November 15, 2012

Never too late to discover you are a runner

Photo by Kangsoon Park
In May I wrote about a stranger who took this picture of me during the 2012 Vancouver Marathon at about 28K and then was so kind to track me down via email to send it to me.

He also told me he was not a runner; he had struggled to cover 9K the other day. "Anyway I love taking photos of people running and the determination of the runners is very inspiring, especially the ones who run the full marathon."  

I really appreciated his effort and, hoping to encourage him in his own running, sent him an email and a copy of my book A Hundred Reasons to Run 100km (you can read the full emails here.)

He responded a couple of days later saying he had just registered for his first running race ever, a 10K the following month. I asked him to keep me posted.

Six weeks later, on June 17, he emailed me:

As I told you earlier and thanks to you, I ran my first 10K race last Friday. It was a bit weird to run in the evening (especially after a rather long week at work); I was a bit worried though I had run 11k in the previous weekend to earn some confidence.

The run was great and surprisingly I made it in 51 minutes! I managed to keep my pace steady and didn't feel exhausted after the run.  Thank you very much for the inspiration!

I have no plans for [races] any time soon but I set my goal to run a half next year.

A fantastic result indeed, and I was thrilled for him. Just recently, I received another email from him, with even more exciting news:  

As today is my 43rd birthday, I was thinking of the past year of my life and realized that running was the most exciting achievement.

Thanks to you, I started to run and joined races.

This summer I ran another 10k -- with a bit over 47 minutes but my biggest achievement came at the end of last month [September] in Surrey. I did my first half marathon (with a proud speed of 1 hour 43 minutes 27 seconds) and most of all I enjoyed the run.

I am going to sign up for two half-marathon races next year and see how it goes.

Anyway thank you very much for inspiring me to run.

Congratulations Kangsoon -- a 1:43 half marathon is an accomplishment every runner would be very proud of, and to run that in your first one is even more impressive!

I am not interested in trying to convince people who do not want to run that they should; but when someone does show an interest and appears to be looking for a little encouragement, it never ceases to amaze me what novice runners (even those who would not yet dare to call themselves a runner) find they can do. 

You are inspiring Kangsoon, and I wish you an even more exciting 2013 season.

November 05, 2012

Kickstarting swim, bike for Ironman Whistler

Runners all ages, shapes and sizes pass by my window daily. Some have chosen company, others opted for solitude or a rhythmic technological companion. I watch them, scanning their faces and body language for signs of the rapture I am missing so much, and wonder when, if, I'll be able to join them again.

This Tuesday I am getting an MRI at St Paul's hospital in Vancouver, a request made by my GP eight weeks earlier. However, the physician I saw at the go-to sports medicine clinic in Vancouver told me two weeks ago he doesn't expect the MRI to show anything to help explain my injury. Both good and bad news, if he's proven right.

For now, I don't expect to run again this year. In October I ran once, in September four times (all therapist prescribed) -- short easy jogs, interrupted by walks, and all ending with the same conclusion: whatever my problem, it certainly hasn't been solved.

Mentally managing the uncertainty of a long layoff from running -- my first in the 17-year-long lifespan I have as a runner -- and the worry that I might never be able to run again, let alone train for a Sub-3 marathon, has become the priority.

Self-awareness plays a key role. I know what motivates me just as I recognize what typically causes me to procrastinate. There's no rocket science to it; I simply need a goal that excites me, something I can sink my teeth into, something that scares me a little (or a lot). It's usually something that requires commitment and immediate, but manageable, action.

Intuition is another important ingredient. Several of the books I've read recently cite research by Dr Candace Pert which proved the scientific truth behind the saying, "Go with your gut."

"The work of Pert and her colleagues showed that a variety of proteins known as peptides (including endorphins) were among the body's key 'information substances'—and each of them could affect our mind, our emotions, our immune system, our digestion and other bodily functions simultaneously,'' according Paul Trachtman's review of Pert's book Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine (1999) for Smithsonian magazine.    

Having read about the science behind the value of 'hunches' helped me trust my intuition to sign up for Ironman Whistler last month, even though I had thusfar felt completely unmotivated to swim or ride as cross training, as was recommended to me.

Indeed, it helped me trust my intuition to sign up for my first Ironman since finishing Ironman New Zealand in March 2005, because I had thusfar felt completely unmotivated to swim or ride as cross training. I hoped that committing, at least financially, to this big scary goal would give me a reason, a positive reason, to return to swimming and cycling; I'd swim and cycle to get ready for Ironman, rather than only because I cannot run. Big mental difference.

I knew that riding on the windtrainer, as I will be doing until Spring next year, will simply be a matter of doing it, taking the time to slowly build that bike fitness from scratch. That also means I have plenty of time to search for a strategy that will help me overcome my fear of riding downhill; being able to train on the Ironman Whistler course regularly should help.

Returning to the pool was a different matter altogether. While I have a decent breast stroke, I had to learn freestyle when I started doing triathlons and it was a long hard slog.

In my first Ironman in Forster-Tuncurry, Australia, in 2002, I swam 1:19:27. The following year, I came out of the water in 1:17:16, before swimming 1:20:20 in 2004, though that year wetsuits weren't allowed because the water exceeded 24 degrees C.

Several months after completing my third Ironman Australia in April 2004, I did Ironman Frankfurt. The swim was awful; I finished it in 1:18:55. The next goal was Ironman New Zealand in March 2005, and I worked very hard on my swimming with plenty of drills, which finally paid off with a big PB swim of 1:13:35 in Taupo. That's also when I stopped swimming, as I opted to focus on running instead.

Two weeks ago I did my first swim training since March 2005, and was very relieved to find that I could at least cover the 25 metres of one length of the Squamish pool. I even sort of enjoyed it. Triathlete Tim had given me a workout that only included 25s, and those felt manageable.

I have swum five times now, and the last two workouts prescribed by Tim added up to 1.3K each and included two 100s. There's a long way to go before I'll be ready to swim 3.8K but it's a good start. I want to get a few more swims in this week as unfortunately our pool will close for six weeks as of Nov 12 for annual maintenance.

Luka is cheering me on ... I think
I have spun on my bike 10 times in the last 2-1/2 weeks, beginning with easy 30-minute rides to ease into reconnecting with my inner cyclist again. I am enjoying it, and today I did my longest spin yet at 60 minutes. I know that the hardest work ahead of me on the bike is the mental challenge to ride on the hilly course, but that won't happen until  winter gives way to spring.   
To help build upper body strength, and leg strength too, Tim and I have started going to a local gym where we're following a routine we've done before from Start to Finish Ironman Training: 24 Weeks to an Endurance Triathlon by Paul Huddle, Roch Frey, and TJ Murphy.

As I have slowly started the preparations for a return to Ironman, I thankfully no longer wake up in the middle of the night with a brick in my stomach wondering what on Earth I have gotten myself into, as I did the first couple of nights following my entry. It also helped that Tim, a 10-time Ironman finisher with a 10:09 PB and a Kona finish, told me he still feels scared signing up for the next one.

By now, I am excited about the training ahead. I have a positive reason to exercise, which I love and need, as I seek the answer to my running injury. Perhaps I have already found it.