I did it!

It was impossibly hot – so hot that the Ottawa Marathon was almost cancelled for the first time in 40 years. But despite temperatures hovering near 30 C, and high humidity, I completed my first marathon today in 5:12:28.

To say it feels incredible would be an understatement. People say marathons change you, and in my case it’s probably true, too.

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If you follow me on SnapChat @aprilrunson, you’ll find a little video diary that shows the highs and lows of the event.

The course was stunning but it was hard. This run was hard work. But I think I stayed strong to the end, even if the walk breaks increased near the end.

I couldn’t have done it without the love and support of my dear husband, who not only agreed to make a couples weekend around this marathon, but met my every need through this training process.

And, he met met at the 37 km mark and ran beside me to the finish.

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An amazing event and experience I will never forget.

More detailed race recap to come!

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Selfie with a robot – just because
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Things are looking up!

If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter on Instagram, you already know I conquered 32 kilometres on Sunday.

I’m still baffled by this. I look at this picture and wonder if I was dreaming and my Garmin produced imaginary data.

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Yes, my knee and IT band are still achy and I am still wobbly, but I’m improving – even after running this massive distance. I am amazed and so grateful for medical advice, treatment and the glory that is New Shoes.

Let’s back up a bit. Much has happened since my last post. I ran 3.5 km that night and felt OK.

Thursday: I continued with my physio exercises (bridge and clam shell – here’s a link from a random website), ran 6 km on the treadmill then found a couple short videos on YouTube for stretching and strength exercises for runners.

I also saw my family doctor to get a referral for physio, so I can get insurance coverage. She was very supportive of my running goals and also wrote me a prescription for Naproxen, an anti-inflammatory similar to Aleve.

Friday: I returned to physio and learned a few more exercises for core stability. Had more acupuncture and hot/cold therapy. The physiotherapist wasn’t too keen on me taking the Naproxen. Why mask the pain with medication when we could work on strengthening and fixing the problem directly? I agreed (thinking I’ll fill the prescription anyway, because those things could come handy after the 32 km I had planned for the weekend).

New exercises I learned included lunging with one foot balancing on a stability ball; walking backwards on a treadmill (activating those glutes) and doing side shuffles on the ‘mill, working on keeping my body in alignment.

After work I headed down to Alex Coffin’s Fitness Shop to pick up some new kicks. I wanted the exact same pair of Brooks Glycerin because I love them so much. But I knew mine were worn out.

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Yikes.

Alex was notably alarmed when he saw the state of these shoes (which I only purchased last November). He suggested my form is likely off, and I’m probably not following through on my stride. I’m also clearly putting the most pressure on the outside of my foot, especially on the right side.

I left Alex’s store very pleased with my new shoes – I got black – but worried my old ways would be tough to fix this far into my training.

I came home and after putting Silas to sleep, I tackled another 6.5 km on the treadmill, plus more strength and stretching.

Saturday: Rest day but no sitting. Chasing a toddler around a few stores, then house cleaning. I ate as many carbs and drank as much water as humanly possible. Also a beer. Seriously, before bed I ate a whole Kit Kat bar and a bowl of Raisin Bran. (The shame!)

Sunday: I woke up feeling like I had a big exam. I was so scared to tackle 32 km. I had the blessing of my medical professionals, and I had really been running all week (though the runs were short), but I still had my doubts. I told Mark to stay by the phone. I fully expected I wouldn’t get much farther than 10 km before he got a call.

I struck out with a mixture of fear and determination in my belly. I held my posture high and tried to keep in mind all the tips I had heard from Alex and Rob (my physiotherapist) over the past week. I mentally focused on keeping my core strong. I thought about taking off from my big toe.

My knee and IT band were achy but the pain was very mild and I could run through it. Just knowing that running through that sensation without forcing any longterm damage helped push me along.

I tried to stay in a positive mindset. And amazingly, after the 10 km mark (my mental breaking point, or so I thought), I realized I could do it. I felt warmed up and I felt strong. I had lots of energy (so much sugary goodness coursing through me). I just took it slow and kept going.

By the time I hit the 20 km mark, I called home so my husband wouldn’t worry. Turns out he didn’t expect to come get me at all. He had better faith in me than I did.

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The long, foggy, lonely King William Road in Lorneville. I didn’t see a soul.

Before long, I was more focused on fatigue and a dull numbness in my feet that comes along with long distance running (at least for me) than I was that ache in my knee. In fact, it was barely noticeable.

Could it be that the run actually made me better?

I have no idea, but since then, my pain has definitely not become worse.

I came home from Sunday’s run, had my first ever ice bath (equally dreadful and wonderful) and drank a protein smoothie.

Monday was a rest day but I did yoga and my physio exercises. Today I got up early and ran 5 km. All feels good!

Three weeks to go until marathon day. Fingers crossed this was only a blip in my training.

 

My first trip to the physiotherapist

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Good news from the physiotherapist today: keep running!

As suspected, my knee pain is a result of the IT band (which runs from the hip just below the knee), which has been aggravated by a number of factors, including increased mileage and just being a mom. Turns out carrying a 30+ pound child on your hip can cause an imbalance.

And it’s all linked to my relatively weak core, glute and hip muscles. That was easy to see (especially on my affected right side) when the PT pushed against my thigh while I pushed up while lying on my side. At the end of a longer run, my hips, alignment and posture likely collapse. So I need to get stronger while running, my PT suggests. If I stop running of course it will stop hurting, but it won’t solve the problem.

I’m so, so happy to hear that all of this is manageable to continue training.

“Let pain be your guide, but don’t let it stop you,” he said. Basically, if I can muster through pain of a long run – or the marathon – it won’t do any long-term damage. And if I continue to get stronger and manage inflammation leading up to the race, I should be fine. He said he can’t promise the next few weeks to be pain free, but there is no reason to stop.

He helped me stretch, massaged the area and showed me a couple of strengthening exercises to try at home – the bridge and the clamshell – and how to do them effectively. He also gave me acupuncture, which was a first! The tiny needles didn’t bother me one bit, in fact, they actually provided relief.

So tonight I tried a slow, easy three kilometres. My IT band felt tight and there was a bit of pain around the knee, but it was low on the pain scale. The PT suggested I try a little longer run on Thursday, then continue with training from there.

I have also realized my shoes have more than 500 kilometres on them, so I’m hoping to ease into a new pair soon.

On a side note, turns on foam rolling isn’t necessarily the best option, putting too much abuse on an already strained and stretched muscle. Adding gentle pressure to a rolling pin might be just as effective, without the squish factor.

This random article seems to sum up a lot of what my physiotherapist told me, including this point: “Get your glutes firing again and maintain mindfulness of their proper use while working out.”

 

The Rave Run 5K

I am not a 5K racer. I am not accustomed to finding bursts of speed that last for periods of 25 to 30 minutes.

But on Sunday I found myself in Grand Bay-Westfield for the Rave Run, known for being fast and flat and almost guaranteeing you a 5K personal best.

Not to mention, it’s the provincial championships, which means double points for the New Brunswick Super Series. (SIDE NOTE: I’m in third place!! Officially addicted to points).

So yes, although Sunday was my very last day of maternity leave, I decided to run a race. Big surprise, right?

Although I was tired (as usual), and it was hot (not usual), I’m really glad I did.

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The weather was gorgeous with a bright warm sun and 15 C. I think it was my first time running in a singlet all year.

Registration was effortless – in fact I arrived far too early for the 11 a.m. race and ended up waiting in my car for a while until I saw friends arriving. All funds supported phys. ed programs at River Valley Middle School.

I chatted with my experienced colleagues about how to tackle the course. And before we knew it, we were off.

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The first half was a gradual downhill along the St. John River. At first I tried to control my pace but then I decided to just let gravity pull me faster than usual with a 4:52 min/km pace (unheard of for me!).

Halfway through, we met a hill, but I tackled the bugger and worked hard to maintain a decent pace thereafter, passing a few folks along the way.

I was hurting by the final kilometre but allowed myself to slow a bit as long as I turned on the gas for the final 500 metres.

The finish was a bit of a tease. You return to the school but do a mini loop around the driveway before crossing the finish line.

I looked down at my Garmin and was pretty impressed: 26 minutes on the nose. Wow! I guess I had never tried to run a 5K fast before, but there it was.

I placed 75th out of 132 speed demons but collected enough points to put me in third place for my age group in the Super Series, which is like the minor league standings for road races in New Brunswick. Yeah!

Silas and I enjoyed the rest of the sunny day with a walk to the Pumpkin Patch for some well-deserved ice cream. I was feeling a little nervous/emotional about my return to work. And ice cream soothes the soul.

"Where's mine, Mom?"
“Where’s mine, Mom?”

And we did I little reminiscing about the past few months, including that long old winter. So glad that’s behind us.

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February vs. June

So now we march onward, starting a new chapter together. We’re sad our year together is through, but look forward to the exciting adventures that await.

The state of things

I haven’t run a whole lot since the Blue Nose. To be honest, I felt pretty burnt out after that run. I really enjoyed myself, but I started thinking I was crazy to be signing up for so many runs with a little baby to care for. It’s pretty tough to wake up race-ready when you’re up in the night quite a bit.

Instead, I tried to soak up the last of maternity leave. Spending precious time with my boy, doing a little house cleaning (reverse-nesting?) and – gulp – getting ready to return to work.

Silas and I in St. Martins
Silas and I in St. Martins, NB

My cousin came to visit last week and it was so fun to get out and enjoy the (few) sunny days on the Fundy coast.

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Running wasn’t really a priority, until this week, when I finally made time to get out. Sometimes I feel like a blob unless I run. Plus, I feel way less guilty eating ice cream.

Yesterday, I got a rare chance to go to the Nature Park on my own. The weather was absolutely perfect. The sun was warm and there was a breeze coming off the water. I ran the inner loop of the nature park, which is about 5 km. It’s been a while since I ran rolling hills, but it felt good. I took and easy pace and the run was so enjoyable.

I kept thinking how lucky I am. To be able to live next to the ocean. To be able to run, and enjoy it. And knowing my baby is safe and happy at home with his dad.

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This was just the run I needed. Yes, I love races, and yes I’ll sign up for more. In fact, I’m planning on doing the Rave Run in Grand Bay-Westfield on Sunday.

I’d really like to run a half-marathon this year – hopefully the Marathon By the Sea.

But I’m still worried about continuing to find a balance. Especially after I return to work next week(!!).

How will I find time to run, while spending time with my son, my husband, and doing good journalism at work? How do the rest of you do it?

I’ve chopped off my hair. I’m ready for change. I just hope I can handle it.

[Sappy post on the end of maternity leave to come…]

Realm of possibility

A few days ago, I started a new column for the Telegraph-Journal, called Conversations. I’m sitting down to have lunch with each member of Saint John’s city council, and in the process, learn a bit more about them and where they stand on municipal issues.

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I love writing profiles, highlighting details and uncovering layers of a person’s life that gives you more insight into what kind of person they really are.

For Gerry Lowe, my most recent lunch date, I found it in his ruby ring. He kept fiddling with it during the interview, but I didn’t even have to ask. The conversation eventually drifted to what he considers his greatest accomplishment: he ran the New York City Marathon in 1987. He had the ring made as a memento.

Of course, being the avid runner that I am, this sprung out at me as a sign of character. Running 42 km is no easy feat.

But then, the conversation turned to me. Was I a marathoner? Was I planning on running one?

“It’s all mental, right? There’s a physical part to it, but most of it’s mental,” said Lowe, a down-to-earth businessman and retired postal worker.

“You’ve got to do it, April,” he said, once he learned I’m into running half-marathons. “Once you make your mind up, you’ll have no trouble.”

So this thought has been bopping through my head over the past few days. Gerry Lowe has run a marathon. One of my best friends is running her first marathon this fall. People do it all the time. It’s really within the realm of the possible.

And then after I ran 19 km on Monday before covering the evening council meeting, I had another thought. I’m already halfway there.

How long does it take to prepare for a marathon anyway? How much more work could it really be?

Last night I stayed up late looking up training plans and making mad calculations. Could I run a marathon this fall? Just continue on after running the Marathon by the Sea on Aug. 11?

No decision has been made. My legs are pretty tired from the final stretch of this training plan. And at this point, I can’t imagine doubling the distance that seriously hurts to complete.

But little by little, I’m finding myself warming up to the idea of running a marathon. Maybe not this year, but someday, yes. I no longer consider it impossible, and that’s pretty cool.

Running sick

IMG_0089I could almost see my doctor’s jaw drop when I told her.

“I ran 16-K on Sunday, and I’m worried it made my cough worse.”

Doh. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I realized how crazy it sounded.

“16-K with a cold,” she said, shaking her head. “Wow.”

My doctor had just given me some sound advice on how to continue training for my half while getting through this nasty bug I’ve been dealing with the past week. Over the past few days, it has morphed into my chest and I can’t stop coughing (especially at night). I was paranoid that I might have pneumonia or bronchitis so I decided to ask her to check me over.

Nope, just a cold.

But my doctor, like other medical experts I have read, said there’s no problem with continuing to run with a cold.

“Just listen to your body,” she said. If you start coughing too much, pull back.

She advised running shorter, less-intense distances, or doing other cross-training until I’m back to normal.

That’s kind of what I was doing last week, when my cold symptoms first popped up. After feeling rotten at work on Thursday, I went for a slow 5K. I came back inside feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

So on Friday, even though I had the sniffles, I did hills. Nine of them. It was pretty intense, but during the exercise, I totally forgot I was sick. I didn’t want to miss my weekly spinning workout, so I hit the gym for RPM on Saturday morning. More intensity, but I felt OK.

Easter Sunday morning, I woke up feeling drained. Sore. Sick. But my training plan called for 16-K. Pretty long for a sick chick. I’m stubborn and determined, so I did it.

It was not a pleasant experience. I felt gross the whole time, even though it was a beautiful, sunny day. My stomach didn’t feel right and I was cold. I came back home and started hacking furiously.

That’s when I started to get paranoid. Oh my gosh, I thought. I’ve given myself pneumonia. I coughed all night and felt worse on Monday. Stayed home from work. Tuesday I went back to work, but I didn’t exercise.

That brings me to today and my visit to the doctor. I should have known. I should have listened to my body.

When you’re sick, you’re sick.

There will always be another day for a long run.