May Kilometer Challenge

I am fortunate to work at an organization that places an emphasis on employee health and wellness. It’s truly built right into the core of the institute, which has a gym, squash court, change rooms, and showers in the actual building. Throughout the year, staff are encouraged to participate in various health and wellness challenges. In January we set goals for minutes of physical activity, and the team with members that met their personal goals and scored the highest average minutes per member was awarded a lunch at the bistro.

This month, we’ve been participating in a kilometer challenge. Participants sent in their personal goals for number of kilometers they hoped to walk, run, bike, or swim in the month of May, and then teams of roughly equal total goals were made based on those numbers.

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I started the month off by cycling around the city supporting my friend Casey as she ran her first marathon!

The one slightly odd thing about the challenge is that all kilometers count equally, no matter how they are traveled: swimming a kilometer counts just the same as cycling a kilometer. Of course, the former would take me at least half an hour, and the latter would take me around 2 and a half minutes, so there’s a bit of an advantage for the cyclists out there! As it turns out, one of the staff members does a lot of cycling, and he is his own one-person team. In 2015, he apparently covered 1300 kilometers in the month!

I decided to set my personal goal somewhat “low” in case I had a rough month for whatever reason. I really don’t like to miss out on goals I set for myself! I decided 6.4km/day was fair considering I usually walk around a kilometer and a half to and from work each day. An extra 5km/day seemed very doable, especially because I knew there would be some days when I would be running upwards of 15km.

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The team standings as of Week 4

I can have a bit of a competitive streak in me at times, and participating in this challenge this month has pushed me to walk, run, or bike a little bit more than I otherwise would have. There were evenings in early May, when it wasn’t very nice out yet, that I would hop on my bike trainer and watch some TV instead of watching TV at my desk. As the weather got nicer, I was inspired to change my trainer tire over (there’s a blog post about that coming soon!) so that I could take my bike outside and explore the city. Any excuse to get to and from a destination using my own two legs was motivation for me!

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My kilometer tracking spreadsheet

And how have I done with respect to my goal? Well, I reached the 200km mark about halfway through the challenge! Assuming my bike ride tonight goes as planned, my total will be 401 kilometers for the month. (And yes – I planned my bike ride distance so as to double my original goal.) Regardless of whether my team “wins” (it doesn’t look like we will, as we’re currently in third, and the one-man team has about 200kms on us!), it was a great challenge, lots of fun, and for me, a good motivator to get out and move!

 

 

Playlist: Pure Pop Jock Jams

I’m a huge fan of soundtracking my sweaty endeavours. I’ll periodically share some of my playlists in hopes of adding some pep to your steps, spins, and lifts. Want some specific recommendations? The request line is open in the comments section!

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The first request comes from Jenna out in Dawson City, Yukon*. Hi Jenna! Jenna wanted some pure pop running tunes – excellent!

A note on methodology: for running playlists, I like to keep it upbeat, and as much as possible, I like to match song beats per minute (BPM) to my pace. Pop is a bit of a challenge because a lot of songs fall around 128 BPM, which puts you at a 7:30/km pace. If you’re trying to go faster than that, you might try ignoring the beat (…and focus on poetic lyrics, like “I keep on hoping we’ll eat cake by the ocean“). This playlist is ordered in increasing BPM.

Taylor Swift isn’t on Spotify, but I can heartily recommend “Bad Blood” and “Shake It Off.”

And finally, a warning: pop running playlists are a gateway to Pitbull.

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*A brief aside: I lived in Dawson City for a couple years. Physical activity is a real challenge when the majority of the year is spent in cold darkness. When I lived there, I occasionally made it to a tiny community gym with treadmills looking out onto the mighty Yukon River, or lane swim at the pool. Dawson was also the place where I started to like running outside, because I finally had some interesting scenery! At the time, running was a somewhat uncommon activity in Dawson. I remember running up Princess Street one evening, and having someone on the sidewalk gawk at me, then yell, “You’re really going for it there, eh?!” Ummm, yes? The running community in Dawson seems to be booming right now, with lots of races for all ages. Going back to the Yukon and doing a race is on my bucket list!

Blitzing, Running, Tidying, Dancing

The past week has been full and fun! Here are some highlights…

My office had a half day on Friday for the long weekend, so I took advantage of the afternoon to do some of my favourite self-care activities: Body Blitz with a massage, and some new nail art.

Body Blitz is a gorgeous spa with a therapeutic waters circuit. The circuit includes a warm Dead Sea salt pool, a eucalyptus steam room, an infrared sauna, a hot Epsom salt pool, and quick dips in a cold plunge pool in between. My favourites are the steam room and the cold plunge pool. It feels so good to sit and sweat, take a quick rinse off shower, then brace yourself for the cold rush. The circuit is relaxing, and my skin always feels so nice afterward. After the waters, I had a delicious hour-long massage, with focus on my legs. I’m know I’m very privileged to have massage therapy covered by my health insurance – something I am grateful for.

Lately I’ve gotten into nail art. I love it as a fun, temporary way to decorate myself. Every time I look down at my hands I get a surge of joy. My nail technician is also the sweetest woman. On Friday morning, Tim asked me what I had in mind for my nail art this time. I told him I wanted to do something bold and geometric. “What, like a really confident triangle?” Side-eye ensued.

Bold and geometric!

Bold and geometric! And yes, some confident triangles.

 

On Saturday, I tried a new running crew! I’m usually more of a lone wolf runner, unless I’m running with Steph, Mandy, and Kevin. I saw the event on Facebook, advertised as Running with Art Critics. The group would run to three galleries, and at each one a runner-critic would speak about the exhibition. There were about 7 of us – not nearly as mighty as Steph’s Run TO Beer group! – but we all expressed how this was the perfect marriage of our interests. The organizer, who is an editor of a great Canadian art criticism magazine, said he was inspired to create the event as a result of his need to see a lot of shows. As a runner, he figured the fastest way to get there was to run! For me, it was great because art openings are usually in the evening, there’s a strong association with wine, and they’re usually too crowded to see the art. Being able to go during the daytime and get some running in was a huge draw for me. The exhibitions were all great, and I likely wouldn’t have gone without the impetus from the group. I really hope they’ll do it again. After the run, I treated myself to an affogato.

The heavenly marriage of espresso and ice cream.

The heavenly combination of espresso and ice cream.

Saturday night was date night. Tim and I walked over to Ruby Watcho for a delicious dinner. Everything was tasty, but my favourite was dessert – a deconstructed s’more with cherries.

Twilight selfie... literally.

Twilight selfie… but we’re not vampires.

 

Sunday and Monday were devoted to my tidying project. I read Marie Kondo’s two books and finally decided to use the KonMari method for some spring cleaning. The main principles are:

  • Tidy all at once. Commit to going through the whole process, which can take several months. (Eek!)
  • Envision your ideal living space.
  • Tidy by category, not room – so all of your clothes and accessories, then your books, then papers, etc.
  • Discard first – pare things down, and then think about storage
  • Touch everything, and consider whether it sparks joy for you. This is the part that I think gets a lot of criticism. Some things are necessary, and while they may not give you a thrill, they can make you feel appreciation for serving their purpose, like a vacuum cleaner. That can be a keeper.

“I tried that Japanese decluttering trend where you hold each thing you own, and throw it out if it doesn’t give you joy. I threw out all my vegetables and the electric bill.”- Mindy Kaling

Trusting the process.

Trusting the process.

So far I’ve completed my clothes and books, and am working my way through papers. I was able to give away some of my books to friends, and my tulle underlay skirt for a friend’s wedding dress. It makes me so happy that these things are getting new life, and could potentially bring joy to someone else. I’m also really motivated by the vision of my ideal space, where I’m surrounded by things I love. (And again, I want to acknowledge the privilege I have of being in a position to declutter things.)

For something completely different -on most weekends, I try to stroll through Riverdale Farm to check on my lambs and kids. They’re getting so big!

How are you even real?!

How are you even real?!

Here's looking at you, kid.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

 

On Wednesday I did my last hard workout before the race on Sunday – 2km warmup, 4km at 5:30, 2km cooldown. Woof. I really haven’t done much speedwork at all over the past month, but I know I need to do it – especially since I’m running my first 10km race in a few weeks!

In the evening I did another dance class. This one was led by Tamina from The Girls Club, her entertainment company. The class was broken down into a warm up, some follow-the-leader style introduction to dancehall moves (so many body rolls!), a short workout, and then doing some choreography to Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.” Tamina created a friendly, safe space to be ourselves and encourage each other. At one point we took turns on a catwalk, each pausing a moment to pose and shine. It was a little silly, but undeniably fun. And the “Sorry” crawling? #SorryNotSorry.

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Amanda, me, and Tamina!

 

On tap for tonight and tomorrow – a last little shakeout run, and coming up with a race plan. Getting pretty excited – first race in a year and a half!

Keeping the Pace

I run fairly regularly with a group called RunTOBeer. The name is fairly self explanatory – we run to beer! This is their description on facebook: “#RunTOBeer is an excuse to get together for a light workout, followed by a recovery drink or two at one of our city’s finest craft beer establishments! All levels of runners are welcome!” The group runs often end at a bar or event and the awesome organizers Dan and Tej arrange for the first pour on the house!

Recently in addition to 5km and 10km distances, the group has added 15km runs into the mix. However, with a range of runners at different speeds, the group can get quite stretched out over 15km, especially with stoplights thrown into the mix! One of the awesome things about RunTOBeer is the giant tunnel of high fives at the end: as people finish their run, they line up and high five all the runners coming in after them. It’s great fun, but it also means that finishing together is a bit more of a priority than starting together.

I’m a big fan of the 15km distance, and this weekend I volunteered to lead the “back of the pack” 15km group at a 6:30-6:45 min/km pace, ending at the Brewer’s Backyard at the Evergreen Brickworks. This meant starting a bit earlier than the other runners, since they would catch up to us eventually (the front of the RunTOBeer pack can be quite speedy with sub-5:00 min/km pacing!).

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Some RunTOBeer crew. Steph is 2nd from left. Organizer Dan is beside her in the red cap.

In the end most of the 15km runners started off together at about the same pacing. When we got to the 5km mark to meet the runners who were joining up for the 10km distance, my pace group picked up a few more runners and we started off early again. We had a good group going together, and over the run I got to chat with a range of people including some who were doing their longest distances ever (10km and 15km) as well as someone who has run incredible 80+ mile ultramarathons.  It was great fun.

I felt a bit bad because my watch kept jumping around with the pace. Sometimes it would read 9:00 min/km and sometimes it would read 3:50 min/km! It was difficult for me to tell what our pace actually was, and there were a few times where I definitely let the adrenaline get to me and pushed a bit faster than I should have. We ran into plenty of stoplights, though, so I think it evened out.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the pacing was how it made me feel as a runner. Because I felt responsible for getting everyone where they were going, and approximately in the time I said we would get there, I tried hard to keep myself consistent (even if I didn’t always succeed – definitely something I aim to improve upon in future runs). This meant, too, that I would truck on up hills, even when I might otherwise have stopped to walk. It was a nice way to push myself a little bit! I needed to keep things strong for the whole run – and so I ended up feeling strong the whole run.

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All the runners who made it to the Brewers Backyard!

And maybe, one day, I might look into pacing a race (very slowly)!

Call your girlfriend

I’ve been dancing since I was 4 or 5 years old. I’ve done ballet, tap, pointe, jazz, and late night kitchen dance party. Not to brag or anything, but I’ve always looked pretty amazing as a dancer.

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Looking like a tiny pink boss with my sister.

 

Dancing has always held a special place in my heart, but with other commitments and stronger interests, I haven’t enrolled in any classes as an adult. But when a friend invited me to a drop-in, all levels dance class to learn the choreography to Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend,” I literally jumped with excitement. Within ten minutes I had purchased my ticket and called/peer pressured my girlfriend into taking the class with me.


I’ve found that Robyn fans are usually superfans. I can’t say I’m a superfan, but I do really like her music and think she’s pretty badass. I keep a few of her songs on my running playlists because they pump you up and make you feel strong as hell.

I was giddy during the morning and afternoon of dance class day, telling everyone who would listen (and probably some people who didn’t listen) that I was taking a dance class that night. My pal and I showed up to the event space and I was pleasantly surprised to see 3 other girlfriends there too. So many girlfriends!

The instructor was Nicky of Beyography. He and his assistant Katherine were fantastic teachers. As we warmed up, everyone was giggling. There were definitely some women there who were obviously trained dancers, but for the most part, the class was full of dance dabblers. There were initially some feelings of being self-conscious, but it seemed to melt away within a few minutes. Nicky was fun, clear, and patient as we learned and rehearsed the moves. During practice and when the music would pause, the class kept singing the song. We were grinning and sweating buckets.

Towards the end of the 2-hour class, I realized I was a bit sore and tired because I had been doing each repetition all out. This is funny to me, because it’s very… me. I have an on switch and an off switch. I am black and white, with zero shades of gray. Also, I was really really into it. I felt present and happy.

Here’s a clip of us dancing. The full version is posted on the Beyography Facebook page. I love that shoulder shuffle!

 

Leaving the class and for the next hour, I had an endorphin rush that I usually only get with running. I’m still tickled 4 days later.

I’m already eagerly refreshing the Beyography class schedule and looking forward to future drop-ins. It’s a really good reminder that exercise and moving your body are so much more fun when you’re doing something you enjoy!

How I Accidentally Ran My Happiest Race

 

The longest I had run since my last marathon in October was 18km. So I knew, on Saturday, that the 25km I had signed up for was probably not going to happen. If it was sunny, I might not have switched to the 15km option (in other words, I might have been not-so-wise). However, a chilly wet day sealed the deal in favour of the smarter choice.

The race was the Seaton Soaker. It’s a trail race that has a slightly surreal overtone, for me, as it starts and finishes at my old high school. To say I wasn’t a runner back then would be an understatement: I loathed running. And yet, for the third year in a row now, I’ve come here to run around in the trails behind the school. A lot can change in 10+ years!

In any case, to set the stage, here is a rundown of race morning: Kevin and I woke at 6am with the intention of being on the road by 6:45. Kevin, who had been training more purposefully for the 25km, had an 8am start for his race, and we would have to do kit pickup before that. As readers will quickly learn, I am not particularly a morning person, and it will come as no surprise to those who know me that we were a little late in getting out (particularly as I forgot both my coffee and my water bottle and had to run back to the apartment twice to retrieve them). On the drive there, Kevin realized he had forgotten his GPS watch…oops!

When I made the decision to switch to the 15km distance, I briefly thought about trying to beat my previous time on the 15km course from 2014, but I realized that it was unlikely to happen that day. Not only was there was the rain and mud, I was also battling a pretty raging head cold. So, giving up on any particular time goal, I offered Kevin my GPS watch.

When we arrived, I was pleased to discover that switching distances was straightforward. We picked up our kits and Kevin hurried out to make his start. The 15km didn’t start until 8:30, so I had some time to hit the bathroom and have a wardrobe crisis. What do you wear when it’s 8C and raining and you’ll be running for around two hours? I was in shorts and a tee, but looking around at all the other runners in their tights and shells and long sleeves had me second-guessing. I did what I always do in these situations, and texted my dear friend Mandy, who was also signed up for the 15km. After texting not only about what to wear, but also informing her of how many poops I had taken that morning (hey! it’s important!), I made my way to the starting line.

I decided I would try to track the race with RunKeeper on my phone, as I’m not sure I’ve ever run a race that I didn’t track with GPS. But when I opened the app, it informed me that I was actually down by the waterfront… in Whitby… Well, there went that idea. I would truly be running this one tech-free.

A couple of minutes before the start, I saw Mandy, and ran over to give her a hug. Seaton is a special race for Mandy as well — it was her first ultramarathon! Now, not only is Mandy a badass ultra runner, but she recently did another pretty incredible thing and grew a little human inside of her, who she brought into the world six months ago. Since then she’s been getting out with the jogging stroller, and her goal was to run about half of the race and hike the rest when she needed to.

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Mandy and I are frequent run partners. We even did 30km of my first marathon together! She’s been a constant presence as I’ve progressed in my running, but this was the first race that we had started together in a fair while. So when the race began, we just naturally fell into step, chatting as the pack set out.

The initial 2-3km of the course goes down a field, out by the side of a road, and then onto a narrow section of single track made narrower by the presence of a beaver dam this year.  The going was fairly slow to start because of the lack of passing room and the muddy footing.  That was fine by both of us, since I’d thrown my time goals out and Mandy just wanted to run as much as she was able. Pace wasn’t an issue. Still, when we got to one of the first hills, the track widened and we began passing people as we hiked up.

From then on it was mostly just the two of us, occasionally being passed, or encountering lead runners coming back in the other direction, but mostly remarkably quiet considering the number of participants out in the trails. We stopped for water at the aid stations and we walked/hiked up the larger hills. But mostly we just ran.

We ran and we talked and we marvelled at how much easier it all felt when we were running side by side. In no time we were at the halfway mark. I felt good. I checked in with  Mandy – she felt good, too. We decided to keep going on together, as long as we felt good!

On the way back, we turned a corner, and Mandy said, “I see flashes!” Considering the rain that had been off and on throughout the race, my immediate thought was, “lightning?” “No,” she said. “A photographer!” We have photos from the marathon that we ran together, looking like total goofballs. They’re some of both of our favourite race photos, because we just look like we’re having the best time, and we were. So we struck a couple of poses as we ran by!

And then, just like that, it was time for the river crossing. The water was lower than I expected, and although it was cold, it was fun! After the crossing, the finish is only about 2km away. We realized we were going to run the whole thing together, and I got a huge burst of tingly endorphins. I was bursting with happiness and pride for Mandy; she hadn’t expected to run the whole thing, yet here she was, doing just that, like a boss. And here I was, happy and thankful that this is a thing that I get to do, that this is a thing that my body can do, even if I’d filled an entire pocket pack of Kleenex with my snot (sorry if that sounds gross, but imagine how much grosser it felt!).

The 2km to the finish breezed by, although we were both getting a bit tired (I turned my foot on a root, and Mandy took a little tumble, but we’re both OK!). We crested the last hill before the field where the finish line stood. Together, we crossed the finish line smiling. Despite having run many races together, this was the first time that we crossed at the same time. Our amazing friend Emily was there to capture some truly fantastic photos of us (thanks, Emily!).

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Kevin also had a remarkable race – he finished the 25km course in a blistering 2:08, shaving 20 minutes off his time from last year and placing 9th in his age group (if he’d run with that time last year, he’d have placed 2nd!). I guess he really did need that watch more than me! Hah!

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And that’s it! Afterwards, Mandy told me that we ran a negative split – she had checked the time at the halfway point. I think that might have been another first for both of us!

I’m grateful to have friends like Mandy to run with. I’m proud of her for exceeding her expectations. She has never stopped being an inspiration to me, not even for a second. I’m also grateful to be able to go out and run for a couple hours on trails. And I’m surprised to find myself grateful to have run without my watch or RunKeeper, but completely letting go of the compulsion to track allowed me to revel in the pure joy of it all.

 

Long pace test run

Sunday was my last big effort before my race in 2 weeks. I wanted to hit 20km and get a sense of where I was at in terms of pacing and time. I’m so pleased with how it went!

I didn’t know what to expect because I had been in a funk since Friday night. It was like a cartoon, where I had a personal dark gray rain cloud directly over my head. (Depression sucks.) Jump forward to Sunday morning, after tossing and turning from 3:00am – 6:00am thanks to screaming neighbours. The weather was a bit crappy (not unlike my personal raincloud from the days before) and I had convinced myself to run without music, since headphones aren’t allowed at the race. I left the house feeling pretty good, and somehow just managed to laugh as hail came down from the sky.

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Views from the Leslie St. Spit. I had this lyric from “Ms. Jackson” stuck in my head: You can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather.

Everything clicked into place in a natural way. My body felt good, my thoughts were innocuous, and the heavens didn’t open up above me. I stuck to a run 20/walk 1 schedule and managed to keep a pace around 6:15 for the first 16km. I was convinced that when I slowed down I was going to bonk, but I only went to 6:30/km. When things were getting tough, I spoke to myself out loud. These legs have done this before. These legs have run a marathon!

I’m happy now that I have a race plan for the 29th. From the start, a specific time or PR has never been the goal. I want to have fun, show myself that I can still do this, and not feel physically or mentally destroyed at the finish line. I’ve run this race once and spectated once, and it has such a positive vibe. The course is primarily in my backyard on trails I now know well. I think it’s a great choice for my first race in a year and a half.

But if I’m going to have a time goal? I think I’d be pretty pleased if I finished in under 2:15. I didn’t put in the training that I was hoping for – a good week would be 2 shorter runs, a spin class, and a long run. A few weeks just had the longer run. Since March, I also started a new job and a new volunteer position, which were pretty huge for me. I’m actually at peace with where I’m at in terms of training!

And check out this post-run selfie! There’s someone who feels good. There’s someone who can do this.

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