos. This word change transmits the idea that this is not a 30-day-diet change or a cleanse or a quick-fix. It embraces the idea of long-term commitment to yourself, your craft, and your journey. It encourages the idea of sustainable goals.

This time of year can be particularly tempting for those prone to the “all-or-nothing” mindset. They might be overpromising to workout 2 hours for 6 days a week and eat no carbs—they saw someone do this and get great results on Instagram. Fake news. Maybe if people saw less “after photos” and more "achievement photos” they wouldn’t be in such a rush to the next fad workout or diet. They would take time to find the exercise they actually enjoy.

Finding a sport or a workout routine you love and can maintain is more important than desperately chasing an “after” which doesn’t exist. The “achievement photo” swap opens up the dialogue about making a routine that lasts, instead of one where you burn out.

There’s no such thing as an after photo. There are moments when we have achieved, and moments we have yet to achieve.

Imagine an inclusive fitness culture, getting real about the sustained effort it takes to really look after yourself—I can just picture it now.