October 30, 2011

Planning the NaNoWriMo novel

The start of National Novel Writing Month is only two days away. I am participating for the second time, with the goal to draft a manuscript for my second novel. Having just finished my first book of fiction, From my Mother, I have also spent plenty of time thinking about the next. 

Some aspects of the story are clear in my mind, while others are not. I probably have made more decisions than I consciously realize, and will only discover them once I start on the manuscript on Tuesday. 

In Writing the Novel, Lawrence Block says: “Writing the novel is an organic process, and we carry the book with us wherever we go.” I've been happily carrying this book for months already.

Decisions I have made include the title, Sub-3 Marathon. I have designed a cover as I love to have a visual. As the title suggest, it will definitely be a book about running in general, and running marathons in particular. In other words, it will be sports fiction, and will fit the contemporary fiction category, too.

The protagonist is a female runner who wants nothing more than to cover the 42km distance before the clock above the finish line reaches 3:00:00. Self-doubt is one of her main adversaries. There are other obstacles to her fulfilling her dream including her spouse, though it might take a while for her to realize that this is the case.

There will be a mentor, probably someone who will remain anonymous even to the main character for most of the book.

The story will be told from the protagonist's point of view.

There are many other important decisions to make. A crucial one is the age of the protagonist. In my initial synopsis, she is 39. Her name is Emily. Emily is a marathon runner who has been trying to break the 3-hour mark for years. About to turn 40, she fears time has run out. Until a secret mentor changes her mind, and her training. Will it be enough to reset the clock? Emily's fiancé certainly doesn't think so and her competitive sibling isn't too convinced, or supportive, either.

But one early morning this week I was thinking about all the amazing senior marathoners such as the world record-setting Ed Whitlock and Fauja Singh. Others are not running record times but are amazing nonetheless such as in the races I did this year including in the Victoria marathon.

At the post-race awards ceremony, the two female Victoria marathon finishers in the 70-74 division looked strong and fit, and far younger than their years. A male runner in his 80s notched another finish and is close to completing 400 marathons.

Suddenly I thought: What if my main character was 20 years older? How about a 59-year-old woman trying to break the 3-hour mark? That would certainly be more noteworthy. And it felt like an exciting tale to tell.

However, was it realistic, believable?

I checked the world records and discovered that for women 55-59, it's 2:51 and for 60-64, it's 3:14. My excitement grew.

What's more, more research showed that the 55-59 record was set by a woman who did her first marathon at the age of 49. She had always been active with various sports but had never been a runner. The marathon came along because her daughter was training for it and they thought it would be a fun thing to do together; Mom finished the race in 3:18, an hour ahead of her daughter.

Seemed like a great basis for a novel.

I also did an age-graded check with thiscalculator, which confirmed that a sub-3 marathon for a woman in her 60s is within the realm of possibility.

It's a very different story, though, than the original one I was planning to write. Suddenly we are talking world-class performance, rather than striving for a personal goal that is still noteworthy but hardly headline material.

It also means that there will be a certain amount of "sudden success" and "natural talent", purporting the false idea that fast runners are simply born fast rather than the result of years of training. (While elite runners have superior genes to those of the average age grouper, it takes them years of training, too, to make the most of that potential.)

But I like the possibilities that the story of a senior female runner striving for a world record offers.

So, I decided to change my synopsis for Sub-3 Marathon.

Suddenly, the name Emily no longer seemed appropriate. I checked the most popular names for girls born in the 1950s and have changed the name of the main character to Robin. She'll probably have adult children. I have to think about a spouse but I would like there to be conflict of some sort.

Importantly, I must also think about the main reason for the story, the yearning of the protagonist: What does Robin want most of all, and why? Of course she wants a Sub-3 Marathon, and in turn a world record, but what does that really mean to her? What does she truly want, what does the quest represent?

There will be a mentor, secret or otherwise. Will he or she be a driving force or present an obstacle for the main character?   

I cannot wait to start writing on Tuesday and find out! 

October 29, 2011

Reasons to do NaNoWriMo

As I am looking forward to starting my second National Novel Writing Month on November 1, I was looking back through the blog posts I've written about my plunge into fiction. As a journalist and author of four nonfiction books, writing a novel seemed a mystery beyond my realm of possibility not so long ago.

Yet, earlier this month, my first novel From my Mother was released. I wrote the first draft for this 53,000-word novel during NaNoWriMo 2010. I considered it an exercise in writing and was curious to try the challenge of creating so many words in one month. (It's a similar process I used in writing a first draft for what would turn in my third nonfiction book A Work in Progress: Exercises in Writing).

While I hoped, I didn't expect that NaNoWriMo would result in a novel that I'd feel comfortable publishing. Yet that's what happened and that's why I am up for the challenge again this year.

Here is a post I wrote on November 30 last year, the day I finished my first NaNoWrimo. My initial thoughts on it were:

1. It's possible to write 50,000 words in a month;
2. Word count is a powerful motivator (as I already knew from writing my nonfiction books but the superb NaNoWriMo screen with the statistics to follow your progress is just fantastic and I updated it every few paragraphs);
3. Having one or more NaNoWriMo writing buddies is superbly motivating, too;
4. The emailed peptalks we received from the various NaNoWriMo people I've filed away for future reference and inspiration;
5. I highly recommend anyone who has ever considered writing a book of fiction to join NaNoWriMo next November. It's worth the effort.

Six months later, in May 2011, I wrote this post after I made the effort to clean up that first draft, created a cover and took advantage of the free paperback copy CreateSpace offered to NaNoWriMo 2010 winners. I did so, according to the May 2011 post, because:

This will a. give me a record of my first attempt at writing a fiction book and b. perhaps motivate me to make the (many) revisions needed to improve this very rough first draft but mostly c. inspire me to try again, applying the lessons I learned by simply trying.

With any challenge we always need to start somewhere, and work at getting better at it, if that's our goal. I'm not sure if
From My Mother ever will see the light of day, other than in my personal proof copy. But, just like my quest for the sub-3-hour marathon, I have absolutely no doubt that one day I will write and publish a decent novel. You just have to work at it, and enjoy the process.

I can't wait to hold the paperback of my first attempt at a novel and plan to keep it on my desk as a reminder to take the plunge into fiction. 

By then a few courageous readers ploughed their way through that rough draft and encouraged me to spend some time and effort revising it, which I did. Still, it was hard and the unrelenting self-doubt every writer experiences was never far away. I wasn't sure I was able to make the revisions needed, and I was preparing my next nonfiction project instead.

Since finishing NaNoWrimo 2010 in November and ordering that proof copy in May 2011, I finished my fourth nonfiction book. While I had plenty of ideas, even drafts, for my fifth nonfiction title, I  had trouble getting started. It took a few months to figure out why.

In July, I wrote this post about finishing what you start which I felt was the reason I was crushed under the mental weight of committing to a new manuscript:

The last few weeks I've been trying to start on my next book. It's been a hard process, and I cannot seem to decide which one to write. The longer my indecision the more I beat myself up over my seeming lack of productivity.

I believe that one of the problems is that there are several first drafts hanging out on my hard drive. And I wonder if my struggle has something to do with leaving too many projects unfinished, so I have begun working on two of them, while also trying to start a new one. But I'm still in doubt.

Trying to relax, I find myself getting more stressed and second-guessing myself. Or wondering if it is a sign that I need to focus on another one. The most complete, though no less Shitty, First Draft (as Anne Lamott calls them in
Bird by Bird), is my first attempt at a novel with the working title From My Mother.

I committed to completing another few rounds of revisions to From my Mother, working hard to finish it by October, which I did. Last week I spent hours contacting reviewers asking if they'd be willing to read and review the result, both scary and exhilarating.

While I had attempted to write a novel before, it was doing NaNoWriMo that allowed me to complete the 50,000 words that left me too mentally invested in the first draft to ignore it. It motivated me to read more about the process of crafting fiction and, more importantly, reading novels with fresh eyes, hoping to understand how and why they work.

While From my Mother might not yet earn me a Giller Prize nomination, I know that committing to participating in NaNoWriMo a year ago has brought me far closer to the possibility; I have completed my first novel after all. Practice makes perfect, as they say, and that is exactly what From my Mother was. Check out 4 excerpts here.  

So, what are you waiting for? Register for National Novel Writing Month now. It starts in 3 days! Find me at www.nanowrimo.org/en/participants/therunningauthor. Good luck!

October 28, 2011

Win a free copy

Goodreads Book Giveaway

A Hundred Reasons to Run 100km by Margreet Dietz

A Hundred Reasons to Run 100km

by Margreet Dietz

Giveaway ends November 15, 2011.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

October 25, 2011

Marathon recovery - first run

Yesterday I did my first run since the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon two weeks earlier. I had considered going for a short jog in the previous two days but decided to wait. As mentioned in previous posts, I have found active recovery without running in th first week, and sometimes two, very beneficial. While cycling and swimming would be fantastic options too, I like to walk.

Mentally, I very much enjoyed the break. It seems a funny contradiction; I love to run but after a big race I crave the not-running. It's freedom from the mental discipline of training.

During recovery from a marathon, I am not in a rush to get back to running but just wait for the moment that a thought like these crosses my mind, "It's a nice day for a run", or "A run might be nice". Yesterday morning, I knew it was time to head out for an easy jog, a lap around the neighbourhood without watch, and was dressed in running gear in no time.

It felt great, certainly for the first 10 minutes that were mostly downhill:-). I probably ran for about half an hour, at an easy pace and enjoyed it. It helped me get excited about racing a 50-miler on November 5 in Whistler. With another 11 days until the race, I think my body will be ready for the effort. I'll keep training to a minimum.

Aside from the daily walks with Luka, I'll do short runs (probably 30 minutes or so) but mostly focus on restoring mental and physical energy. The training has been done for the year. It's all about resting up as much as possible from the two marathons in September and October.

Importantly, I need to spend time on a race plan in terms of nutrition, hydration and - of course - pace. Last year I ran my first 50-miler and my first 100km; the primary goal was to finish. With this 50-miler, I am focused on time.

The only other 50-miler I have run took me 10:15. It was a trail race. The Whistler 50 course is more like a road race, so I expect to be at least two hours faster. Based on the 10:29 it took me to run the Haney to Harrison 100km a year ago, Merv's running calculator suggests 8:18 for 50 miles (80.5km).

I plan to aim for a sub-8 finish, and will start more aggressive than that. I am willing to take more risk since last year taught me that I can cover the distance. Starting faster comes with the danger of potentially finishing slower, especially if you overestimate your ability. I believe that the training I've done this year, and my race results, should put me on track for a 7:xx.

There are no guarantees, however, which of course is part of the challenge and key to the excitement.

The course has 4 laps of 20km, which will help pacing and breaking up the race mentally. It will also give the solo runners a lot more company than in a point-to-point race as the Haney to Harrison 100km.

As of this morning, 50 runners are registered for the ultra (and it's not too late to sign up!) There are 19 relay teams (eight runners to a team, covering either 8km or 12km).

Organizers would very much welcome more volunteers too.

October 22, 2011

Contemporary art: paintings by Michiko

One of my favourite contemporary painters is Michiko Splinter. She is a friend, too. A longtime oil painter born in Japan, she moved to Squamish in 2005. It changed not only her life, but also her paintings as she began focusing on landscapes. I believe Squamish is a richer place for her way of portraying its beauty.

Michiko continues to push her art and I love her four most recent works. Michiko will participate in a group show in Osaka, Japan, next month. You can also find her work at the Squamish Adventure Centre.

Summer Mood at Estuary by Michiko Splinter (12x16") oil on canvas
Estuary in Summer by Michiko Splinter (12x16") oil on canvas

Flowers in the Night A by Michiko Splinter (8x10") oil on canvas

Flowers in the Night B by Michiko Splinter (8x10") oil on canvas
Check out more of her work at Art by Michiko.

October 21, 2011

Sub-3 marathon, a novel

With National Novel Writing Month around the corner, I have been thinking about the novel I am planning to write next month. Or a first draft, that is.

The sub-3 marathon is a topic often on my mind (really?!) and it seems one worth exploring in fiction.

It's a year ago that I first decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, with my first novel From my Mother as a result (you can read some excerpts here). There is nothing like trying to write a novel to learn about how it's done.

That is why I highly recommend trying NaNoWriMo. Even if you don't finish the 50,000 words, you've made an attempt, possibly your first, at a novel.

I didn't expect to finish mine; I mean I was determined to complete the 50,000 words in one month, and did, but didn't expect to revise, polish and publish this manuscript. Yet I did.

And I'm looking forward to next month. For now, my plan is to write a novel about Emily.

Emily is a marathon runner who has been trying to break the 3-hour mark for years. Emily wants nothing more than a 2-hour finish but, about to turn 40, she fears time has run out. Until a secret mentor changes her mind, and her training. But will it be enough to reset the clock? Emily's fiance certainly doesn't think so and her competitive sibling isn't too convinced, or supportive, either.

That's all I know so far. I might change my mind. But I love having a visual so that's why I spent some time today on designing a potential book cover for my second novel.

If you're thinking about doing NaNoWriMo, please do. The only question is, Why not? Don't forget to become my writing buddy (find me here).

November: time for NaNoWriMo and an ultra

Last November I ran the 100-kilometre Haney to Harrison Ultra and participated in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, for the first time. A month of ultrarunning and ultrawriting.

Well, that combo is on the calendar again in 2011, though the ultra will be 20K shorter, so perhaps the novel will be 20K longer:-).

One of the great things about NaNoWriMo is that local community liaisons -- also participants -- organize get-togethers, called write-ins, at libraries, independent bookstores, cafes and coffeeshops so writers can share the franctic experience of completing their daily word count (an average 1,667 words a day for 30 days in a row). 

The closest NaNoWriMo region to me, living in Squamish, is Vancouver. But as a time-strapped writer trying to squeeze out 50,000 words in a measly month, I didn't have the time or energy to make the trek to attend any of these last year.

So, this year I asked the Squamish Public Library if they'd be willing to open their doors for local NaNoWriMos next month. Nancy Warwick, the library's adult program coordinator, enthusiastically agreed.

"We love to support literacy-driven activities and local writers as much as we can! This event ties in nicely with our mission statement; to encourage a lifelong enjoyment of reading and learning by providing equal access for all to local and global resources in a welcoming environment,” Warwick said.

To join, register at www.NaNoWriMo.org. Come write at the Squamish Public Library on either Nov. 6 and/or 13 from 10am to 1pm so we can complete our daily word count together. I might be a little stiff and tired on November 6 as my race, the Whistler 50 Ultra, is on November 5.

The working title for my next novel is The Sub-3 Marathon.

See also the Squamish Writers Group site.

Recover from a marathon ... with a 50-miler

So how do you recover from running two marathons, both as fast as you can, in two weeks?

Photo by Michiko Splinter
I've had 12 days of active recovery since then; each day has included two walks. With our big bouncy dog and babysitting my sister's perky 13-year-old Jack Russell, it isn't hard to find company.

The first day after the second marathon, Victoria, I was sore but not anywhere near as sore as I've been in the past; I could still walk down a set of stairs in a normal, albeit stiff, fashion. But that soreness and most of the stiffness went away quickly, and was almost gone the next day.

There was tiredness, still today but especially last week. It was a new fatigue I hadn't felt before; a subtle but unmistakeable underlying sense of exhaustion, both physical and mental.

It wasn't overwhelming and it didn't feel bad but I made sure to give in to my body's needs, and spent most evenings on the couch, reading (last week finishing Helen Epstein's Where She Came From: A Daughter's Search for Her Mother's History and then starting in Chad Harbach's tome, The Art of Fielding). I went to bed early and have had little trouble sleeping.

Your body truly changes over years of running including in the way it can cope with training, racing and recovery. In preparation for the two marathons I just did, I ran more than I ever have, with an average of about 100km per week.

Boosting the volume hasn't been a decision I've taken lightly, nor did I just open a book, Advanced Marathoning, and picked one of the training programs. As I keep repeating in my posts, perhaps ad nauseam but time and again I see people expect too much too soon in their running, you need patience and consistency, especially in preparing for marathons.

Consistency is only possible if you avoid injury. The best way to avoid injury is to slowly (over years) build up your body's ability to run, and to train. The guidance I received from Australia's Pat Carroll from 2005 until 2010 was based on those principles, a conservative approach to volume. Pat's resume includes a 2:09:39 win at the 1995 Beppu Marathon and a 61:11 half PB, set in 1994.

Because of that, I am now able to boost the volume. My body has responded well. Importantly, I enjoy the training routine I've slowly been developing since April 2010 when I decided it was time for a change; but it's only because of those five years with Pat Carroll's guidance (and prior to that the guidance of triathlon coach, and age group legend, John Hill) that I am now able to handle a higher volume and to recognize that this is what is working for me today.  

I know it is working for me because of this year's results (3 marathons in 3:06, 3:07 and 3:09, fast enough to earn Top female Master in both the BMO Vancouver Marathon and the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon, and the overall women's win in the boutique Bellingham Bay Marathon).

I am not surprised that I've been tired in the past 12 days; if anything, I am surprised that my level of energy is as good as it is and that my body feels as good as it does. And, most importantly, I cannot wait to get stuck into my preparations for the 2012 Vancouver Marathon.

That is also exactly the reason I've been concerned that doing the Whistler 50 Ultra on November 5 might not be such a great idea. I am a cautious runner in that I love being one too much to jeopardize my ability to train. Pat Carroll's conservative approach has proven its value and I am still reaping the rewards.

This Whistler 50 has been on my radar ever since I did its predecessor, the Haney to Harrison 100km, for the first time a year ago, and even more so when details of the new 50-mile course were announced early this year:

"The course is largely on the Valley Trail system. Approximately 13km of each loop is on paved trail, and the remaining 7km are on wide, hard packed, gravel trails... mildly undulating, with the difference between the lowest and highest points approximately 220 feet (i.e. no major climbs or descents)."

I am not worried about being able to finish the distance; I know I can. I'm concerned about the impact of racing a 50-miler within six months of three marathons. My training for the 2012 Vancouver Marathon starts at the end of December.

Since I very much enjoyed the schedule I followed from Advanced Marathoning, I am planning to follow another, this one boosting the weekly volume as high as 137km per week. My main goal as a runner is still to improve my 3:06:06 marathon time.

This past week I've had more energy, both mentally and physically. I haven't run yet, but I am thinking of going for a light jog this weekend. I am keen to run the ultra.

A friend from Australia, Dessie, is making the trek to this part of the world for the Whistler 50. A superb athlete who has been running marathons for more than three decades and is one of the most passionate runners Tim and I know, this will be his first race beyond the 42.195km. He is very excited and so are we.

And in another recent development, Triathlete Tim has decided it is time to expand his Ironman (9) and marathon (10) experience. (Tim also ran the Victoria Marathon. While lacking energy on race day, he still managed a 3:16, his third-fastest.) Tim and I have shared the startline in five Ironmans and six marathons, and many, many other races, but an ultra would be a first.

There are another two weeks until the Whistler 50 and we could think a little longer. When I shared my concern (and Tim's) about doing a 50-miler a month after the Victoria marathon with a highly experienced ultrarunner this week, he said:

"There are 27 days (4 weeks) between the two events. Running a marathon will have a definite training effect which will be optimal a month later, so you and / or Tim could well find the timing to be right for a good performance at Whistler. Of course, the 50 miler will be run at a much less intense pace."

So, it's time to decide, and it's time to enter. Both Tim and I are putting our money down and will join Dessie on the Whistler 50 Ultra startline on November 5.

(I will do so with one change from my usual mindset; I will allow myself to drop out if my body tells me it's not up to a 50-miler. A DNF of any race would be my first and, as you can imagine, I wouldn't take such a decision lightly.)

If you're keen to run the Whistler 50 Ultra & Relay, register here.
They'd love more volunteers, too. If interested, please email W50Ultra (AT) BCAthletics (DOT) org

October 16, 2011

The importance of staying in motion

For me writing and running are very much connected, always have been. And I am certainly in great company.

Joyce Carol Oates writes in her superb The Faith of a Writer, "Running seems to allow me, ideally, an expanded consciousness in which I can envision what I'm writing as a film or a dream; I rarely invent at the typewriter, but recall what I've experienced; I don't use a word processor, but write in longhand, at considerable length... Running is a meditation; more practicably, it allows me to scroll through, my mind's eye, the pages I've just written, proofreading for errors and improvements."

While I do not (yet) experience the strong visualisation that Oates describes, I always carry my writing on runs. And walks, too.

This week, recovering from a second sub-3:10 marathon in as many weeks, I am taking a break from running and walk twice a day with our dog Luka and my sister's Jack Russell, Punky, who is staying with us for three weeks.

Those walks, at the moment in a beautiful sunny Indian summer, are invariably time to mull over my writing.

While writing is my profession, and running a hobby, they are passions without which I would not be the person I am. One influences the other, and vice versa.

I am proud of the six books I have written so far, but I know I have so much more to learn.

Like in running, it's important to keep pushing myself out of the comfort zone in writing.

It's the reason I took part in National Novel Writing Month a year ago, resulting in my latest book and a first novel, From my Mother. This week I have been contacting reviewers, both exhilarating and scary.

NaNoWriMo is a nonprofit writing challenge that encourages kids and adults to produce the first draft of a 50,000-word novel in one month. I'll be participating again this year and asked the Squamish Public Library to host a couple of so-called write-ins where local NaNoWriMos can sweat over their daily word count together. The library agreed enthusiastically and is offering a superb space on November 6 and November 13 from 10am until 1pm.

The key to NaNoWriMo is quantity. It's all about word count and the NaNoWriMo website offers great tools to keep track of the number of words written.

For runners as for writers, a focus on quantity is neither the ultimate goal nor a guarantee for success.

However, striving for a measurable and tangible daily amount does provide extra motivation to practice, the key to improving skills in any field.

Practice is what results in progress, eventually. You need to run consistently. You must write consistently. Practice does not guarantee results; in running, racing is another learning curve just as publishing and marketing are for an author, especially an independent one.

Achieving success takes time, patience and determination.

When a friend emailed his congratulations after the Victoria Marathon, he mentioned a buddy had just broken 3 hours for the first time in a marathon: it has taken him 24 marathons.

I am at marathon No. 15, so I guess there are a few more to go.

There are physiological laws and limits, and I am very aware of them. As a relative latecomer to running (and endurance sports), I believe I have yet to train at the level I am capable of. Perhaps I am right, perhaps I am wrong. The key lies in making the effort to find out.

Running has plenty of natural limiters: among them the need to build your body over a period of years (not a few months) so that it can cope with the level of training required to get the best out of yourself. You cannot rush it.

The fact that I was able to push my weekly training volume about 25 per cent above anything I'd ever done before without getting injured in the past four months is not something that happened overnight. It's because of the consistent training I've done.

While my ultimate goal is that 2:xx marathon, it's not a failure if I don't achieve it after giving it my all in trying.

As a friend remarked on my Victoria Marathon race report this week, "You're one fierce competitor who won't die wondering."

That's exactly my goal, avoiding the What ifs and If onlys, as I inch closer to the elusive goal. I firmly believe I haven't reached my potential yet.

On Sunday I improved my personal best, by 1 minute and 4 seconds, for the first time in three years. That was incredibly satisfying, a confirmation of that inner belief I can go faster.

To others it might seem a painstakingly slow process, perhaps even a lost cause.

Another runner emailed me after the race, saying: "I am glad you are happy with the season. If you take a couple of seasons to shave off a minute it will take some time to get to sub-3 ;-)."  

That's not how I look at it: I am stoked to run a personal record only two weeks after another high performance (to put it into perspective, the 3:09:40 I ran two weeks before Victoria is among the top 50 times for women in Canada in the first 9 months of 2011, according to Marathon Canada rankings). 

A strong headwind in the Bellingham Bay Marathon slowed me down, perhaps even prevented me from going as hard as I could have, though I don't dwell on the conditions as doing so won't change the outcome. I can only assure you I have felt very different this week after Victoria than after Bellingham two weeks earlier.

This week's deep overall tiredness, both mentally and physically, is the key reason I am holding off my registration for the Whistler 50 ultra (50 miles or 80km) on November 5. While very keen to run it, I don't want to push my luck and want to make sure my recovery is on track first. I will run the ultra if I feel I can recover in time to begin preparations for the 2012 Vancouver Marathon at the end of December.

I have already mapped out my training; I will boost it another level, to about 130km per week in daily runs. And I finally plan to work on core strength, as I believe that will help my marathon performance too.

In running I know I am approaching the top level I can achieve after 15 years of consistent training. In writing, however, I believe I have much more growth ahead of me.

I have honed my skills as a writer for 15 years, too, spending far more hours than on running. With six books—4 non-fiction, 1 fiction and 1 volume of poetry—I have only scratched the surface as an author.

The physiological clock for a writer follows a different schedule than that for a runner—if I am given a long life, I hope to use all of it for working on the craft of writing.

Still, in writing too, I feel the pressure of time: one never knows what's ahead. The author, like the runner, needs to live each day as if it's her last in terms of effort, yet be patient with expectations of results and progress.

There is no time for fear of failure—a worry both the writer and the runner face every day.

As 77-year-old Gloria Steinem recently told Interview magazine's Maria Shriver: "The wasting of time is the thing I worry about the most. Because time is all there is."

October 11, 2011

It took only 3 years...

... six marathons; Vancouver in 3:07 and 3:10, Rotterdam 3:11, Olympic Peninsula 3:10, Bellingham 3:09, of course Sunday's in Victoria, and, arguably, two ultras; STORMY 50-mile in 10:15 and Haney to Harrison 100km in 10:29, but I finally improved my marathon record to 3:06:06.

The time earned me not only eighth woman overall and first in the F40-44 age group, but the women's Top Master title (see press release). The Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon also hosted this year's Provincial Marathon Championship.

Kathrine Switzer & Angelique Dietz
Importantly, Tim ran his third-fastest marathon in a superb 3:16, while my sister Angelique finished her first marathon with a big smile and a hug from the legendary Kathrine Switzer.

(I am particularly inspired by Switzer's accomplishment of a 2:51 marathon PR in the 1975 Boston Marathon, following years of disciplined training and a debut of 4:20-ish in that famous 1967 Boston race.)

Conditions couldn't have been better for the Victoria Marathon: a cool morning with a hint of sun, and no wind to speak of.

We had set our alarms for 6:30am, but I was wide awake shortly before 6am and ate my first energy bar as quietly as possible in an effort not to wake Tim.

I had slept reasonably well, and didn't even have my usual pre-race nightmare of missing the start. Angelique, getting ready to run her first marathon, told me a few minutes later she had dreamt exactly that.

Our accommodation, the superb Parkside Victoria Resort & Spa, was close to the race start, so Tim, Angelique and I left at 8:10am, jogging the five minutes or so to the start on Menzies at Kingston. After hugging and wishing each other well, we each found our own spots in the field.

Jennifer, a friend from Squamish who was also running the marathon (and did an awesome 3:49), came by for a pre-race hug and we wished each other well. We were in good company as women made up 61 per cent of this year's marathon field.

I couldn't wait for the gun to go and when it did at 8:45am, the start went smooth. As usual, people began fast. Having just run the Bellingham Bay Marathon two weeks earlier in 3:09, I made sure to avoid getting caught up in the initial sprint. While we passed the Inner Harbour and the Empress Hotel, I didn't notice these beautiful landmarks as I was focused on the task at hand.

Likewise, I don't remember much of the course other than what was underfoot and anyone who ran near me. I'll often try to enjoy some of the scenery a marathon course has to offer but I did not do so today. It wasn't a conscious decision, but simply the way it worked out. I hit the 1km mark perfectly in 4:22 (aimed at a 3:04 finish).

It was a great feeling to have found my pace immediately. A woman near me seemed to be running a similar pace. She was focused and relaxed, and I enjoyed the fact we were moving at the same clip.

While the first kilometre was flat, the Victoria course is a mildly undulating one, so I made sure to focus on maintaining my effort (rather than pace) on both the uphills and the downhills. As a result, kilometre splits reflect a slight easing of pace on the ups and using the advantage of gravity on the downs.

My Polar watch happened to show only the splits, rather than the overall time, and I decided that was a good thing and didn't change it until in the latter stages of the race. (In Bellingham I hadn't bothered with pressing the lap function after each mile since the 7:02 target pace allowed for easy math). I took 4:26 for the 2nd km, 4:25 for the 3rd, 4:04 for the 4th and 4:29 for the 5th for a total of 21:45 for the first 5km, or an average pace of 4:21/km.

I was still running side by side with the same woman. Neither of us had spoken. It was in Beacon Hill Park, after about 7km, that I heard a spectator cheer her on. It sounded like she called her Mindy, so I immediately checked with my running buddy.

When she confirmed, I told her my name, and we both laughed. We hadn't met before but had been in touch via email and she had written a guest post for this blog. (Mindy ended up running a stellar 3:11 PR and it looks like our paths may cross again in the 2012 BMO Vancouver Marathon.)

We shared another few kilometres in focused and relaxed silence, it was great. I felt good. The kilometres ticked by in 4:28, 4:25, 4:09, 4:19, and 4:10 for a 10km time of 43:16, or average pace of 4:20/km.

I had missed a water from the second aid station, just before 9km, and was a little annoyed with myself, though knew the next one was only a kilometre or so away. I made sure to grab a water there, and also had my first gel.

The results show I had at least 18 women ahead of me, and three others hitting the 10km mark in about the same time.

By now the course took us along the Juan de Fuca Strait, at Ross Bay, followed by Gonzales Bay, where we left the water for about 5km. Again, I didn't take in the views of the Olympic and Cascade mountains. The next 5km went by in 4:21, 4:24, 4:22, 4:14 and 4:20 for 1:04:58 at 15km, or an average pace of 4:20/km. I was feeling even better and had decided to push it; I wanted a PB.

Next was 4:13, 4:23, 4:28, 4:14 and 4:20 (remember my strategy for undulations) for 20km in 86:37, or an average of 4:20/km. We were at Oak Bay. Almost halfway.

Since I only saw my kilometre splits, I didn't know my 21.1km time until afterward. It was 91:23, possibly the fastest I have run the first half of a marathon. For the next 5km I ran 4:20, then 8:32 for 2km, followed by 4:17 and 4:22 for 1:48:09 by 25km, or 4:19.5/km.

Since the course loops back on itself shortly before 24km, I saw Tim not long after I passed it. We smiled at each other. Now, I could keep an eye out for Angelique and Jennifer. I saw the latter first and we encouraged each other. Angelique and I spotted each other from more than a mile away, as we each came down a hill, waving and smiling.

When we finally met, we highfived so hard I thought my arm would fall off. I was stoked to see how well she was doing, and vice versa.

The past few kilometres a guy had been running with me. Many of the spectators were cheering me on, saying I was in the top 10. My fellow runner jokingly complained about the lack of interest in his performance. "You're doing awesome girl," a spectator would cheer, for my buddy to yell back, "What about me? Aren't I doing great?"

It was nice to having someone running with me. He was either beside or behind me, which allowed me to set my own pace, and at the same time feel pushed along. I was focused on maintaining the good feeling I had mentally and physically. "This is my day," I repeated silently to myself many times.

I ran 4:22, 4:16, 4:20, 4:31 and 4:24 to reach 30km at McNeill Bay in 2:10:03, according to my watch (official results timed me at 2:10:01), or an average pace of 4:20/km.

As always, this was the point where the race started. The next 5km, through the residential areas of Oak Bay and Fairfield, felt brutal; I ran 4:27, 4:34, 4:35, 4:42 and 4:43. My buddy ran away from me, I believe, just after 31km (though he would meet the hammer a couple of kilometres later, too). I reached 35km in a dark place mentally in 2:33:03, or an average pace of 4:22/km.

I tried to maintain my pace as best I could. One foot in front of the other, and repeat. I forced myself to take another gel, though couldn't bring myself to eat all of the sachet's sweet sticky gooey contents. Spectators still cheered, and I passed the odd male runner feeling comforted by the fact that I wasn't the only one battling marathon's demons.

Then I ran 4:34, 4:47, 4:59 to reach 38km by 2:47:22, or an average of 4:24/km. I couldn't see my overall average pace, all I saw were splits that were slowing with each kilometre. With 4.2km to go, I decided to stop taking kilometre times and switched instead to the overall time.

I tried to do the math as simply as I could: 4km at 5:00 equalled 20 minutes. I still had a chance for a PB, if I kept myself together.

The final undulations in those last kilometres felt larger than life. I felt better seeing the sign marking 39km, but worse seeing 40km, since there were still 2.2km to go. I passed a guy, who shortly after began sprinting with a mile to go. Too soon, I thought, and it wasn't long before I ran beside him again as he'd lost the burst of energy.

I spotted a woman ahead. Could I catch her? No, too far. I kept pushing myself. She did come a little closer. I tried to speed up a little, encouraged by the guy next to me, who said something like, You can catch her. A sign marking 800 metres to go still had me too far back to be convinced I would be able to dig deep enough to reach her in time.

I reminded myself of the spectators telling me I was top 10, so moving up another place was worth it. More importantly, while I no longer had the energy to look at my watch, I knew a personal record was at stake too. I would regret it if I didn't try just that little bit harder.

My stomach didn't agree as I sped up further with 500 metres to go. I was closing in on the female runner ahead, but was I close enough? It was now time for the final sprint, all or nothing. At the sign marking 200 metres left, I caught her and kept steaming towards the finish, oblivious of cheering spectators. I noticed a 3:06 on the main clock above the finish, and knew that elusive PB was mine too.

The last 4.195km had taken me 18:47, or an average 4:28/km. My 3:06:06 is an overall average pace of 4:24.6/km.

As I bent over completely spent at the finish line, Lucy Ryan (Ultraman, Ironman and ultrarunner) was there to hug, and support, me. It was exactly what I needed and it was so nice to see her. She congratulated me and next gave me unofficial results, saying I was 8th woman and had won my age group.

I got my medal from one of the lovely volunteers and tried hard to avoid throwing up. I made my way to a garbage can, just in case. My legs were screaming, too. Another volunteer asked me if I was OK. "Yes, just a little nauseous," I told her before she encouraged me to stop by the medical tent.

There, I lay down on a stretcher as one of the medical staff took my details, and my pulse. She gave me a couple of electrolyte drinks which I gulped down. I was relatively OK, and told her I didn't want to needlessly occupy a stretcher. She encouraged me to stay. Then Tim showed up, as Lucy had caught him at his superb 3:16 finish, his 3rd-fastest, and told him where he could find me.

(Tim later said he was happy with his time, "though of course I had planned to run faster. I can't ever think of finishing a race and not having thought I was going to go faster. It's important to be confident."

"Victoria was my third-fastest marathon and the fastest I have run in four years, when I set my current PB of 3:10 at the Gold Coast in Australia. To be fair, I haven't done much specific marathon training in the last four years but I'm fit and I always believe that I should be able to leverage my triathlon training into success across the sporting spectrum," says Tim, who is now leaning toward signing up for his first ultrarun, the Whistler 50 (miles, that is) on November 5.)

With Tim there, the nurse let me go. Race director Rob Reid congratulated me on my way out of the medical tent. Tim and I were both incredibly sore and moved to a spot where we could lie down with our legs in the air, which helped a lot. Next we got our pictures taken and picked up some food and drinks. Sore and getting cold quickly, we decided to walk back to the hotel to change quickly into dry clothes, and bring some for Angelique too.

Ecstatic athlete & coach at finish
Angelique was completely focused in her home stretch, though she later said she did hear and see us screaming and waving about 300 metres before the finish: she had simply needed all her energy for reaching the finish line where she was first caught by Kathrine Switzer.

When Angelique told us after a big round of hugs and congratulations on her superb accomplishment, I encouraged her to go back for a picture. Kathrine was only too happy to oblige, and suggested we should celebrate Angelique's first marathon finish with champagne.

I'll write a separate post on Angelique's marathon journey soon but I loved this: On the day before the race, the three of us had done a very easy 10-minute jog before we stopped at a 7/11 to get milk. Angelique and I were both wearing the beautiful bright red race shirt we had received an hour earlier. A guy, in his early 20s, behind us in line asked, "Are you guys running the marathon tomorrow?"

When we turned around and confirmed that was indeed the case, he said, "Oh wow, I could never do that. I can only run 3km." Without missing a beat, Angelique said, "That's what I thought three years ago too but tomorrow I am running a marathon."

While sore and exhausted, marathoner Angelique felt good overall. Better, too, after lying down with her legs in the air, as we encouraged her to do. After another photo, we walked back to the hotel where we all had quick showers and changed before heading over to the awards.

Congrats from Switzer & Yasso, how cool!
There I was thrilled to meet Kathrine again, who handed out the awards, and another running legend, Bart Yasso. Official pictures were taken so I hope to post some once they are available.

A quick chat about books

 Awesome awards ...

Press release for From my Mother | PRLog

Click to read Novel by the author of A Hundred Reasons to Run 100km on PRLog

October 06, 2011

Experiment in Victoria, marathon No. 15

I am very much looking forward to running the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon this weekend. As my 15th marathon (not counting having run the distance in five Ironmans and beyond it in four ultras), it's hardly new territory. I've even explored the Victoria course before, in 2008 and it is where I ran my personal record of 3:07:10 that I have since tried so hard to better.

Amid all the familiarity, experience has also taught me that no marathon is ever the same. There are so many variables, some of which we can control and yet others that we cannot, that every race is a completely fresh challenge; weather is the first one that comes to mind given the blustery conditions of the Bellingham Bay Marathon 11 days ago.

Even so, the biggest unknown for me this Sunday will be how my body has recovered from having raced the distance only two weeks earlier. There is zero doubt in my mind that I can cover the distance; the question is how fast, of course. It takes time to recover from running a marathon as fast as you can.

A typical rule of thumb if a personal best performance is your goal -- a rule I have generally followed in previous years -- is to race two marathons a year, or one about every six months. Another guideline is that recovery from a marathon takes a day for every mile, or 26 days in other words.

In 2007, I experimented by running a second marathon within three months of setting a then-PB in the Canberra marathon in April (3:08, which was a PB by 5 minutes from a race eight months earlier, which in turn had been a PB by 11 minutes from a year earlier) with the expectation to surpass that record. I ran the Gold Coast marathon in July that same year and felt good until about 25km before slowing down to finish in 3:15, a time I could hardly complain about but also was not what I had in mind.

In 2009, I ran a second marathon within five weeks; feeling I could have run better than the 3:10:19 it took me to complete the Vancouver marathon on May 2, I did the North Olympic Discovery marathon on June 7, finishing in 3:10:39 (a women's course record for this boutique race that still stands).

This year is the first time that I am running more than two marathons in one year, not considering the three Ironmans I did between April 2004 and March 2005; and the Rotterdam marathon I ran in April 2010, followed by a 50-miler in August and a 100km in November of the same year (in the latter two my main goal was to finish, as opposed to aiming for performance). 

After coming the closest I have to my 2008 PB (set in Victoria) in the Vancouver marathon in May this year, only 31 seconds short, and running my fourth-fastest time ever 11 days ago in Bellingham, I will be aiming for a personal record this Sunday.

I have no reason not to do so; as far as I can tell my recovery from Bellingham has been superb. Not that I have run much, in fact I have only done one run since: a 10km easy jog on Tuesday. Tim, doggy Luka, and I spent the week after the marathon in Pacific Beach, Washington. It's a tiny and quiet town on the beautiful west coast of the Olympic Peninsula.

My recovery there consisted of two long beach walks a day, a glass of red or two at night with dinner and plenty of sleep. An active recovery without any running, as tempting as the level, wide and endless beach with hardpacked sand was.

Today I plan a 6km run, with eight 100-metre strides. Tomorrow is another rest day, while Saturday I plan to do a 10-minute jog. That will take my total distance run since Bellingham to less than 20km in two weeks, or an average of 10km over the past two weeks.

There are no guarantees that I will feel fantastic with only two weeks of recovery but I am determined to feel as good as possible for this Sunday's race; I expect to feel superb and will take the miles as they come.

When in 2008 I ran the Vancouver and Victoria marathons, (though not Bellingham in between), I went five minutes quicker in Victoria. Having said that, I did not have a good race in Vancouver that year (3:12:26) and felt superb in Victoria (3:07:10). This year, I was pleased with my race in Vancouver (3:07:41).    

My race plan for Sunday is similar to the one I had for Bellingham two weeks ago; I'll aim for 4:22/km pace (a 3:04 finish) and see what happens. Most of all, despite all the numerical analysis of results, I will focus on making each step the best it can be.

Read 2008 Vancouver Marathon race report 
Read pre-race mindset before 2008 Victoria Marathon
Read mini 2008 Victoria Marathon race report
2008 Victoria Marathon kilometre splits

October 05, 2011

A simple marathon checklist

As I am getting ready to run my second marathon in as many weeks, No. 15 in total, I am especially looking forward to it as my sister will be joining me on the start line in her debut at the distance. Tim is also racing, starting his 10th marathon. For both Tim and I it's the second time in Victoria, after we first raced there in 2008.

As I am writing a short checklist for my sister, I thought I'd share it here:

1. Bring a happy disposition. When you're determined to have a great race, you will!

2. Don't try anything new on race day. No new foods, drinks, clothes, socks, shoes. Stay with what you have tried and tested in training.That includes your pre-race breakfast.

3. Start easy, especially if you're a novice. Don't worry about others racing ahead in the first kilometre(s), it happens in every marathon as the temptation to 'get ahead' is strong.  

4. Have a sip of water at every aid station.

5. Take your gels, as you did in training.

6. Smile and enjoy the ride. You're running a marathon, how awesome!

Also bring:-):

1. Running bra/tank top (women of course)
2. Running shirt / singlet (optional for women)
3. Running shorts
4. Running socks
5. Running shoes
6. Race nutrition (gels, bars including pre-race breakfast)
7. Race number plus timing chip
8. Watch (plus heart rate monitor if you use one)
9. Throwaway T-shirt/sweater to stay warm while you wait at the race start
10. Visor/hat (leave them at home if race day turns out to be a windy one)
12. Sunglasses
13. Thin gloves (in case race morning is chilly)
14. iPod (I never use it in races, though I made an exception in a 100km road race last year)
15. race belt, if you use one
16. vaseline & heat rub

For after the race take:

Shirt, sweater, comfy pants, socks (compression?), shoes / slippers (keep in mind your feet will be swollen and tender after the race), small towel.

My own checklist is as follows:

Pre-race breakfast
1. two Powerbar energy bars
2. coffee (I bring the brand I love and a coffeepress to make it)

Race nutrition
3. 8 gels Powerbar, though I only had 5 at the Bellingham Bay Marathon (plus zip-lock bag to carry the 3 gels that don't fit in my pockets)

Race clothing
4. race tank top (with two back pockets)
5. shorts (with back pocket)
6. compression socks (vaseline on my feet & heat rub on my calves)
7. running shoes
8. sunglasses
9. thin gloves (wear if morning is chilly, I hate cold hands)
10. throwaway shirt to stay warm before the race

For after the race, I'll bring an extra pair of compression socks and comfortable clothing that will keep me warm. After the Bellingham Bay Marathon, I didn't get a chance to shower (though I changed into dry and clean clothes of course) until we arrived at our holiday cottage in the early evening and, as a result, I had worn my race compression socks for the entire day. 

I believe they were one of the key reasons my legs felt awesome the next day, as usually my calves are so tight that descending stairs is next to impossible.

Other odds and ends: 
If you're travelling, like we are this weekend, plan your pre-race dinner. I never eat out, neither lunch nor dinner the day before an important race, as I want to know exactly what went in the food. (See rule No. 2, never try anything new on/before race day).

We have opted to stay in a swanky place that has a kitchen so we'll make a simply pasta bolognaise, and will bring the ingredients so we don't have to shop and can eat what's tried and tested. Another good pre-race meal option are potatoes and a simple protein. 

Plan to stay hydrated as much as possible on the day before the race, especially if you're travelling. I'll bring enough Accelerade for the trip from Squamish to Victoria, picking up my sister in Vancouver along the way. I'll also take some sandwiches of white bread and peanut butter to avoid being hungy.

Stay off your feet as much as possible. We'll relax on the ferry. While we'll have a look at the expo of course, as we pick up our race packages on Saturday afternoon, we'll resist the temptation of turning it into a major shopping expedition or sightseeing tour. This makes much more sense after the race is done. 

While I don't expect our place to be noisy, I will bring ear plugs, just in case. 

EXCERPT of From my Mother, a novel

As the phone rang, Nadia recognized the familiar number lighting up the screen.
            “Hoi Oma!”
            “Wat ik zeggen wilde ... What I wanted to tell you,” her grandmother began. As she often did, Oma launched straight into what she had to share on the costly long-distance call from the Netherlands to Canada. The most frugal person Nadia would ever know, there was no doubt in her mind, Oma spared no expense when it came to being in touch with her granddaughter.
            “... it was dark and we were in the forest, again, hiding. We had run when we heard the soldiers were coming. Your mom was only a baby and I had to keep her safe. I had found an area with thick brush to cover us. We were quiet like mice. But your mom, she was scared. Of course, she was just a baby. And when she heard a branch breaking nearby, she cried. Just a little. And he found us. Underneath that brush. He didn't have good intentions. I know he didn't. And I had to protect her. To keep her safe, I had to stay alive. It was him or us.”
            Oma's voice trailed off before falling silent. Nadia listened, waiting for her to continue a story she had not heard before. She could hear her grandmother's irregular breathing on the other side of the line—a pattern of two quick shallow inhales of air followed by a pause before the next two.
            “Oma?” Nadia finally said. “Oma, are you OK?”
            “Ja ... ja,” her grandmother responded softly before hanging up.
            It wasn't unusual for Oma to simply end a call when she considered it finished. Nadia dialled Oma's number, though doubted she would get an answer. Her grandmother, at 94, often didn't hear the phone even when she was wearing her hearing aid. And when she finished a call she would often misplace the receiver, accidentally and sometimes on purpose. The busy signal beeped impatiently in Nadia's ear. She would try to call again later in the day.
            Oma's comments puzzled Nadia as there were details she had not heard before. Her grandmother had often told her how she fled with her daughter into the forest to seek shelter from the brutalities in the Second World War in Sudetenland, the part of Czechoslovakia annexed in 1938 by Germany, which declared Bohemia and Moravia a protectorate of the Third Reich six months later in March 1939. Sudetenland was a contentious area within Czechoslovakia's borders, inhabited by many ethnic Germans. It was handed to Nazi Germany under the Munich Pact, called the Munich Betrayal by many in Czechoslovakia, because it had no representation at the meeting during which France and the UK sought to appease Adolf Hitler by ceding territory to which they assigned little value.
            Aged 24, Oma would give birth to Nadia's mom the following year when the oppressor also demanded her husband don a German uniform and march across Europe in what became the deadliest global military conflict.

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(Copyright © 2011 by Margreet Dietz)

October 04, 2011

Background to my first novel

My grandmother gave me this Triumph-Adler Tippa
My office is on the ground floor of our house. It looks out over the front yard and our street, which is a quiet one—on many days I see as many pedestrians and cyclists go by as cars. It's a long room with two desks, both from IKEA. At one, underneath one of the room's two windows, I sit every day to write.

The other, a high and long desk, hasn't got much use yet, other than holding painting supplies, papers and a few photographs. It also holds a portable typewriter my maternal grandmother gave me. It's a Triumph-Adler Tippa that I've rarely used. The hard cover is black as are the keys, while the rest of the machine is beige.

 Cover & manual
The original manual with a purple cover is still with it. There are funny instructions in Dutch, French, English and Spanish, of which the typeface reveals it's an older machine: "What you really want to know is how to type with the machine. It's easy enough as you will see."

[Read the rest of this post here]

October 02, 2011

Marathon recovery

After the marathon in Bellingham, we drove southwest to the coast of the Olympic Peninsula where we had rented a cottage in Pacific Beach for the week. At this time of the year, this area is quiet and stunning. It was the perfect place for us to unwind after a few hectic months.

The beach here is wide with hard-packed sand. Luka absolutely loved it, and his happiness chasing a ball or a stick during our morning and evening walks was contagious.

Tim, already tapering for the Victoria Marathon, did three runs here. I did none, even as I was tempted and felt great. After 14 marathons and four ultras, I have found that my body prefers a week of walking following such long efforts.

We're driving back to Squamish today after a fantastic and relaxing 10 days in Washington state, most of which were spent in Pacific Beach. It's been an awesome trip.

While we planned for a holiday, I had arranged for a proof copy of my novel, From my Mother, to be sent to the local post office here as delivery within the U.S. is much faster than shipment to Canada.

The book arrived on Wednesday, and of course I couldn't help myself but do a final proofread of the hard copy while on holiday. I finished making the final changes last night, and submitted the files for both the paperback and the Kindle version.