November 26, 2011

Knitting a bolero jacket

It's great to spend time with my parents in the Netherlands. Both are creative and always working on something. My dad's passion is creating furniture from oak wood.

Heart pendant by Rezie
Brooch by Rezie
For my mom, her creativity in the past six years has focused on making silver jewelry. She's taking weekly classes at the local arts and culture centre from Marjolein van Lubeck.

I am a lucky recipient of my mom's beautiful pieces. Most recently she made a modern heart pendant and brooch.

Vest by Rezie
She has also rekindled her knitting; her productivity astounds me. Earlier this year she knitted a stunning long bottle-green vest for me.

Purse by Rezie
In the past few months she also made beautiful purses for herself, my sister and I. Knitted from a jersey fabric, she finished them with a handle and decorative pin.

Our parents' creativity has rubbed off on my sister and I. Before my sister moved to Turkey, and now Canada, she took the same jewelry-making classes with my mom and made stunning pieces. She's getting ready to resume her silversmithing soon in Vancouver.

My mom taught me the basics of knitting when I was a girl. In highschool it was a cool thing to do. I remember my three girlfriends and I knitting during Dutch literature classes, with the (male) teacher's approval though subject to much teasing from the boys.

In university I did some basic sewing, using a fabulous forest green soft velvet. The outfit included a long sweater with a big wide collar and long cuffs, a mini-skirt and a loose-fitting legging. It was simple, easy. I didn't follow a pattern. The result got plenty of wear, often mixed with a vintage jacket that I think belonged to my dad at one point, a beige lace blouse and scarfs, combined with dark brown suede high-heeled boots. I love earthy tones.

(This reminds me too of how in high school the pants of men's silk pyjamas were highly fashionable, as were men's shirts. I remember how I was getting ready for a party and had my heart set on wearing a short-sleeve striped shirt of my dad, and my growing panic when I couldn't find it anywhere. Running late, my dad came home from working wearing - you guessed it - that shirt. I wore it to the party, too.)

Among my family I am not known for being patient or skilled in working with my hands. I always thought that indeed patience was not among my traits but running has helped me discover I have plenty of it. I just need to start off at a level that isn't too advanced and work on projects that suit my temperament and disposition.

For some reason, I felt like knitting when we moved to Canada four years ago. Perhaps it was the revival of the craft. The cold winters, compared with those in Australia where we had spent the previous seven years, no doubt also helped that motivation. But I had completely forgotten how to steken opzetten, i.e. cast on, and asked my mom for help.

She sent me a booklet on how to do it but it wasn't until my parents came to visit Squamish for the first time three years ago that I made a start. My mom and I both got some wool, and got knitting as my mom re-taught me how to get started. The other basics - knitting, purling, cast off, and slipping - my hands remembered.

I used a super bulky wool, a wine-red Red Heart Light & Lofty , that called for big needles (10, or a US 15), which means it doesn't take long to make progress. The simple stocking stitch is a very easy and relaxing way to knit row after row. In that regard knitting reminds me of running; the soothing rhythm of both activities are very relaxing, meditative. There's a simple focus, too, step after step, and stitch after stitch.

Since we were doing plenty of sightseeing with my parents, I didn't finish the pieces of my sweater (no pattern of course) until after my parents left.

Sweater on 2nd try
When I put the front and back together, pleased with the progress, I didn't realize until it was too late that in my enthusiasm I had sewed the armholes together. Oops. The thick and hairy wool made it impossible to undo the damage. So I went back to the store to get yarn and started from scratch. This time I made sure to pay attention to the armholes, and finished it.

Incidentally, the pendant I am wearing with this sweater my mom made as well. She created a beautiful silver setting for this oval piece of agate. As I said, her productivity is amazing.

The arms are a little long, but other than that, it works. The yarn (100% acrylic) is soft, beautiful and warm. And did I mention it takes no time at all to do this? Next I used the same yarn to knit blankets - also plain stocking stitches - for my grandmother (blue sand) and one for Tim's mom (a gorgeous green called pine).

Sweater in progress
Next I got more of the blue sand, and knitted a front and back last winter, this time using a moss stitch. I didn't quite get around to the sleeves but thought I'd bring the yarn to the Netherlands so I could finish it here. My mom is knitting a beautifully complicated beige sweater with plenty of cables so I joined her with my basic project and finished the two sleeves in the past couple of days.

Now I need to do my least favourite part, which is sewing the parts together. My mom suggested I knit the collar with four needles on the finished product so that there's no seam. I have no idea how that works but am keen to learn.

Meantime, she showed me how to do cables (there are a million variations of those) and encouraged me to do something a little more advanced. She took me to the attic to find a pattern and to see if there was any leftover yarn I could use for a project. We found a pattern for a very cute short bolero jacket and beige wool with history.

Bolero jacket in progress
The yarn we decided to use is a gorgeous beige that was originally used in a hoody my mom had knitted for me when I was 10 or so. Very cool to reuse it into a piece now. I'll dig up a photo of the previous sweater which I loved. 

The bolero jacket is knitted in one piece, so there's a lot of increasing and decreasing of stitches, as well as casting off parts while you keep going with the remainder. But it's a plain stocking stitch. As mom helped me figure out how to get started yesterday afternoon, I made it halfway last night. So far so good!

November 22, 2011

Great run in the Dronten fog

When my parents picked me up from Schiphol on Sunday morning, a thick fog had already descended over the Netherlands. I was lucky that it only delayed my plane by about 10 minutes. The mist was still there the next day when I went for a short run. My plan was for an easy 30 minutes as I am still in recovery mode from the 50 miler I ran on November 5.

Last week, I did four easy jogs of between 20 and 30 minutes. My body and mind are both keen to resume a training routine. Yesterday I immediately hit my stride as I headed out my parents' door and I enjoyed the steady pace my legs chose almost immediately.

I planned to do a lap around my parents' neighbourhood, finishing off by running through the Wisentbos, a pretty small forest along the Lage Vaart canal with a myriad of walking paths on the outskirts of Dronten.

It is hardly big enough to get lost. But I did, as I lost my orientation in the thick fog. I didn't mind as I knew I couldn't be too far from town and thoroughly enjoyed the run. The condensation had formed little beads of water on my eyelashes which gave the already-mysterious views of wet trees and paths in late fall an extra pretty view.

However, after I had been running for nearly an hour and bumped into the same group of hikers for the third time I decided to swallow my pride and ask them for directions.

It took less than 500 metres to realize where I was and I was home within five minutes. My accidental run of a little over an hour at a decent pace was a great way to realize my body is ready to slowly gear up my training again.

November 18, 2011

A trip to the motherland

I am packing for a trip to Nederland, the country where I was born, raised and lived until the age of 25. It's been 18 months since I saw my parents and grandmother and am very much looking forward to spending time with them.

I also look forward to soaking up new impressions from the country that is so familiar and yet so foreign to me after 16 years abroad. Canada is home now. I am a visitor to my country of birth where still I wave my Dutch (and only) passport to gain entry. Last time the customs officer told me, Welkom thuis, or Welcome home.

I love wandering through the town Dronten, where my parents moved a few years ago after three decades in historic and picturesque Harderwijk, which was a member of the Hanseatic League and had a university from the mid-17th century until early in the 19th.

Dronten is a neat brandnew place with a population of about 40,000 near the Ketel Lake and Marker Lake  that arose when land was reclaimed in the former Zuiderzee after it was closed from the North Sea through the Afsluitdijk connecting the province of North Holland with the province of Friesland.

One of my favourite places there is De Meerpaal, a superb centre for the arts that sits right next to the excellent public library. The wide flatter-than-flat polder landscape around Dronten is fantastic for running and I hope to meet up with this year's national women's marathon masters champion who lives there.

I can run to several surrounding towns along the North American-style grid of roads and cycling paths. Not having cycled for six years now, I would jump on my roadbike there in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, it's too much hassle to bring it. I'll ride one of the 'regular' Dutch commuter bikes instead.

I love visiting the iconic Dutch stores that remain such as the HEMA, Kruidvat and de Albert Heyn. Nothing entertains me more than speaking the language without anyone batting an eyelid, as back home in Canada I get asked almost daily about " that accent".

Dessie, our recent visitor from Australia, wasn't the first to remark that I'd lost my Australian accent and replaced it with a Canadian sound, funny as that seems to me. Regardless, my non-Anglophone roots are exposed for all to hear apparently as soon as I speak one word, even as they might have trouble placing them. Are you South African? German? Danish? Brazilian? (huh?)

I explored the importance of understanding our roots in From my Mother, my first novel. Based on a true story, I found that exploring parts of my family history as a fictional tale was easier, yet it also made me realize how much knowledge I have taken for granted; in other words, I thought I knew a whole lot more than I actually did.

Having just finished that book a month ago, I return home with a new perspective and I am looking forward to experiencing the thoughts and feelings that will accompany this visit. My first volume of poetry, Sunshine on a wooden floor, contains a poem I wrote in the train I took from Schiphol Airport to Lelystad, where my parents picked me up, three years ago. 


Is vandaag
Geelblauwe treinen door een
Groen vlak landschap
Langs files
En knooppunten
Ik kom altijd onbekenden
In deze vreemde bekendheid
Nederlands praten
Kan ik
Maar het voelt niet
Meer als moedertaal
Vervreemde geboortetong
De grijsblauwe
Luchten nog steeds
Meer grijs dan blauw
Onderweg naar huis

I wrote the original in Dutch, and included the English translation in Sunshine on a wooden floor: 

Mother tongue

Is today
Yellowblue trains through a
green flat landscape
past traffic jams
and bottlenecks
I always run
Into strangers
In this foreign familiarity
Speaking Dutch
I can
It no longer feels
Like my mother tongue
Alienative language
The greyblue
Skies are still
More grey than blue
Off track
Heading home

A writer's state between books

I am in a state of minor despair, the state of restlessness and anxiety that seems to occur between book projects. It's not unlike the depression a runner feels after finishing a major goal race. It's hardly a disaster or hardship in the larger scheme of things but it's a period that can feel like a black hole nonetheless. 

"Even if you ran a good race, you may feel depressed for a few weeks. Just as in postpartum depression, your 'baby' has reached the finish line and your long sought-after goal, around which your life revolved for months, has been achieved, leaving you feeling empty," write Bob Glover and Shelly-lynn Florence Glover in The Competitive Runner's Handbook (second revised edition).

Completing a book is a major project that requires focus and, I admit, a healthy dose of obsession. As I wrote in On gravity, I take my running very seriously. Yet it pales in comparison to the level of importance I assign to my efforts as a writer. I am without a doubt a running writer, rather than a writing runner. 

Having just finished my first novel, From my Mother, the result of participating in the 2010 National Novel Writing Month a year ago, I believe this is the time I should be refuelling the creative well yet I have a hard time finding the patience to do so. As a writer, I should write. Always. I feel I don't have the luxury of time to take a break. 

Yet November 1 arrived and, as planned, I began on NaNoWriMo, which is at Day 18. That novel's first draft should be at 30,000 words. Mine is not. The NaNoWriMo clock is ticking and my word count certainly isn't. 

I have typed up well over 17,000 words in two abysmal starts to pathetic manuscripts on a topic I should know inside and out; the Sub-3 Marathon. It is about a runner who wants to run 42 kilometres and 195 metres in a second under three hours. The clock must stop at 2:59:59, or sooner. Why? Because. Just because she thinks she can. 

The longer it takes, the more important it becomes; the importance lies in trying, in knowing that you are doing everything you can, rather than in achieving. It is what I live and breathe every day. You would think I have plenty to say, write, on the topic. That's what I figured too but it seems that I don't; call it writer's block if you will. 

I believe in writer's Block as much as I believe in the runner's Wall; if you hit it, or if it hits you, you have done something wrong. It only exists if you let it. Not only is it preventable, there is a cure as well. 

But at the moment I do feel blocked; nothing is coming out, no matter how hard I try. And I am trying hard—trust me. I feel that perhaps that is the core of the problem, that I am willing too hard, too much, too soon. My gut tells me I need to stop stressing and take a rest. Read, instead of willing myself to write which at the moment merely results in staring hopelessly at the screen, and impatiently rifling to an ever-increasing stack of books and notebooks on my desk.

(I am reading Elizabeth George's Write Away: One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life and Nick Heil's Dark Summit: the True Story of Everest's Most Controversial Season, both excellent books.)

I have combed most of my unfinished pieces of writing on my hard drive repeatedly, willing them to give me a sense of direction or at least a few more words to add to my NaNoWriMo word count. I've written and published two books in the past 12 months. Perhaps I need to give in to the seemingly obvious need to refill the creative well.

But most of all, I need to keep writing, one piece at a time, as I have been doing every single day including most of this post, written in that state of frustration and despair three days ago. We can be hard on ourselves, choosing to focus on the lack of progress instead of the small steps we keep taking. I am reading and I am writing, just not the first draft of the novel I had in mind. And that's OK for now.

November 15, 2011

On gravity

For the monthly Squamish Writers Group meeting, November's assignment is to write on the subject of gravity:

Training and racing are matters of gravity for the distance runner. Much the way writing is for the writer, running comes natural to the runner but it only comes easy after hard work and dedication.
The marathoner leaps and bounds along the rhythm that her body finds along the space-time continuum. As HG Wells wrote in The Time Machine, "There is no difference between time and any of the three dimensions of space except that our consciousness moves along it."

She moves between the force of attraction that draws her towards the centre of the earth and the suspension in the air as she brings forward her trailing leg, signalling to the other that its turn at the front is done. In that briefest of moments, as her body moves along, the runner is an astronaut on earth, relishing the illusion of momentary respite from the law that grounds us all.

The runner runs to escape what Abraham Maslow called the psychopathology of normality, referring to the fact that "most of us function most of the time on a level lower than that of self-actualization."

The runner's quest to improve is instinctive. It occurs as soon as she takes her first steps; she knows her body and her mind can do better -- instantly. She realizes her potential lies beyond the status quo as long as she is willing to take another step. And then another.

"When I became a runner, I stopped expecting anything for nothing. I discovered that I could just go so far (about one block) without training," wrote George Sheehan in This Running Life.

The runner's dance along the space-time continuum is always a delicate one, searching for the perfect balance as she trains on the edge; the edge of time, age, mental endurance and physical makeup. She aims to find the pinnacle of performance where she can reap the rewards for the years of training before the inevitable physical decline in maximum oxygen consumption, or VO2 max, and muscle mass outweighs the fitness and knowledge gained.

The runner knows she is the only one who can answer the most important questions; what will her genes allow her to do? Has she already squeezed out all that was possible, or is there more left? Will she ever finish a race thinking there is no more speed to gain? Miracles do happen. The mystery of performance, for anyone regardless of ability, is finding the level you are capable of, but first one has to discover the way to achieve it. Both are a matter of trial and error. And the utmost gravity.

Numbers seem to be the name of every runner's game. This runner has gained sixty-four seconds. In three years. After more than 10,000 kilometres of running. That is twenty-one seconds and 3,333 kilometres per year. Every second of speed has taken at least hundred and fifty-six kilometres of training, or about an average of sixty-four kilometres a week every week. Three-hundred and sixty-seven seconds still stand beside her and her ultimate goal: finishing a marathon in two-fifty-nine-fifty-nine. Forty-two consecutive kilometres trotted at four-fifteen per kilometre. She needs to run more. And she will.

Run every day of the week. This winter, a day will not pass without her feet feeling the New Balance REVlites, of which she now owns three pair. Not a day where she can switch off her runner's mind. Not a day without pushing her heart rate beyond 130 beats per minute. The decision to train for a marathon should never be taken lightly. It is a matter of gravity, growing in importance over her 16 years of running.

Some think of it as a matter of vanity. Surely, the only number the female runner is trying to improve, lower, is that on the scale. Her pursuit is fuelled by appearance, implying it is a shallow and unworthy one, according to those non-athletes who make it clear they do not have the time to waste on such immaterial matters.

The athlete has no choice but to assign to her running the highest level of importance. She studies the sport, though most of all studies her body and mind, and how they respond to the demands of marathon training. By now, there is no guidance she can trust better than her own on who she is as an athlete and a competitor. She searches relentlessly for the training schedule that suits her temperament and her current state as a runner. A runner continually evolves as does her running. It takes a lot of training to maintain the status quo of high fitness.

The better the shape of the runner the more it takes to improve it, and the less it takes to lose it; injury, sickness, time constraints, mental weakness or distraction. Sometimes a loss of courage, a loss of hope. A distance runner must be an optimist who can never lose sight of that most subjective of matters, potential. They have to look on the bright side of their personal records, always expecting to be able to better them. They will never win the battle if they lose their conviction that their potential lies beyond their achievements.

Running is religion, a belief the runner follows strictly, without wavering. A runner striving to better her best performance must sustain an absolute conviction she can do better than she has done so far, no matter what. If she loses the conviction, she has found her limits. So she believes, including in the decisions she makes. So many variables, so many choices. There are no hard and fast rules; there is only hard and fast training, with enough recovery and rest to allow the stressed body and mind to recover enough to improve to the next level.

It's been exactly four decades since the first two women broke the magical 3-hour barrier that this runner is aiming for. The fastest has broken it by nearly 45 minutes. But it remains unchartered territory for most. Even falling short of this magical barrier by 6 minutes and 7 seconds, this runner may end 2011 with three times among the year's top 100 women's overall Marathon Canada rankings. This runner believes her potential lies on the other side of three hours. It's only a matter of time. And the utmost gravity.

November 13, 2011

Looking forward to new marathon routine

Yesterday, one week after the Whistler 50 Ultra, I went for a run with Tim, Dessie (our ultrarunning visitor from Australia who returned home last night after an inspiring two-week visit) and my sister Angelique (who is signed up for the First Half and is keen to run a second marathon). Our two dogs happily trotted along. too.

It was a very easy 20-minute jog, but it felt great to go for a run. In the past week I've noticed a real desire to return to the routine of training after two months of tapering, racing and recovery. I know that I will still need to be cautious in the next few weeks but I think my body is recovering well after the 50-miler, no doubt helped by my slowing down in the final 25km.

Physically, my legs feel strong and light. Mentally, I am ready to commit to a training routine that builds on the one that I used for the Bellingham Bay and Victoria marathons. There will be daily runs, something I have not tried before, to boost the weekly mileage.

The 18-week program from Advanced Marathoning starts on January 1, perfect timing, and the first week has 104km (85 miles) of sessions. That means I have seven weeks to complete my recovery, and gear up my body.

The schedule recommends that you do at least 88km (55 miles) a week before starting the program, as well as completing a distance close to the long run you're meant to do in the first week in the prior month (which is 27km).

My goal race for this program is the BMO Vancouver Marathon on May 6, 2012. I also hope to race the First Half (half marathon) on February 12.

November 10, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Day 7, 8 & 9

Sometimes we will ourselves to keep pushing forward, impatient to take the time to let our progress follow its own schedule. We ignore the warning signs that, at first subtly then slowly but surely, swell to a crescendo, indicating that it is time to rest before we push on.

In running, rest is crucial to progress. Training works by stressing the body but you cannot keep stressing it without giving it a chance to recover. The body needs to absorb the training before it can improve its performance. If you keep pushing relentlessly, harder and harder, your body will break down, through injury or illness, forcing you to take the break you refused to give it.

This is the case in writing too, something I am still learning. A writer cannot keep squeezing the words from her soul without rest after a major build-up and race, i.e. the drafting, revising and publishing of a book. Each one takes a mental and physical effort that strengthens the writer but only if he takes the time to absorb what he has learned through a break.

In writing a break may be physical, i.e. no writing, though I find it hard not to write at all. I prefer to write short pieces, such as for this blog. While their creation takes mental effort, it is a small and manageable one compared to the gigantic process that is involved in writing a book.

After finishing A Hundred Reasons to Run 100km earlier this year, I needed a lot of courage, read mental energy, to take on and complete the revisions for my first novel, From my Mother.

My self-imposed deadline was October, which meant finishing the revisions, proofing and entire publication process of a paperback and e-book at about the same time I was getting ready to run my second A-race of 2011, the Bellingham Bay Marathon on Sept. 25 (followed by the Victoria Marathon two weeks later, and the Whistler 50-mile Ultra last Saturday).

I was running my highest volume ever, covering up to 140 kilometres in seven days. Consistent marathon training takes up a lot of energy, not just physically but also mentally. While running inspires my writing, and I apply many lessons from my running to drive my writing, it can be a fine line.

As Tim Noakes writes in Lore of Running, "While gentle running enhances a person's productivity and creativity, too much training has the opposite effect ...  Training burns up creative energy, leaving little space for other intellectual matters."

Runners, at any level, committed to pushing themselves to lift their performance need a sizeable amount of daily courage to sustain the consistency in their training. Regardless of how much you love to run, and I absolutely love running, you face an almost-daily challenge to head out the door, particularly in the final six weeks before a marathon.

Finishing and publishing my first work of fiction during that same time demanded plenty of courage too. It was a rollercoaster that sent me to peaks of confidence before roaring back down into the abyss of self-doubt on a daily basis.

Elizabeth George writes in Write Away; One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life, "Committing to writing is placing yourself in a highly exposed position. Once your novel is written and published, you are at the mercy of the critics, the readers, your fellow writers, your family, your friends, and your former colleagues. It's truly a case of if-you-can't-stand-the-heat, and frequently the creation and publication of a novel become rife with stress and tension."

Just to be clear, this is not a woe-is-me post. But I believe it helps explain Days 7, 8 & 9 of National Novel Writing Month. Day 5 coincided with my 50-mile race, as mentioned in an earlier post. It was an awesome but tiring event. I began Day 6 a day behind but finished it with a total of 8,372 words by completing 1,687 that day at the Come Write-In in the Squamish Public Library.

On Day 7, I managed another 1,487 for a total of 9,859 but they didn't come easy. That number didn't change on Day 8 as I lost the plot (pun intended). Completely. Yesterday I squeezed another 543 words out in utter despair but felt physically ill by the end of the day.

During a total of 10,402 words I had allowed two characters to die from cancer, the protagonist's dad and daughter, and had her husband shoot himself in their kitchen after she told him she wanted to aim for the marathon world record in the women's 60-64 division.

Those three deaths also killed off my ability to continue on this story, so I have decided to start from scratch on Day 10 and write 50,000 words about the same topic (Sub-3 Marathon), hopefully still by the end of the month, but through a narrative that's a little closer to home. The one I had set out to do simply turned out to require more mental energy than I have right now.

November 08, 2011

Recovering from an ultra

Tim and I treated ourselves to a copy of Lore of Running by Tim Noakes at the expo at the Victoria marathon. I've read various parts in recent years. Today I thought I'd check out the section Race Recovery in the Ultramarathon chapter (p. 664 in the fourth edition):

"I suggest that for three months you should do little or no running but concentrate on other non-weight-bearing activities, such as swimming, cycling, or working out in the gym. This allows the weight-bearing function of your legs to recover. Once that has happened and your legs again feel light and springy, you can consider returning to running training."

"The ultramarathon may be the most exciting challenge you ever undertake in your running career. But it is a demanding event that can leave deep scars, equal to the great moment it bestows. Treat this race with respect and it will reward you in ways perhaps unequalled by any other race. But if you abuse it, it may bit backif not immediately, perhaps some time in the future."

I am very aware, my body reminds me with every move I make, that I've broken the race recovery rules in the past six weeks, running a 3:09 and 3:06 (PB) marathon within two weeks of each other followed by the 50-miler four weeks later.

I think it's time to dust off my bike and jump on the wind trainer in the next couple of weeks to aid recovery and prepare my body for starting my 2012 Vancouver marathon training program in four to six weeks from now.

November 07, 2011

Whistler 50 Ultra race report

Saturday's Whistler 50 was an awesome experience and I hope to capture it in a longer race report soon. For now, I am both too tired and too busy.

In short, Tim finished his first ultra with a strong 8:44 (four weeks after running a 3:16 at the Victoria marathon). So did our Australian friend, Dessie, whose 8:27 earned him 3rd in the 50-59 age group. Now these two Ironmans and marathoners can add ultrarunner to their athletic resumes.

I was stoked to finish in 7:57, good enough for first in the women's 40-49 age group and 5th woman overall. While I have no regrets about doing the race, it proved to be a very tough day. 

The first lap was 17km, followed by 3 laps of 21km. I passed the finish line for the third time a little after 5 hours (I think 5:07) for 59km. The final 21km loomed large.

It wasn't that I'd run out of energy. But I was sore, more sore than I ever recall feeling with the prospect of another two hours of running ahead. I can only explain it as the type of pain you feel when you do a 50-miler after having done two marathons as fast as you can in the previous six weeks--I wouldn't recommend it, and I certainly don't plan to repeat it.

The last lap was brutal. While I'd given myself permision to DNF, I knew that I couldn't, not at this stage after already having run 3/4 of the way. I spent much of the final lap walking, taking 2 hours 50 to complete those remaining 21km. 

As mentioned, I certainly don't regret doing this race, superbly organized by Ron Adams and his crew who went out of their way to create a fantastic day for the more than 1,300 runners participating in the relay and ultra. I'd highly recommend sticking this one on your race calendar in 2012.

A special thanks to the amazing Lucy Ryan for her cheers on various laps and the lovely Gottfried Grosser for his chicken soup!

Check out the ultra results here: awesome in general, and in particular by the top 2 men, Chris GT Downie in 5:52 and Darin Bentley in 5:55, and the top 2 women, Jen Segger in 6:31 and Nicola Gildersleeve in 6:37.

November 06, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Day 5 & 6

Day 5. Zero words typed. But 50 miles run at the superb Whistler 50 Relay and Ultra (highly recommend this race, whether solo or in a relay as a team).

Day 6. NaNoWriMo write-in at the Squamish library. Met two very interesting NaNoWriMos. Wrote 1,687 words. So I am now at a total of 8,367, or one day behind. I expect to make up the deficit in the next couple of days.

Latest review for From my Mother

"From My Mother is a very touching story of a matriarch that deeply ingrains survival into her family. Largely a book filled with a marathoner's mindset, all of the technical and running jargon do not detract from the story of a love between granddaughter and "Oma" that spans continents, and the hardships that molded the generations into persevering, strong women. The freedom Nadia feels as she runs also parallels the freedom her grandmother struggled so hard to find. This is a novel that successfully integrates heart and sport." 

- Charlene Mabie-Gamble for Literary R&R

November 04, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Day 4

Word count is what has kept me going in the past four days. It has been a struggle, as mentioned in yesterday's post, but I knew that I couldn't fall behind in the first days.

Tomorrow I am getting up at 3:15am to run a 50-miler in Whistler, as mentioned in my earlier post today, and I don't expect there will be time or energy in the day to write 1,667 words. Having said that, I do expect to have plenty of creative thinking time on my hands during the race so I hope to return to the Sub-3 Marathon storyline with fresh ideas.

Sheer determination and stubbornness to stay on track helped me reach 6,685 words today, slightly ahead of the daily average needed to make it to 50,000 by the end of the month. I am thinking in scenes and if I find myself complety stuck in one, I simply move on to the next. It has worked so far.

On Sunday morning I'll be at the first of the two Come Write Ins at the Squamish Public Library from 10am until 1pm. (Details here on the Facebook event page). If you're in the neighbourhood, please drop by to complete the daily word count!

One day to 50-miler

I woke up a couple of minutes before 6am after a sound night's sleep. In 24 hours we'll be on the startline  of the Whistler 50 Ultra. In the darkness I realized I had yet to pack my headlight.

Our visitor from Australia, Dessie, has already packed his gear, using a transition bag from one of his Ironmans when Minolta was still a sponsor (I think going back to 2001 when Germany's Normann Stadler and Canada's Lori Bowden won the Ironman Australia event). 

My nutrition bag is ready. It has 4 Powerbar energy bars, 9 gels of the same brand, a Snickers and a bag of Twizzlers. I've also thrown in 6 Hammer electrolyte tablets. A can of Red Bull might be added, too.

Two of the aid stations on the course, 4 laps with the first 17km and the remainder 21km each, will provide plenty of food as well. Water will be provided at aid stations no more than 5km apart. (I am debating whether to carry a bottle of water in the first couple of hour, though. TBD today.)

The weather forecast for Saturday has changed over the past week and it's looking good, if a bit chilly. The forecast high is 1 degree, with an expected low of minus 4. Whistler Village received a layer of snow this week but I hope the course will be mostly clear come tomorrow.

The last month since the Victoria Marathon seems to have flown by. Tim and I each got a total of 4 easy runs in, all around 30 minutes. Daily walks were part of my routine, and I felt those were plenty after my two marathons in the past six weeks.

I am planning to race as hard as I can on the day tomorrow, and am expecting to feel great. Having said that, finishing is not the main goal should I find that my body hasn't recovered enough from the Bellingham Bay and Victoria marathons. For me, the Whistler 50 is a bonus race; since the start of the year I had hoped to be able to do it after the two marathons.

As always, I have various time goals. My conservative goal is to finish sub-8 hours, and based on reaching the 79km mark in 8:03 in the 100km I did a year ago that should be realistic (famous last pre-ultra words). My dream goal is to cross the line in sub-7, which calls for a pace of at least 5:12 per km or 8:22 per mile.

Most likely, it will be somewhere in between.

Since there will be no kilometre or mile markers, locking into the right pace will have to be done by feel unless you opt for a Garmin. While I have one, I am not planning to wear it tomorrow at this stage.  

As for clothing, I'll be wearing 3/4 tights with compression socks. (Dessie said that he used to run without socks in the 70s, following the lead of his heros: "I thought socks showed weakness.")

I'll also wear a thermal long-sleeve top, with a vest on top in the early hours, a hat and gloves. In terms of shoes, with a course on hard-packed trails and roads, my New Balance REVlite 890s should do the trick.

I'll put a spare shirt, gloves, socks and pair of shoes in my drop bag, too. While there's only a 30 percent chance of rain, I'll waterproof the drop bag.

My iPod is coming too, with the same selection of music I used as in the 100km a year ago. I plan to save it for the last two laps.

We're all excited about racing the first edition of the Whistler 50 Relay and Ultra tomorrow.

A first for both Tim and Dessie in terms of distance, Dessie particularly liked one line in the Ultra Race Rules, another first in his nearly four decades of racing: "If the runner decides to drop out, it is MANDATORY that race management be informed of this decision, otherwise we will assume the runner is lost or eaten by a bear and will be searching for you."

November 03, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Day 2 & 3

In The Writer’s Book of Hope: Getting from Frustration to Publication, Ralph Keyes writes, …mastering the elements of style can’t produce the will to keep writing. The hardest part of being a writer is not getting your commas in the right place but getting your head in the right place... 

Once we have faced our fear and begun to write, we step up to the plateau of frustration. Fear followed by frustration is the essence of writerly despair.

My head doesn't seem to be in the right place at the moment. Struggle is the word that sums up the past two NaNoWriMo days for me. To stay on track for completing the 50,000-word goal this month, I need to write 1,667 words a day.

Yesterday I had a very tough time and ended Day 2 at a total of 3,307, so 27 words short. Today is even harder. I just cannot seem to get into the story. Now, at 4,585 words I still need another 400 to complete the goal for the day.

Tim reminded me that I had a hard time in the first week of NaNoWriMo last year. Perhaps, I don't recall. That month is a bit of a blur, what with a 100km race on top of the writing challenge. I just remember that I made it through both, and that those 50,000 words became a novel. Somehow it doesn't seem to make this one any easier.

In fact, it might even seem harder as I now have expectations that it will become another, and of course better, novel. Perhaps that vision explains my struggle, judgement before first draft kills productivity.

I don't want to finish the day short, as I am running another ultra on Saturday. With a 3:15am alarm, and returning only at night, I doubt I'll find the energy to create 1,667 words that day, which means I'll have to catch up the next.

I've been considering abandoning the current idea for Sub-3 Marathon and changing to a different one. But that means I'd have to write 5,000 words today to stay on track. I'm not sure if that's the way to go either. I've been combing unfinished pieces of writing hanging out on my hard drive to find inspiration to drive the idea I am struggling with forward.

Often all an endeavour needs is a change of mind, a Can-Do attitude. In Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life, Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander write that the notion of possibility is empowering and transformative if we choose to adopt it.

In the first chapter, titled It’s All Invented, they say:

The frames our minds create define – and confine – what we perceive to be possible. Every problem, every dilemma, every dead end we find ourselves facing in life, only appears unsolvable inside a particular frame or point of view. Enlarge the box, or create another frame around the data, and problems vanish, while new opportunities appear.

November 02, 2011

5-star review for From my Mother

for From my Mother
Today I received the first official review for my novel From my Mother, a 5-star rating by Readers Favorite. According to Readers Favorite, 5 (out of 5) stars means that "this is an excellent, very well written book."

Reviewer Brenda Ballard rated From my Mother's appearance, plot, development, formatting and marketability to form an overall opinion. She assigned 5 out of 5 stars to each of these elements, and wrote:

Over the duration of a 100 km marathon, Nadia reflects on the life of her Oma (grandma), the hardships her loved one endured and the impact it made on the way she lived.

Miles pass under Nadia's feet, her goal is merely to reach the finish line, not necessarily to win . . . for accomplishing the goal is a victory in her book. It allows her time to dwell on her family's history, dig deep into the root and the result, pull tidbits of clues and join them together to create a full picture of those things that had been so vague.

Oma is cranky, to say the least, at her age. She lives in an apartment in a senior complex, having moved from a house she rented for many years. Paranoia (probably from the trials she faced in her younger years) has set in heavily. The local police are on speed dial as she frequently lodges complaints against her son-in-law, who she feels is surely trying to get her out of the way so he can have her inheritance. Of course, this is not the case and those around her try to be patient and understanding.

Nadia's journey of 100km is one in which her physical strength is pushed but also her heart and mind.

It was not difficult to get wrapped up in this story, feeling the ups and downs both in the race and in Nadia's life. It brings to mind that, as stated in the book, our feet may be busy but our minds are still free. I loved that! I highly recommend this book to everyone, especially those who are into marathons and so on.

I wrote the first draft for From my Mother during National Novel Writing Month 2010. Read excerpts of the novel here.

November 01, 2011

Four days until a 50-miler

In four days I'll be starting my second 50-mile run, in Whistler. Tim and a friend from Australia, Dessie, are racing too, both making their debut at the distance. Neither are new to endurance sports, however, as both have finished multiple Ironmans and marathons.

Dessie also ran the Six Foot Track when it is was still 47km instead of the 45km it is now. He was on the startline with Mark Allen and Scott Tinley for the first Ironman in Australia, in Forster-Tuncurry, paying a whopping $37 (no, this is not a typo) for the privilege back in 1985.

The latest weather forecast for Saturday, race day, is a 40 percent chance of wet snow with temperatures between 0 and 4 degrees. The 6am start will be dark and chilly.

Since our Victoria Marathon 3-1/2 weeks ago, Tim and I have done three short easy runs including one with Dessie on the day of his arrival last Saturday. Yesterday the three of us trekked up the Chief, heading for the second peak to enjoy the spectacular views as the sun began setting, before we took the back route on the way down.

Amazingly it was the first time this year that Tim and I did the hike and I guess we forgot how long it takes. With our start a little past 4pm, we finished the final quarter or so in the dark about 2-1/2 hours later.

Dessie's Garmin had our pace per kilometre for 5-odd km at about 32 minutes:-).

We're all hoping to move a little faster on Saturday. The question is, How fast? I am hoping that 5:30 per km is a good pace to start, and would be stoked if I can hold that until the finish.

In the 100km a year ago, I reached 78.67km in 8hr 03, or a pace of 6:08 per km. So 5:30 (which would mean a 7hr 20 finish) might be aggressive for Saturday. But it doesn't hurt to try. Well, it will of course but you know what I mean...

NaNoWriMo: Day 1

The start of NaNoWriMo feels like a mammoth task. It's a bit like starting a marathon or an ultra without course markers; you can take any road just as long as you go the incredibly long, yet doable, distance of 50,000 words this month.

The IDEA now has to be worked on, translated from thoughts and notes into words that form a plot and character we care about. (I didn't outline the story.)

Waking up just before 6am, I got up 10 minutes later. With a pot of fresh coffee, I headed to my desk, checked my emails, facebook and a couple of other sites until I no longer had a virtual excuse to postpone beginning on NaNoWriMo.

It felt like a tough start. Suddenly, I felt completely not ready and unprepared. So many choices, too much freedom. Do I stick to the plan, my idea, or do something else?

I began second-guessing the story, only to realize how little I really knew about my characters and plot. Or, to be more specific, I questioned whether I even had either one. Words weren't coming easy, and hitting the recount button didn't make them flow any faster.

The good thing about NaNoWriMo is that you need to stay on track for the daily average word count. So I reminded myself that was the main thing I needed to focus on: quantity. I don't stop until I hit my daily average. It's the secret to NaNoWriMo's success because the freedom that comes with worrying about  quantity alone works in that it leads to output.

I typed, and typed some more, until I hit 1,668 words. 

For now, I discovered that the protagonist Robin has a daughter named Isa, who is recovering from breast cancer and convinced her to train for the Vancouver Marathon together. 

Robin's husband doesn't like change, which includes his wife suddenly becoming a distance runner.

Robin has two brothers, both All American baseball players, to the disappointment of their dad who had a chance of making the Olympic marathon team before a bout of polio ended that dream. He later recovered enough to run a 2:37 marathon at the age of 52.

Her dad never encouraged Robin to run as a teenager, not surprising, as the 1960s wasn't an era when women did. 

And with that, Day 1 is done. I wonder what Day 2 will bring.