training

Run for the Toad Training Log #1: A Sandbag Scarecrow & Mosquito Bites

Run #1: Run For The Toad, Hitting The Road

• First official day of Run for the Toad training: the road to my first major trail race starts here.

• I'm always looking for omens, and can foolishly get into the mindset that the first run will set the tone for the rest of training. The tone of this run was "sweat and suffering".

• Coming off a run break in Italy, I was hoping for fresh legs but they ended up feeling like lead. Thankfully training schedule called for a slow fiver—”slow” was the only speed I had in the tank.

• What is it about running in the heat that makes you feel like a scarecrow made of sandbags?

• By the time I completed my usual 5k work loop, I noticed what looked like tiny beads of sweat on my arms. Turns out it was hot enough to experience milaria crystallina—a mild heat rash. I think I’m off to a great start.

Run #2: Hill Repeats, A Horror Story

• I headed into a nearby trail to take on some hill repeats, bug spray from my apartment and thank goodness I did. Closer to dusk, the woods were buzzing. Every two seconds there was a mosquito whining in my ear.

• I trotted a little over a kilometre into the woods and came to three forks in the road (a trident)? There was a longer less steep hill, a steeper hill. I chose the steeper hill and got to hustling.

• …Hustling is code for having my butt kicked by a hill. Note to self: research proper technique for running up and down hills. I could feel my body hunching and my form and posture slipping.

• Everything felt… not great. I got a stitch in my side a few times from the humidity. My knees didn't feel quite easy on the path. My calves needed stretching. I barfed in my mouth at least once (at LEAST).

• I accidentally had the GPS on my Fitbit (I’m not a tracking junkie) but may have come up with a rough average of my speed per kilometre out on the trails… Which is only important because I've been toying with the idea of training for time-on-feet instead of distance. I know some people do it for ultras, but I'm wondering if it might help me as I sharpen for the 25k.

• Need to build in some cross-training and lots of stretching to make this work. I have no doubt I can finish this race… But I’d like to finish it in one piece, strong.

• Made it back to the car. Still somehow got some mosquito bites. … Bastards. Running is going to literally eat me alive.

Run #3: Slow And Steady

• Headed out for my first long run with a double espresso from Tim Hortons and a blueberry muffin. It was early, sunny, not too hot—great running conditions.

• Lots of other cars parked at the trailhead (runners & or cyclists also up and about early).

• Ended up walking up a lot of hills and jogging down them. First off, to conserve energy. Also noticing my body hasn’t 100% adapted to tackling hills yet so trying to focus on building the muscles before trying to barrel anywhere.

• Running further and further out into the woods all I can think about is true crime and how hard it would be to find a body out in the forest.

• Which is right around when a cyclist lets out a loud whoop from behind me as he blazes by (thanks buddy) and I nearly pee myself.

• Round out the 14km with a decent amount of energy left in the tank, even if my legs are tired. Only a little bit of aches and pains the next day, which I’m hoping will ease up with training and muscle development.

• At least 14km is over half the distance I’ll be doing in Run For The Toad. Makes the whole thing seem less scary… a little.

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 nearest and dearest are in for a potentially wild ride. That’s when I decided it was high time to take up sewing, terrified a Running Room employee on the hunt for chews, 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 brought on by weather, mental health issues, and good old fashioned race anticipation.

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 Around The Bay’s notorious rolling course was 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.

You don’t realize how far something is until it takes you 30 minutes to drive it.

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 kms 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.

The 3/4 Rule: When Reaching Your Goals Starts to Suck

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Next Sunday, I'm running the Scotiabank Montreal Half Marathon.

I'm starting to get excited now, but a week or two ago I was ready to lay on the ground and admit total indifference.

I blame the 3/4 Rule. 

The idea that 75% of the way through something—a training schedule, an actual race, a Tom Cruise movie—is when the going gets tough. Really tough. Like maybe-this-was-a-bad-idea-is-it-too-late-to-quit?

It happened during my last half marathon, around the 16th kilometre. Legs losing steam, sun blazing above, I started questioning why had I willingly paid money to put myself through this? But by the time I crossed the finish line, my doubt had totally dissolved. Faith in my own legs was restored. I loved running again. But... 

This isn't an isolated phenomenon.

Another example: I ran the Hypothermic Half 10 km race in March and got the most intense side stitch I've ever felt—3/4 of the way through. Then, weeks 7-9 of this training for this upcoming half marathon felt like a senseless, exhausting struggle. I'm not the only one it happens to either. My friend and fellow runner Melissa Gonzalez, (who I wrote about last week), hit the 3/4 wall during her first marathon a few weeks ago. It's REAL.

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Basically, 75% is No Man's Land.

At the beginning of something, you have the exciting boost of the start. At 50%, you can channel your inner Bon Jovi—being half way there is a much-needed lift. Then you straggle into the 3/4 desert. You're close but you're not quite at the finishing stretch. It starts to hurt.

The good news is that once you manage to muscle your way through this point, you get end-game adrenaline. 

Maybe find yourself nodding along with agreement to this. Maybe you think I'm crazier than Tom Cruise leaping onto Oprah's couch. Either way, you didn't come 3/4 of the way through this blog to leave without a satisfying conclusion.

So how do we push through the 3/4 wall?

Personally, I believe that the trick is making what's old new again. I'll use training as my example.

• Change it up. Tweak the routine. Instead of using my usual routes, I mapped some new ones with Runkeeper—same distance, different view! (Even running the same route in the opposite direction is helpful!) I downloaded new podcasts. I found some new parks to run in.

• Reward yourself. Often if I'm having trouble getting motivated for a run, I'll promise to cook myself something I've been craving for dinner that night, or allow myself an extra episode or two of whatever I'm watching at the time. Bartering works!

• Slack, please! It's key to recognize that you have already come SO far. I could quit if I wanted to, but I've put in more than 50% of the effort. Might as well knuckle down and finish... right?

Get recruiting. Find someone else who has a SIMILAR goal and team up with them for awhile. Or just recruit someone to join you along for an attempt! 

So next time you find yourself lagging in goals, try using these tips to help you take on your next goal, destroy the 3/4 wall, and cross that finish line! Whether it's a race or the credits to Mission Impossible 15.

Do you think the 3/4 Rule exists? How do you stay motivated when struggling to achieve your goals?

Let me know on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or in the comments below!