March 25, 2013

Return to running, an update

It seems that I have graduated from the initial ease-back-into-running program. On Sunday, I ran four minutes, followed by a 60-second walk break, and repeated this another three times for a total of 20 minutes.

My heel/ankle has not protested so far so I am now progressing to the next stage of my return from injury. Tomorrow I will start this program, by Pete Pfitzinger, which -- if all goes well -- will have me running half an hour in three weeks. That would be amazing!

Despite my body's cooperation and a positive attitude, I am still running scared too, worried that the pain in my heel might return as the distance slowly increases.

I am determined to keep taking it easy; my first run after a complete 4-month layoff from running consisted of just 30 seconds. I have taken seven weeks to build up from 30 seconds to 4 minutes.

Bikram yoga remains a fundamental part of my new training regimen; last week I practiced four times, bring the total number of classes I have taken in the past three months to 43. (I would have gone more often had it not been for a few small mishaps, including a cold, bruised knees from a fall, followed by badly chafed hips from a 3-hour ride on the Computrainer).

I also finally invested in a proper outfit for hot yoga, which makes an amazing difference from running tops and shorts. I opted for a pair of dark blue Tonic shorts and a racer bra top by Onzie (Tie Dye), both offered at the studio so easy shopping.

Each class provides another stretch of hard-won and much-needed flexibility. Many of the teachers' cues remind me, indeed make me more aware, of the frame of mind as a runner.

Most importantly now, I focus on this one: "You are exactly where you need to be."


On Saturday afternoon, the Chief's Third Peak was the perfect place to be.
Luka & I are exactly where we need to be

Drew, Luka & Tim

March 21, 2013

Vanessa Fulfils Sub-3 Marathon Dream

Follow Vanessa on Twitter
A little less than a year ago, Vanessa Gosselink was preparing for the Utrecht marathon in the Netherlands where her goal was to finish before the clock reached 3:00:00.

In October 2011, she had targeted Sub-3 at the Amsterdam marathon, but had to settle for 3:02:42, a stellar time that was not only a personal best but also fast enough to earn her the Dutch national masters championship.

Utrecht proved a disaster—rain, wind, and a wrong turn resulted in a 3:07:50 finish instead. It was a sharp time given the circumstances, but not at all what she had in mind.

Vanessa, a former pro cyclist, originally began running to recover from a leg fracture that ended her Olympic dreams. As a road cyclist, she had made the Dutch national team in 1988 and earned two stage wins in the Tour de France Feminin.

After missing out on a spot for the 1992 Olympic team, Gosselink swapped her road bike for a mountain one and excelled once again; she earned three Dutch national titles, two Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg) championships, and was ranked in the world's Top-10 for three years, from 1993 until 1996.

She was selected for the Dutch mountain bike team heading for the 1996 Olympic Games but it wasn't meant to be. A broken leg three weeks before the Games shattered that dream (read more here). Once recovered, however, she found solace and joy in running. And a fresh goal.

By 2009 she ran her first marathon in 3:47, finishing a second one six weeks later in 3:31. She knew she could go faster, and proved that by running a 3:08 and then a 3:06 in 2010. The following year, she went faster again, crossing the line in 3:05, before speeding up to 3:02:42.

Utrecht, held in April 2012, was the first marathon where she did not improve her time. She realized weather, organization, and plain bad luck had played a key role in that result. Still, doubt is never far away.

But the confidence she was capable of Sub-3 won out.

Six months later, she proved herself right when she smashed her personal best by a whopping eight minutes, flying across the Amsterdam marathon finish line in 2:54:09.

Another two months later she improved her half marathon time to 82:48, speeding up from her previous PB of 86:41.

To top it off, she ran the Apeldoorn marathon in February 2013, finishing in 2:53:57.

To what do you credit the breakthrough successes you have experienced in the past six months?
First of all, I have not been injured (knock wood), so I have been training consistently, day in and out, just taking a break once a week (mostly Saturday) and an easy run on the Mondays. I think this is the most important factor.

Second, I started to do some short-interval training seriously on the road, where every 100 meter is marked, which makes it easy to do short intervals. For example, 3 sets of 3x300metre and 1x 400metre at 100 percent. Really hard, but very effective.

Third, I lost some weight… I am not big in the first place, but losing some muscles in my upper body and thereby another 2-3 kilograms makes me just that little lighter. So all energy and oxygen can flow into my legs, and no "useless muscles" in my upper body are using any of the precious energy during the race.

Though I must admit that I have gained them again after the last marathon, because my body just needs a break. Getting into my next goal, I will have to cut back again on all the delightful chocolate.

Which result are you most proud of, or have you enjoyed most, and why?
The marathon in Apeldoorn was a big surprise. A hilly course and I never expected to run a personal best and almost winning the race. Finishing second feels great. And in the last 10K I made up almost 2 minutes, racing the last kilometers in 3:44, 3:52 and 3:48. I continuously felt like running in the flow….but maybe the memory is most fresh and therefore mentioned here.

Did you change your training since Utrecht?
Yes, I started doing more short intervals, continued running 6 times per week.

How did and do you silence your doubts, in training and racing?
I do have doubts of course, like everybody else. Not so often in training, because I just love to run. But whenever I am about to start a hard workout and motivation is lacking, I think about the last race where I had that ‘perfect feeling’ and try to get back into that flow. And make myself remember that I will only improve when training is hard and you keep pushing beyond the comfort zone.

And when race day comes, especially when it is my big goal, like a marathon or half marathon, I know that I should feel a little stiff and ‘not so good’. I have learned that feeling that way is a good sign for me—it means that my body is fully loaded with energy, and that it is just a little lack of endorphin that is making me feel that way….

What, in your opinion, were the key sessions that helped you improve over the marathon distance?
Short intervals as earlier mentioned and pyramid training at 95 percent, e.g. 4/5/6/5/4 minutes at (almost) full speed. Recovery is jogging half the time of the interval in between. It makes my technique better and forces me to be very relaxed in the upper body in order to be able to fulfill the training.

In addition, I build up the amount of running at marathon speed, starting with 40 minutes about 2 months before the marathon and finally running 70 minutes at marathon speed once a week. This makes my body get used to that speed, so that when running that pace in the marathon it feels good, familiar.

And are those the same that helped you speed up your half marathon time?
Yes, I do think so!

Did you change anything in your marathon race-day strategy that helped you go faster?
My race day preparation is the same.
In the week before the race, I keep running 6 times a week, but do short sessions, where I used to run only 3 times. I feel that I do need some tension in my body to feel good.

And what about your half marathon race-strategy?
Exactly the same!

Have you noticed a change in your mental approach to training and/or racing? If so, did you consciously seek or work on those changes?
I am just a little more confident right now. And after running a Sub-3, the pressure is off. I have reached my goal, and though I would love to improve even more, I am very, very satisfied with my current PB and just love to run and hope that I can keep doing it for a long, long time!

What are the most important lessons you have learned in the past year:
-    in training
Listening to my body is extremely important. Always feel how your body is recovering, and if I do not have the motivation to do a training session on a certain day, because I feel tired, then I know I have to give myself a break and adjust my training.

-    in tapering
Take a 2-week taper period and taper once in training a few weeks before the race. So build a mini-tapering period into a preparation race. This will tell you how good you feel. Then a 3- week training period, 1 week ‘rest’, 1 week preparation into the race, and….a PB might follow!

-    in racing
Never take off too fast! Let all the others go, take your time to get into your rhythm and speed up in the second half of the race.

-    in recovery
The hardest part for me….after a marathon, I always promise myself to take it easy, but always end up running on a daily basis. No training, just run-by-heart and do whatever I like. Not running feels like not breathing. Though I know it is good to take a break, I never succeed in doing so.

What is your key advice to other runners gunning for the Sub-3 marathon?
See all the above! And start running on a personal schedule, do not follow other runners blindly. A standard schedule is a schedule that will fit nobody; it’s in the name already!

Buy lightweight shoes, lose some more fat (if you have too much), lose some upper-body muscles and go for it. And always remember to just have fun training!

Now that you have more than accomplished your goals, what are the new ones? Are you setting your sights on Sub-2:50, Sub- 2:45 for the marathon and Sub-80 for the half? How fast do you believe you can go?
Tough question….I might crawl a little further to 2:50, but think that will be absolutely the maximum. My stride is pretty short, so I will have to move up the rate. It would be nice to hit a 2:49:59, but I honestly think that this will be a little too ambitious for me.

Which races do you have planned for 2013?
This weekend a 10-mile race [she ran 1:0:39, finishing first female], and I might run a small marathon just for fun in May.

I will seriously build up again into the Eindhoven marathon in October, which is also the Dutch Championships, and hope to improve myself again.

I would also like to run a very low 38 on the 10K, probably in the next few weeks somewhere. In order to become a little faster again.

Anything else I should be asking you?
The most important thing of all: enjoy every mile that you are running!!

(Read the 2012 Q&A about Vanessa's marathon training here)

March 13, 2013

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Reviews

I had entered my novel, From my Mother, into the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and made it into the second round in which 2,000 out of a total 10,000 entries over five fiction categories were chosen based on the pitch for the manuscript. Mine was entered into General Fiction.

While my manuscript did not advance to the next round, the quarter finals for which 500 out of those 2,000 were selected based on an excerpt consisting of the first 5,000 words, I did receive the Amazon reviewers' feedback.

Here's what they (names are not disclosed) said:   

ABNA Expert Reviewer 1

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?
You somehow made me care about running which is something I have NO interest in. I liked the way you worked in bits and pieces from the past both the past of the grandmother and for Nadia.

What aspect needs the most work?
I wasn’t really taken with the pitch. If that’s all I’d had to read I’m not sure if it would prompt me to read the excerpt or book. It was by no means terrible just a bit lackluster. The thing that caught my attention the most is the mention of WWII Europe. This will sound to minute but your use of the word ‘lore’ piqued my interest especially in referring to this family. It made me want to settle in for a good story.

I was a little confused about where Nadia lived. At first I assumed because of where she was racing that she lived in Canada but later it seemed she lived in Australia.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?
As I said the story was doled out nicely. I loved being inside Nadia’s head while she worked on her here and now race and her family’s legacy and how that impacts her and better yet what the mystery is and what that will mean. You build great word pictures of both these women. Oma hiding from the Nazi’s is suspenseful and scary. I just knew nothing good would come from that. I loved her stubbornness and how it’s reflected in her granddaughter. The illustrative story of Christmas in the church and the contest of wills for winning the prized pew seat told volumes about Oma’s character and world outlook. She was not going to be taken advantage of again!

All the while I read many questions came to me. Did the Nazi kill or take the child, rape grandma and the child she had was Nadia’s true mother? Was this why she seemed estranged from her daughter and her son in law? Why is Nadia so obsessed with running? What is she trying to get away from or to?

I know you’re writing general fiction but you’ve built a wonderful level of suspense into this excerpt!

The use of WWII seems very timely since so much is being written about it today. Personally I can’t get enough of fiction and nonfiction about that era and hope the personal stories and the re-analysis continue your book included.

ABNA Expert Reviewer 2

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?
What a very haunting, and engaging beginning to this excerpt. We learn a lot about Nadia’s character by the way she approaches her running. The scene of the race is so well-written that I feel as though I am right there with Nadia. Oma is a feisty and endearing character; the scene of her pushing the other woman out of her seat in church is hilarious. Oma’s history is fascinating, and her relationship with Nadia is appealing and sweet. The rich history of the family, and the hint that there are many parts of the family story that Nadia does not yet know, generate strong engagement in the story.

What aspect needs the most work?
While the portions about running are interesting, they may be a bit lengthy and technical so early in the excerpt, and risk some readers, particularly those who may not be interested in running, becoming disengaged.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?
This excerpt captivated me from the start with compelling, well-developed characters and a rich tapestry of family history. The focus on the more technical aspects of running may have been a little overdone for so early in the story, and could risk losing the interest of readers who are not interested in the sport; more early focus on the relationship between Nadia and Oma may help to prevent this from becoming a risk. Overall, however, this was very compelling, and something I would like to read more of.

March 11, 2013

Returning to run training after injury

After a four-month complete layoff from running -- which followed more than three months of drastically reduced run training -- I am now slowly easing back into running.

I began by power-walking five weeks ago; if my body, or more specifically my right heel, could not deal with that, it certainly would not be ready to run either.

My injury has been a persistent and mysterious one that has not responded to various types of treatment (ART, IMS, massage) and did not show up on an MRI either. The roller coaster of hope and disappointment has made me extremely cautious; yet the only way to find out if I can run again is by running.

If the injury, resulting in pain in my right heel has not healed by now, after eight months, I need to know. In the past five months, I have taken charge of my own body again by revamping my diet, adding Bikram yoga, as well as bike and swim training. And of course a complete break from running.

By December I was able to walk again without pain. Easy daily walks with the dog, initially flat for about 30 minutes, later moving to the undulating local trails for up to an hour. By then I could also do some simple strengthening exercises like calf raises.

By the third week of January I introduced power walks to my routine, beginning with 45 minutes and increasing them to an hour. I felt comfortable enough to try the steep hike up, and down, the Chief by February 1. As the pain stayed away, I began a very easy walk-run routine on February 3.

It consists of a 20-minute workout with four stretches of running, interspersed with walking. It begins with four and a half minutes of walking, followed by 30 seconds of running, repeated another three times. I don't know anything about the source, but I liked the low-key approach and am using it to build up to running five minutes.

When I can do that, I plan to follow this seven-week returning-from-injury program by running coach Pete Pfitzinger; I am a big fan of his approach to training though his book Advanced Marathoning.

A couple of setbacks have slowed progress but I am ready to run 3-minute stretches tomorrow. So far so good, though the proof will be in the pudding; will the pain stay away?

Yesterday I did my second workout with 2 1/2-minute stretches of running -- it is amazing how long such a short run feels right now, after I thought nothing of going for a mid-week 24K run not that long ago. But I am certainly not complaining -- any running is bliss, and I am loving each second.

As the teachers at Bikram yoga remind me each practice, "You are exactly where you need to be."  

March 06, 2013

Running into roadblocks

Everything happens for a reason. If it is meant to be, it is meant to be. What goes around, comes around.

These often-heard lines portray the human desire to make sense of life, to see purpose and meaning behind what might also be seen as a series of random events that happen to each one of us, to create a moral compass for our conduct especially in the way we treat others, and to instill an awareness that our actions have consequences.

Image by Sorca
Yesterday morning was a nice one as Luka and I set off on our walk. I opted to head to the start of our street, passing the site where the new neighbourhood of Crumpit Woods is being built, and then veer left onto a trail that splits and offers several options.

A favourite, Summer's Eve, is closed because of the construction which at this stage includes regular blasting of the underlying rock.

Instead, we headed over to The Graduate, a relatively new trail that slowly winds its way toward the Three Virgins, before connecting to the part of Seven Stitches that remains open for now. It was quiet and we had the trails to ourselves.

Enjoying the immersion into lush rainforest, I was also lost in thoughts, pondering the application to a writing program, while Luka was entertained by the ball I had brought for him. 


Both my knees hit hard rock embedded in the trail. The pain was instant and severe, one knee of the Levi's jeans I have owned for less than three months ripped on impact. Sitting dazed on all fours, I couldn't help myself and started wailing, out of agony but especially frustration.

What the hell?!

I was still recovering from the flu -- my first in a long, long time -- that had knocked me flat for the past five days; no Computrainer on Thursday, no swim on Friday morning or no Bikram on Friday evening, no long ride on Saturday morning or yoga on Saturday afternoon, no power walk with short stretches of running on Sunday. I also had to forget about the swim on Monday evening and the once-a-month flip-turn training on Tuesday morning. I even had to miss daily doggy walks.

And now I could also clearly forget about my plan for Bikram yoga on Tuesday evening.

It has been only four weeks since I stubbed the middle toe of my right foot so hard against the metal leg of my wind trainer that I went to the hospital to rule out a fracture with an X-ray; earlier that day I had successfully tried running 30-second stretches after a four-month complete layoff.

The last thing I needed were a pair of scraped and bruised knees, demanding another interruption of training and more patience. Grateful that at least the fall hadn't seemed to cause anything worse, that my jeans were the only thing torn when my left shoe got stuck under a root in the trail, I wondered about the meaning, the purpose of these ongoing interruptions to my training.

Am I being tested? And if so, why and for what? Or are these just random events that happen to occur in a relatively short space of time to the same person? Is it a reminder to live more in the moment, do I need to pay more attention, am I trying too hard to do too many things? Or is it just an unfortunate accident, something that simply happened?

After the past eight months of dealing with an injury that has been slow to heal -- and I still don't know for sure that it has -- I notice my tolerance for additional pain and misfortune is low. The aggravation by yet another little mishap that keeps me from the training routine I have only recently found again may seem out of proportion but I have been walking on athletic eggshells for a long time.

I just want to train. I am not even asking to run right now, though I was thrilled to run four 2-minute stretches last Wednesday; swimming, cycling and practicing yoga have made me a very content athlete over the past three months. I love being active. I need to be active.

"Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward," read a quote by Vernon Law I found in an article in my inbox this morning.

The lesson, for now, is to get up again, brush myself off and keep moving. Be grateful. My knees feel much better this morning; I have hurt them worse in previous face plants which, come to think of it, hadn't happened in nearly two years.

My flu is almost gone, but I'll skip tonight's swim training to be safe. I should be OK for a doggy walk later today, though I might avoid Seven Stitches for now. The sun is shining.