These October days, though

The temperature is cooling off just a little, the horizon is brushed with golden, orange and red hues, the days are shorter. A solid base of running has been built over the past 10 months, making for a truly enjoyable fall season.

I haven’t been training particularly hard or with any set goals in mind, but what I thought would be a quiet month running-wise has turned into quite the opposite.

And I’m not sure if it’s just my imagination or the cooling temperatures, but running has felt just a little easier lately. I am not necessarily faster or slimmer but perhaps my fitness is finally where it needs to be for a half-marathon PR this coming weekend in Moncton.

YES, this is the first mention of a second fall half-marathon for 2016. It sort of came out of nowhere and I signed up last-minute.

Maritime Race Weekend was supposed to be my final big race of the season. But after my friend Kevin generously gave me his 10K registration for the Sweet Caroline run, he said my payback would have to be a half-marathon PR (or a beer). Well, I couldn’t argue with that.

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Home stretch of the Sweet Caroline 10K – 54:14

In a few days I will attempt to crack 1:59:54 at the Moncton Legs for Literacy half. We shall see if the stars align for me! My legs were feeling great at the Eastern Passage half a few weeks ago so hopefully the flat Moncton course and some better race day prep (ie not arriving late and requiring a mid-race porta-potty stop) will help me meet this goal. If not, I guess I will owe you a beer, Kevin.

{Side note: I have only managed to do ONE long run since the Eastern Passage run one month ago. And it was 18K on the treadmill. Will I survive?}

Last weekend, Silas and I took part in our very first 5K race together. It was the Island View Eagles 5K, which is really close to our house. We woke up early and made our way to the school on a very cold morning. Silas was bundled up in a winter hat and three or four layers under a blanket. We zoomed up and down Manawagonish Road to complete the 5K in 28:32! I didn’t really know what to expect so I was really pleased with my first official stroller 5K time.

Thanks for reading, friends!

Run on!

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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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“Giv’er!” My race recap of the Halifax Blue Nose 10K

Oh Halifax. The big city of the Maritimes. With your pretty harbour, big bridges, Lululemon and endless array of carb-loading options, you are truly a runner’s heaven.

And now after taking part in the 10K run at the giant Blue Nose Marathon over the weekend, I can say I’ll definitely be back again.

There’s something about racing in another city that is so exciting. Being a part of this run – with more than 2,600 in the 10K alone – was such a blast. The race was massive (apparently the biggest east of Ottawa) but so well-organized. I never waited in line to get my bib, check my bags or pick-up post-race food. The atmosphere was electric. And best of all – despite rain and hills and my typical state of sleep-deprivation – I ran fast!

I finished in 54:14, more than a minute faster than my super-flat 10K two weeks ago at the Saint John Airport. It’s only 45 seconds away from my personal best (from Moncton – a very flat course). Yay!

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There are a few reasons why this run went better for me: it was interesting and invigorating – running over the MacDonald Bridge, running through a Dartmouth neighbourhood, seeing so many spectators – it really revs you up.

Also, after several bad sleeps with Silas, he gave me the gift of only waking up twice the night before the race, and promptly falling back to sleep. Thank you, Darling.

And finally, I stopped stressing over the numbers – as discussed in a previous post – and instead focused on running by feel. On the up-hills, and there were a few, a slowed down. At the top, I waited till my heart rate regulated, then built up my pace again. On the down-hills, I coasted. I focused on passing people when I had the energy. When I didn’t, I held back. I ended the run feeling like I pushed as hard as I could, but I didn’t feel horrible. In my books, that’s how to do a race.

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Some other notes on the run:

  • We had the most delicious, wholesome meal at the Henry House on Barrington Street the night before the run. I had a Cornish pastie and craft beer. My glycogen stores were definitely full.
  • We got a Hotwire deal at the Halliburton on Morris Street, a charming inn in a building dating back to the 1830s. It was a gorgeous spot that included a delicious breakfast every morning (I had toast and homemade jam the morning of the race along with hot coffee). It was just blocks away from the starting line and so close to the water.
  • With so many people running the 10K, we had to line-up a good 25 minutes before the gun. It was a chilly 8 C, and it started to rain as we waited. Not the greatest feeling. Luckily, I decided to wear the tech Blue Nose shirt, which quickly dried off as soon as I started running.
  • I felt pretty special in line because I got to go near the “front” of the pack, since my estimated time was between 50-60 minutes. That’s a pretty average time for a 10K, but I was actually on the fast spectrum. I finished 92/521 in my age category. Yeah!
  • I spotted some local CBC celebrities, including my former j-school classmate, Mackenzie, who was helping out with First Aid.
  • We showed Silas how to cheer for runners as we walked back to our hotel. I think he liked it!
  • I mentioned the bridge, but it was definitely the coolest part of the 10K. There is a pretty big slope upwards as you head toward the middle of the bridge, but then it heads down again as you reach Dartmouth.
  • If I sign up for the Marathon by the Sea in Saint John (planning on it) and the PEI Marathon in October, I’ll receive the Maritime Challenge medal.

I’m so happy I had the chance to train for and run this race, still on maternity leave. It’s so a great feeling to have my running abilities almost back to where they were pre-baby. Making a weekend of the Blue Nose was so much fun.

My race calendar has been a little crazy over the past couple of months, as I have felt the need to make the most of my time off work to fit in races now while I have the chance. When I head back to work in a few weeks, it will probably slow down. But I’m planning to continue running, and hope to train for a half-marathon this summer or fall.

Hampton 5-Miler

Mark and April before the Hampton 5-Miler
Mark and April before the Hampton 5-Miler

Drizzling rain, grey sky, the slightest sting of a sore throat – I never believed it could culminate in my fastest race pace to date.

I ran the Hampton 5-Miler in 42:30 today, blasting away my goal of beating last year’s time of 44:44.

I did not, however, meet my goal of beating Mark. He is always just slightly out of my reach. He ran the 8-kilometre race in 42:09. Not only that, but his friend Kevin also beat me – by four seconds, breezing by me on the final stretch.

The dudes who beat me, Mark and Kevin
The dudes who beat me, Mark and Kevin

It’s all in good fun. We all pushed each other to do our best. And as Kevin’s five-year-old daughter said today, everyone who crosses the finish line wins.

The Hampton event, located just east of Saint John, is always a favourite. This was our third year participating, which is hard to believe. It has been gratifying to see improvements in our speed every year.

This year was our rainiest experience by far, but it didn’t seem to matter.

I was so proud to keep up the pace I did, averaging 5:15 mins/km (my goal was 5:25!). It resulted in a placement of 16/74 in my age group.

The great thing about this course is that although it is hilly, there seems to be more downhill stretches than up. My strategy was to run as fast as I could comfortably go for the downhills, and stay on my goal pace the rest of the time. I also didn’t stop for water.

It was great seeing so many familiar faces, which also sometimes boggles my mind when I think just four short years ago I didn’t know a soul in this province. Everyone I spoke to seemed to shave time off their previous races or seemed very pleased with their performances.

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My next run on the fall circuit will be the Run or Dye colour run in Halifax, which should be a blast.

Run with Joy

Meet Joy Durdan, one of the most inspiring runners I know in Saint John.

Joy running in Bouctouche in July
Joy running in Bouctouche in July

Durdan, 42, is a self-described middle-of-the-pack runner for her age group. But as of Aug. 27, she is in third place in the Run NB standings, rubbing shoulders with high-octane Boston marathoners.

“That pretty much blows my mind,” she says, jogging beside me during track night at the University of New Brunswick Saint John stadium. “I’m pretty proud of myself, really, to be up there.”

It has not come easy.

By the end of this season, Durdan will have competed in at least 30 races, with an average of one or two races every weekend. That includes several half-marathons and one full marathon planned for Moncton in October.

Since the standings are based on points collected for each race, she has managed to accumulate 426 points in 15 races (and that’s not counting events that aren’t part of the standings, such as the recent Marathon by the Sea half-marathon, which she ran in 2:07:52). To put this in perspective, I am in 50th place for my age group, with 48 points from three races.

Durdan has run the half at Marathon by the Sea every year since 2001, but in the past couple of years, she decided she wanted bigger challenges. In 2011 and 2012, she ran her first full marathons, then she ran a 2012 ultra-marathon, which is 50 kilometres. Next, she had her sights set on a 50-miler, but since there are none in the area, she had to find an alternative.

She realized she had made it to sixth place in 2012 “without even trying.” Durdan remembered a friend who had made it in the top three, more because of volume of races rather than speed.

“I decided that’s what I would do,” Durdan says.

“I’m very stubborn and determined, and once I make up my mind, I follow through. That’s what got me through the full-marathons and the ultra-marathon.”

And it’s what will get her through this year, even if it leaves her utterly exhausted. During our run at track night, the usually peppy Durdan is tired. She had just finished a Saturday 10K in Caraquet with a season’s personal best at 54:22. Then she did her long run on Sunday at 18K.

That’s the challenge of training for a full-marathon while squeezing in weekend races across the province.

“The long run is your cornerstone, your building block of a marathon,” she says, sweat beading on her forehead in the hot afternoon sun. “It’s hard to figure that out. If you’re racing on the weekend, how do you fit in another 20 km?”

This coming weekend will be another challenge. She has the 5-km Race Against the Reds in Fredericton on Saturday, followed by a half-marathon in Saint-François-de-Madawaska in northern New Brunswick on Sunday.

Does she ever second-guess her decision to enter all these races, something she figures must of cost upwards of $1,000?

“Ah, let’s see,” she says during our run. “No.

“Sometimes I feel a little down, like I’m trying really hard and sometimes I’ll be hard on myself if I didn’t get the time I wanted to, but I quickly talk myself back in to being positive,” she says.

She is Joy, after all. She’s the person you see smiling at every race, encouraging others to do their best. You’d never know that running is her antidote for depression and anxiety.

“I love everything about running,” says Durdan, who has a 19-year-old son in theatre school and balances her running passion with a job at Je Suis Prest, an uptown Saint John clothing store.

“I love the running community. I love the endorphins,” she says with a laugh. “Running really helps me focus on what’s important.”

Durdan says anyone can tackle their goals, even if they’re not top-calibre speed demons. She’s proof.

“There are no limits, only the limits you put on yourself,” she says. “If you don’t go for it, you’ll always wonder what would have happened. So just go for it.”

Joy at the Grand Bay-Westfield 10-Miler
Joy at the Grand Bay-Westfield 10-Miler

Follow Joy’s progress on Facebook and DailyMile

My third half

In the past week, I’ve had a lot of rest.

I went to a hot yoga class with an emphasis on the hips, which was exactly what I needed after running 21 kilometres two days prior.

Thursday, I went for an easy 6-km run in uptown Saint John, along Harbour Passage and the south end loop. The air was clear and the sun was shining. The tide was high and the water was so blue. The air was sweet with roses. Some days, you can forget all the industry in this town even exists.

This weekend, I’m planning a spin class, and probably a long run as I get back into half-marathon training. Yes, again. I’m going for three in 2013. I want three medals for New Brunswick’s Tri-Cities Run challenge!

Two down, one to go:

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Reflecting on the race itself, I am pretty satisfied with my result.

The day was near-perfect, weather wise. It was sunny and just over 20 C. It felt cool at the starting line, but it didn’t take long to warm up.

I started off the race alongside Jen, my running buddy. I could tell she was ready to torque up the speed, so it wasn’t long before we parted ways. I wanted to find a steady pace I could hold for the whole race. My goal pace was 5:55 min/km.

But before pace was on my mind, I just enjoyed the start of the race. Saint John’s marathon event is unlike any others I’ve done because of the way the runners cascade down Crown Street. The sound of feet pounding the pavement is like hearing a herd of horses. The runners take over all four lanes until we reach the bottom.

The first loop around the south end was pleasant and steady. I didn’t feel too tired at all. I grabbed water from strapping Saint John firefighters right away since the sun was already making me feel hot.

At one point near the 8-km mark, I felt so good and alive and reached my hands up above my head and fist-pumped to my music. With Reversing Falls hill just ahead, that feeling was not to last.

I didn’t stop, but boy did I slow down. I smiled at a little boy who was being pushed in a jogging stroller by his dad (holy!) and pressed on, up, up, up, to the top, continuing the jog over the bridge with the roaring rapids below. I told myself I could have a rest break once I got past Moosehead Breweries, about a kilometre ahead. In fact, I made it to the 10-km mark before I took my first rest break, on level ground of Manawagonish Road.

After that, I kept up a steady pace to the turnaround point, and it was on the way back – about 14 km – when my light mood and easy pace started to feel tough. From there, I just focused on getting to the next water station on Douglas Avenue. I had small amounts of my gel for energy, but it didn’t seem to do much for me.

Getting going after that water stop was a challenge. But as I looked around, I could see others were feeling it too. I focused on running at a slower, steady pace. I got a little frustrated as my Garmin showed my pace slow to 6:15 or so. That was when I started questioning if I had done enough training, and why do I run such long distances anyway? It hurt. My hip hurt. My feet too.

Before long though, it was time for the final stretch. I felt no shame in walking the final hill leading to Mount Pleasant Avenue (or, Mount Unpleasant, as I’ve nicknamed it). Then I picked it up and pushed to the finish. I passed one person, which always feels good, and my fatigue turned to pure joy as I let gravity take me down the final hill. I smiled and waved at my work colleagues, my friends, my in-laws, my cheering aunt and my best friend: my husband, Mark (who had run the 5-miler).

I had stopped checking the time on my Garmin so I was pleased to see my time: 2:09, which was a seven-minute improvement over the same course last year. It’s not a personal best (that would be 2:01 on a much flatter course in Fredericton this spring), but it was really the best I could hope for.

Finishing such a race, and this distance, leaves you with immense satisfaction. It’s challenging, tough on the mind and body, but it’s absolutely achievable. And when you cross that finish line, there’s no feeling like it.

Just ask Tim Harte, of Coatesville, Pa., who broke a new marathon record on Sunday.

“I love the solitary nature of it and the discipline it takes,” he told the Telegraph-Journal, moments after crossing the finish line at 2:52:10. “And when I run, everything else in my life seems to find some order.”

Now, I’m ready for number three: Legs for LIteracy in Moncton. I ran 10-km at this event last year and loved it. A little more than two months of training to go.

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Runway running

Photo by Topher Seguin
Photo by Topher Seguin

As I approached the final kilometre on Saturday, I tried not to focus on the perceived weakness in my legs, my shortness of breath, that I’m not sure if I can finish feeling.

Instead, I tried to focus on how awesome it was to be running down an airport runway, as the sun set, in 15 C weather, with runway lights guiding the way, like twinkling lights on a garden path.

I thought about how it was only four years ago that I packed my vehicle with my kitties and drove more than 1,600 km to this place not knowing a soul. And now I have so many truly amazing friends, co-workers who are more than co-workers, and people in the community who are so pleasant to encounter every now and then. I have people! Running people! And it feels so great.

And as I turned the final corner, and I could hear people cheer my name, I finished with every ounce of strength I had left.

It was the YSJ 10K race, one of the most unique races around. More than 300 people took off from the Saint John Airport on Saturday, at the third annual event. This was was different because it started at 7:30 p.m. The 10K racers ran two loops of the runway, starting immediately after an aircraft lifted off into the sky.

The weather was remarkable. We couldn’t have asked for anything better. It was warm enough for shorts. It was sunny and there was hardly any wind.

What made this run even more fun than last year’s was the friends who raced with me. Friends including Otiena, who leaves Saint John for new adventures in the west on Monday. She hasn’t competed in a race for years and came out with a swift time of 50:47, placing second in her age group.

Julie, April, Otiena and Jenn, with Kevin peering in the background
Julie, April, Otiena and Jenn, with Kevin peering in the background

My time was 53:57, which was better than my time in the same race last year of 55:17. But I did not beat my PR from Moncton last fall of 53:26. I think I was so focused on pacing myself through the race, but I could have probably pushed a little harder.

I’m not feeling discouraged because I haven’t really been training specifically for a 10K. My focus has been half-marathon training (next weekend!). Pacing is what I’m all about right now so it makes sense that I was not my speediest.

After the race, we all got a chocolate milk, bagel and fruit. My boyfriend and his parents were also there to cheer me own, which was so sweet. There was a draw for free Air Canada tickets and the winners were announced. It was nearly 9:30 p.m. before we went home.

The evening race format was a little more challenging, or maybe just different, to prepare for. It was tough to know how and what to eat. I also felt a lot more nervous than normal and my stomach was giving me some issues. I ended up eating a big breakfast of eggs, toast with peanut butter, strawberries, an orange and coffee. I didn’t eat lunch until nearly 3 p.m. (although I did snack of veggie chips and some Costco samples around lunch time). Lunch was a tuna sandwich and yogurt with some hemp hearts. Then about two hours before the race, I ate a Larabar. The fuel strategy seemed to work although I probably should have drank some more water.

Now I’m into taper week. Carbs (yay!). Rest (yay!). Crossfit (yay!).

I am planning on running a slow 10K on Tuesday, 6 K on Wednesday, doing yoga on Thursday and running a short 3 K on Saturday. Crossfit is Monday and Wednesday. It seems like a lot but including the yoga day and today I should have three rest days.

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How do you prepare the week before a half-marathon? How did other runners enjoy the YSJ race?