Into the Night 5K

Heading to the Into the Night 5K run on Friday, I was not feeling enthusiastic. It was more a case of doing the run because I had already forked over my registration fee.

I didn’t know anyone else doing the race, I was tired, it was Friday, blah, blah, blah. 

Into the Night kicks off Marathon by the Sea race weekend in Saint John. Since I’m not doing the half-marathon this year, I opted for the 5K night run.

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I arrived at the Diamond Jubilee Cruise Terminal in Saint John early for the run I thought started at 9 p.m. I picked up my race kit and was pleased to see two glow sticks made of foam — light sabres, which I knew Silas would love.

I was, however, a little disappointed to find out the race wasn’t timed. I was kind of looking forward to pushing myself in the 5K, which is a relatively unfamiliar distance for me. But with fireworks, glow sticks and a light-hearted feel, I knew I would enjoy myself.

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Turns out the race didn’t start till 9:30 p.m., when it was completely dark. It meant a little more waiting around, but luckily the weather was perfectly comfortable and I did a little jogging to warm up a bit.

Approaching the starting line, we heard a few inspirational words from Terry Thorne, this year’s Marathon by the Sea race marshall. Thorne has run 12 marathons and was in the process of attempting to qualify for Boston when she had a brain aneurism in 2007. She now lives in a nursing home after going through years of recovery. “Never, ever give up,” she said, standing with the help of a walker.

Thorne then sounded the race horn, and with her words on my mind, we were off, carrying the light sabres and dashing into the night. I pressed ahead and fell into a rhythm, running by Market Square as revellers took a break from enjoying live music to cheer for the runners. Then it was on to Harbour Passage, where darkness cast over the course and the colourful glow of the light sticks bounced ahead. I continued to pass people, one by one, until one woman sailed by me. That’s when I decided I wasn’t going to let her win.

I don’t know who she was, but I set my mind to staying with that woman, who set a challenging pace. I wasn’t comfortable, but I kept telling myself that 5K is not far at all. I kept on her tail for most of the race, but the final kilometre was a challenge and she got ahead.

I decided to hold back then dig deep for the final stretch, and it worked. I sailed by the final few metres… and was shocked to see the clock at 24:xx. I hadn’t been looking at my watch throughout the race, instead focused on running by feel. And it turned out to be a great strategy.

According to my Garmin, my time was 24:49 — more than a minute faster than my personal best of 26 minutes! However, I believe the course was short, as my watch said the run was only 4.9 km. Still, I totally smashed my PB, and I was over the moon! Not bad for a “fun run.”

I gladly accepted a chocolate milk, ate some orange slices from the well-stocked food tent and made my way home. As I pulled in my driveway, I heard the fireworks (and wondered why they wouldn’t have gone off near the start of the race, while runners could see them over the harbour).

The run turned out to be a great experience, sailing through the dark with a sea of fluorescent runners. It felt good to be out of the blazing sun and gave me hope that I have some speed left in this mother runner legs of mine.

 

The link between gratitude and performance

“You have 50,000 thoughts per day, and 80 per cent of those are negative…. We’re conditioned to see the glass half-empty.” – Scott Welle, sports psychologist

When I run, I usually feel uplifted, stronger and happier. That general feeling of wellbeing is one of the main reasons why I run. It’s what gets me out the door.

But until recently, I haven’t given too much thought to the power of positive thinking and its link to performance – both mental and physical. When I was marathon training with a niggling IT band injury, I superstitiously started to think that every second weekend I would have a “bad” run, and sure enough, it became true. My negative thoughts became reality.

When I turn up the good tunes, and positive podcasts and practise positive self-talk, I inevitably have a “good run.” Of course they can’t all be good – there’s heat, there’s discomfort, laziness and sometimes pain. But how do you push through when the going gets tough? Eventually it becomes mind over matter, and you need something to get you to the finish line.

Listening to the Runners Connect podcast on a recent run, I was really inspired to hear about growing evidence that links high performance with the simple act of feeling grateful.

According to author, marathoner and sports psychologist Scott Welle, who works with professional athletes from the NBA to the MLB, studies show high performers almost always have the highest amount of gratitude.

Welle told podcast host and elite marathoner Tina Muir that 50 per cent of our happiness comes from genetics and 10 per cent comes from our surrounding environment. The rest is based on “intentional activities.”

He says being grateful can help your health, your sleep and performance – both personally and professionally.

Welle suggests writing down two or three specific things you are grateful for every morning.

 

“You will look at life differently, and you will attack it with a different level of positivity and contribution than I think move people do when we live in a mindset of lack versus a mindset of abundance,” he told Muir.

When I’m out for a peaceful long run, and the endorphins are flowing, my mind is often bubbling with happy thoughts. I love my little family, I love living on the East Coast, and I’m so proud of this life I have built with my husband. I’m so grateful we are all healthy and have everything we need. Then, I think about something that was ticking me off a few hours ago, and it seems so inconsequential. What a waste of energy.

Who is up for a gratitude challenge? For 30 days, write in your journal every morning, two or three very specific things that make life good. And let the positive vibes flow.

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I’m grateful for the warm sunshine on a beach just a short drive from my home, and the sound of my son throwing rocks into the waves as the tide rolls in.

 

A running update

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We are loving our new jogging stroller. It feels so great to get out and push my boy through the neighbourhood or local parks.

But man, this summer has been hot! Even here in Saint John, where it’s usually temperate along the coast. It’s been humid too, and I can’t remember the last time I went for a run and didn’t return home just drenched in sweat.

The past month, I have been working on gradually building up my mileage again with the aim of running a fall half-marathon. I recently signed up for Maritime Race Weekend in Eastern Passage, NS. Very pumped to run this race for the first time on Sept. 17.

I’ve also been making more of an effort to improve my speed. I’ve been attending the weekly track nights at the University of New Brunswick Saint John (Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. if anyone is interested!) led by the venerable Coach Daryl Steeves.

When I told him I have been disappointed with my speed ever since running the marathon, he said training for speed and distance are completely different, which made me feel so much better.

Although I’m usually the slowest runner in attendance, I have found it very helpful and I already feel stronger and faster.

Here’s an example of the workout from the last track night I attended. Added up to 7.5 km.

  • 400 m warm-up
  • 400 m easy, 400 m moderate, 400 m hard (20 s. rest between laps) x4 (1 min rest between reps)
  • 1 km with 3 fartleks

I’m finding my speed on the track is so much faster than I thought I could run – even thought it’s just short bursts – so this is encouraging.

Other highlights from the past month include getting in some long runs with my friend Jen. It always seems so hot, so we take our time, but it’s nice to put the miles in together.

It was also great to run with Alicia through the Irving Nature Park during her visit from Ontario. There is something so wonderful about running with one of your best friends who lives far away.

I also stocked up on shoes before Alex Coffin closed up his West Saint John shop. We will miss him here in the ‘hood but he will still sell shoes from Ken-Val Rehab. And, he is now the general manager of the PotashCorp Civic Centre in Sussex. “You know me, I’m always around,” he told me.

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Another hot race: Canada Day 10-miler

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My third race of the year landed on yet another hot day. This is a rarity for the east coast, so I guess you could say I’m training my body to run in the heat.

And yet again, I came out with a sluggish pace, left wondering where my zoomy legs from just a year ago went.

The annual Canada Day 10-miler in Grand Bay-Westfield is a simple, fun event along the St. John River organized by my local shoe salesman and running guru Alex Coffin.

This was my second time participating. The first time I ran the 10-miler was in 2013, which I’m now referring to as “my prime.” It was the same year I ran a sub-2 hour half-marathon and scored a few other PRs.

With the sun and heat expected to strike, Alex offered an early 8 a.m. start, which my friend Jen and I gladly accepted. It also meant we could finish the run early and head off to enjoy the long weekend.

As soon as we arrived, we knew we would be feeling the heat anyway. The air was still and it was already close to 20 C.

We started off at a decent pace below 6 min/km, but after the 5 km mark, I started to wane. We took a walk break close to the halfway mark, then another after a little hill right at 8 km. After that, we slowed right down, making mini goals to get us to our new walk break. It wasn’t pretty, but we knew we’d get it done.

We finished in 1:43:47, which was 59th and 60th out of 78 participants. It was also nearly seven minutes slower than the last time I did this race (1:36:50).

But this run was never really about going fast, it was about a Canada Day tradition and enjoying a long run with a friend. Mission accomplished.

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St. Andrews 5-miler

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April & Janie

It was warm and sunny for the 38th annual St. Andrews Father’s Day 5-Mile Road Race. And three weeks after my first marathon, I came out with my slowest 5-miler, ever.

I’m not shattered by this result – it was 21 C and the sun was pretty hot after the 10 a.m start. I feel like I pushed it as hard as I could, and I really haven’t been training for speed. But when I went back and checked my stats… damn… even slower than my first race ever!

Today’s finish time was 49:38, or 9:56 minutes per mile, placing 11/18 in my age group. My personal best is 42:30 from the Hampton 5-Miler in 2013.

Some background

OK so I know I really didn’t prepare myself well for this run, so I kind of got what I deserved. First of all, Mark, Silas and I went to St. Martins, a beautiful seaside community, for the day on Saturday. We hiked, played on the beach and ate junk food. When we got home, my husband and I stayed up late watching a movie.

I hit snooze this morning, then crawled out of bed and tried to get our butts out the door within 45 minutes. A challenge for sure. None of us were really feeling it. Not a great way to start Father’s Day.

After about an hour on the road, we got to the run with literally a minute to spare before registration closed. I jumped out of the car while my husband parked.

My plan was to run with Silas in our new stroller. But… we forgot it. So this meant I was running on my own. I knew I wouldn’t be fast, and the stroller was going to be my safety net. So I mentally prepared to tackle this hilly run on my own, and without music.

The run

The course itself is truly beautiful, wrapping around the harbour at Passamaquoddy Bay, through the downtown, through wooded areas and past the historic Algonquin Resort. The two-ish miles are flat, followed by a couple of challenging miles. The last mile is mostly downhill, except for one monster of a hill near the end.

This was my second time running the race, and our third time coming. Mark raced it two years ago when I was nine months pregnant. It’s small and fun with lots of door prizes! A couple of our friend ran the race too, which always makes it fun.

We finished off the morning with a tasty lunch at The Gables, and Silas was obsessed with the lobster out front!

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This run was humbling and was a reminder that just because I ran a marathon doesn’t necessarily make the shorter distances any easier. Also, hitting snooze is never a good idea.

 

After the marathon

I was prepared to feel a big letdown after the marathon. After such an epic life event, at least in my world, I thought I would feel sad about it all coming to a close.

Instead, life went on as usual, and after just a few days of soreness – nothing extraordinary aside from a really sore, black toenail – I felt back to the old me again.

It feels good to be back. No more hobbling around, no more stressing about miles. Just running for fun. Yes, there’s a reason why runners must allow themselves an off season. I guess since I’ve been training since Christmas, this is mine.

Still, you know me… I’m always thinking about running, the next run, the next challenge. And after months (years, really) of procrastinating, I finally found a great, used BOB Stroller. LIFE CHANGING!

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Small world, it actually came from the home of one of the few other Saint John area women who ran the Ottawa marathon! Thanks Amanda!

So now, Silas and I are enjoying weeknight runs through the neighbourhood. Tonight we knocked off a pretty swift 5K. Not exactly sure of the time because I forgot to turn off my watch, but I think it was not far off 30 minutes.

I’m hoping to take him along on a couple shorter races this summer. He’s quite a side kick! He now understands that Mama went to Ottawa to “run, run, run!”

“Mama, run, stroller!” he says. My heart is full!

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Ottawa Marathon race recap

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Crossing the finish line of the Ottawa Marathon continues to play through my mind in slow-motion: in blurs of leafy green, in steamy humid air, in the shouts of spectators (I took their words to heart), in the face of the lovely woman who slowly placed a beautiful, heavy medal around my neck.

This was my first marathon. It was my race, and though it was imperfect in so many ways, it was also absolute perfection. And I will never forget it.

I dug to the deepest part of me to run those final 600 metres to the finish, and a man in an orange shirt ran up to me and sternly told me to smile and throw my arms in the air – because I needed a good finish line photo!! So I did.

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Just past the finish line my shoulders fell forward and I released a gasp, which turned into a cry, and a long wail. I know some heads turned but I didn’t care, as I fully absorbed what had happened. I ran 42.2 kilometres.

I ran a marathon. What was once impossible, was now possible.

A first marathon in such a beautiful city at a huge, well-organized race is so magical. Time didn’t really matter, it was more about finishing the race in an upright position. The extreme heat only accentuated the need to take it easy. But it actually took some of the stress of meeting a time goal away and I was able to take it all in.

My final time was 5:12:28. Here is how I got there.

The lead-up

About a week or 10 days before the marathon, I came to terms with the fact it would be a hot race. This worried me because I have spent the past four months training in cool Saint John. I tried to remain optimistic that the forecast, calling for temps in the high 20s, high humidity and possible thunderstorms, would change, but it didn’t. It was Ottawa’s first heat wave of the year. And we’d be running through it.

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We toured Parliament two days before the marathon. It was at least 30 C with high humidity.

A day or two before the marathon, the local media began reporting that the marathon may be cancelled or changed due to the extreme heat. My heart sank, thinking all those months of training, not to mention the expense of travelling to Ottawa, would be lost. But I knew running in dangerous conditions wasn’t wise either. The last thing I wanted was to end up passed out on the side of the road, or waking up in a hospital with my toddler son a 12-hour drive away from me.

While the heat barely dissipated (race organizers say it was probably the hottest in the race’s 42 year history), its impact on the marathon event was minimal, and mostly by sheer luck. Cloud cover and a light breeze helped keep the heat to a manageable level for most of the marathon. It only become horrid, at least 30 C or 38 C humidity, in the last hour or so of my run.

Still, race organizers pulled marathoners who hadn’t reached a final bridge by the four-hour mark. I’m lucky I made it to the finish line.

Rookie mistakes

My husband and I made a vacation out of the Ottawa trip, including the 12-hour drive one-way. I knew I wouldn’t be resting in the hotel room on the day before the run, but I tried to take it easy. Despite this, we ended up doing a lot of walking, even a hike through Gatineau Park (oops) the day before my run. It lovely, but was sizzling hot. Also, I stupidly wore brand new sandals, which I thought would be comfortable, ending up with beat up feet.

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Atop the Champlain lookout at Gatineau Park, Quebec, er, the day before my marathon.

By the time we got back to the hotel room on Saturday night, my legs and feet were aching. I had tried to drink lots of water, but I probably still didn’t drink enough. I stretched and we went to bed at 10 p.m. and set the alarm for 4:45 a.m.

All the while, I was steeling myself to the very real possibility that I may need to pull out of the race if the heat forced me to.

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Marathon breakfast was a whole wheat blueberry bagel with crunchy peanut butter and a banana. And hotel room coffee. Ugh.

Our hotel was about a 20 minute drive away from downtown, so we strategically left in time to avoid race day street closures. We found a great place to park for free and got to the start line in time to have a quick coffee (for Mark) and to for me to get to the bathroom one last time. I also had lots of time to find my place in the start line corrals. It was not difficult since only the marathon even started at 7 a.m.

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I should also mention here that I purposefully had a shower the morning of so I could have wet hair for the run. Running Room founder John Stanton made this suggestion along with many other great tips at the Saturday night pasta dinner. Another piece of advice he gave was to remove your hat and pour water on it at the water stops instead of dumping water over your head. This can avoid chafing issues (since salt from sweat would wash over the body along with the water). A cool head helps cool down the entire body.

The first half:

The first 21 km of the run was through Ottawa’s downtown, along the Rideau Canal, through beautiful residential areas and along Wellington Street lined with small businesses. It was flat and scenic. My pace was steady as I took one-minute walk breaks every 10 minutes. I took the breaks even if I felt I didn’t need them. My strategy was to conserve energy – because of the heat and because of those dreaded final 10 km which remained a big unknown.

The crowd support was extremely uplifting. I was amazed at the ordinary people out with their children, sitting in law chairs, with signs and garden hoses pointed at runners. Kids ambled for high-fives. I drank it in. The spirit was so real!

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I hit the porta-potties at about 14 km, and lost three-four minutes as there was a bit of a line. It was worth it.

21 to 30 km

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Another great section of the course, across the river to Gatineau, Que. Does this mean I can say I’ve run a marathon in two provinces? Running across the bridge was fun and seemed to go by quickly. At this point we were sharing the course with half-marathoners. They seemed like gazelles and I tried to stay out of their way.

At the 21.1 km mark, the precise halfway point, I noticed a few people let out a cheer as i to say, OK, this is where it gets real! I felt a little surge and fist-pumped.

The course was dotted with plentiful water stations, which also carried Nuun electrolyte drink. By the end the thought of that stuff sickened me, but I kept drinking it so I wouldn’t get dehydrated. It seemed to do the trick!

There were also cooling stations, awesome and refreshing little misting showers. It provided an instant jolt of energy, however fleeting.

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Around the 28 km mark, I noticed the 5-hour pace bunny group run ahead of me. I decided to run along with the pack for a bit. But since their walk break didn’t line up with mine, I soon abandoned that plan. Until that point I believed I would land somewhere between 4:45 and 5 hours. But that was the last I saw of the pace bunny with the shower puff tail. Ah well.

Anytime I started feeling discouraged about how slow I was moving, I told myself it was better to be wise than press on for some arbitrary speed goal. What point is there in risking heat stroke, passing out or bonking? All I needed to do was finish, and at that point I knew that was going to happen.

The feeling of knowing I would finish was warm and motivating. I knew it would be difficult, but I knew I would get there, even if my pace slowed down considerably, which it did.

28 km to 37 km 

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This was my darkest stretch. I may have dropped an f-bomb on Snapchat during this time.

This is when the sun decided to shine in all its hot, miserable glory. The temperature seemed to shoot up about a million degrees, making my legs heavy and every step a struggle. After 32 km, I decided I would take a walk break every kilometre. I just had to make it to the next flag. This strategy edged me along, but my pace lagged.

Looking around didn’t help much either. It seemed as though everyone around me was giving up. There were more people walking than running at this point.

The neighbourhoods continued to cheer us on. They clapped with conviction saying, “You can do it! You’re strong!” People looked me straight in the eye. I had to run. I had to press on. I almost felt guilty walking by a cheering spectator. They kept me moving, step by step.

Around this time I also started to see the Extra Mile Crew, some energetic folks who helped the slower runners get to the finish line. No one specifically came to round me up, but I started to feel like the slow runner that I was. I was starting to feel demoralized. And 5 km seemed so far away.

37 km to the finish

I saw Mark at the crest of a small hill on Sussex Drive, taking cover in the shade. He looked concerned, like he was worried he had missed me. I called out to him and he thrust Gatorade and an ibuprofen pill at me, which I gladly accepted.

He had suspected my IT band would be throbbing by that point, but almost magically it was fine. Still, I was fatigued all over. Beads of sweat sparkled on his brow. We were in the extreme heat of the day.

“I’m going to run with you to the finish,” he said. “Let’s go.”

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Mark on the right

I was so extremely happy to hear this. I really needed an extra push at this point. We ran very slowly and he encouraged me along. I can’t even describe how tough it was. I remember thinking that childbirth is easier (not true).

Little by little, we passed each flag: 38K, 39K… around 40 km you’d think I would give it my all to the finish. That’s how I always imagined it would be. But I didn’t have it in me. I walked through the very last water stop.

Near 41 km, I decided I needed to run. I stopped again for a few seconds into that final kilometre to gather my strength for the finish line. Then I gave it the final push.

I picked up speed and heard those final cheers, raised my arms, plastered a big smile on my face and sailed across the finish line.

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It’s now day three after the marathon and I’m filled with gratitude. I feel so lucky I had the opportunity to take the road trip Ottawa and run in this world class race. I’m grateful to the people of Ottawa and Gatineau for all the sprinklers, cheers, signs, high-fives and smiles along the route. All those volunteers who handed out cups of water and Nuun.

I’m grateful that my body held up for me. After nearly a month of painful runs, and physio sessions, it held together fine on race day. The weather was disgustingly hot, but I know it could have been worse. I’m grateful for the clouds and breeze.

The marathon training journey was quite an adventure. There were early morning runs, snowy and rainy runs, two-hour treadmill runs. I felt mom guilt and wife guilt and I worried about sleep and food and weight and strength and injuries. I got sick two or three times during training and missed precious runs. Training wasn’t always perfect, but there were many sweet and serene morning runs when everything just clicked, when it felt like I was meant to be a runner, and it stopped being hard work.

I met my goal of running 42.2 kilometres, something I never could have dreamed of accomplishing a few years ago.

42.2km: We will meet again.