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Sunday, May 19, 2013

The road to Marathon is paved with race shirts and bibs

Bluenose Marathon!

I really didn't want to use a sexual analogy for this, but it's just too tempting: today, I lost my half-marathon virginity. It hurt a little bit, but for the most part, I enjoyed it.

While I was running it I came up with the perfect race equation:

Good time + Good times = Good race

The line between pushing yourself (to get a finish time you're proud of) and enjoying yourself (isn't it one of the reasons we do this?) is a fine line, but when you find that sweet spot, you get a good race, both challenging AND pleasant. This is the kind of race I had today.

I appreciated it even more because of all the obstacles I've met during that journey to my first half-marathon.

It took me a long time to get to a half. On my way to that distance I accumulated numerous race shirts and bibs.

It started with a 5 K, 4 years ago. My first race ever. I had used the Couch to 5 K running program, which is perfect for a non-runner. It builds very gradually, and very conservatively. At first, you walk more than you run... and that's perfect!

When I ran that 5 K during the Bluenose weekend, I discovered a whole new world, the world of races! The energy of the crowd, the music, the supporters on the side of the road holding motivational signs and shouting words of encouragement... I loved it!

First 5 K

Slowly, I moved on to 10 K races. I was confident that I would make my way to half-marathons and eventually marathons, but that's when problems started arising: as soon as I ran more than 12 or 13 km, injuries of all sorts would appear. They confined me to a frustrating plateau. I shaved 5 minutes from my 10 K PB, then another 5 minutes, which put me under the 1-hour mark (not bad for an asthmatic!), but the mythical half still eluded me! I was growing more and more frustrated.

In the meantime, I had gotten in shape, and lost the remainder of my pregnancy weight, so it wasn't a failure per se, but I really wanted to run at least a half-marathon, at least once in my life!

It was only when I met the best physio in town (sorry! He's now moved out west!) and the best trainer in town (I can refer you to her if you want!) that I finally got out of the vicious circle of running injuries. With them, I worked hard, but the payoff was invaluable: I could now run distances that had always put my hips and knees out of order. The half-marathon was shining at the end of the tunnel!

A few months ago, a group of women from my neighborhood, all thirty-ish or forty-ish mothers of young children, decided to train for a half; I happily joined in! We created a group on Facebook (The Road Runners), and we shared a common training plan. Week after week we encouraged each other and shared our pains and successes.

Never underestimate support from your kids; they can be the best coach!
R talking to me before a 10 K

It's not easy to fit running into the busy schedule of a working mom, but we Road Runners did! We got up early, we faced the harsh Canadian weather, but we did not lose focus.

Not a small feat. It takes forever to get ready for a 5 am run in the Canadian winter:

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

My aunt M, who is not a runner, asked me, upon seeing this picture:
Are you on your way to rob a bank? 

I have to mention that most of the women in our group benefited for the unswerving support of a partner who never complained about their repeated absences, dedicatedly looking after the household so that we, the runners, could train with complete peace of mind!


This morning, I woke up naturally around 5:30 (the time K and I usually run), ready to get up and go, with this ubiquitous running song on my mind:

I knew I still had an hour before my planned wake up time, so I managed to get back to sleep. When I woke up again at 6:30, this other song was playing in my head:

I took it as good omen! I got dressed, had my oatmeal with raisins and pumpkin seeds (perfect pre-race meal in my experience!), packed everything I needed, and took a few minutes to roll my piriformis and IT band. Then K arrived to pick me up.

Interestingly enough, I wasn't even nervous (unusual to say the least!), and as the starting time approached, that did not change. I felt pretty calm and serene about my upcoming first half-marathon. Maybe the fact that I was slowly succumbing to hypothermia contributed to that apathy (it was really cold in Halifax this morning!) Just before we started running, K and I hugged each other, said "Good luck" (and "I love you" for good measure; after training together for months, I think we can safely say we love each other!)

The sun slowly came up and became warmer as we ran; the weather was almost perfect (there was a little bit of an annoying wind, but what do you expect when you run so close to the ocean!) I saw most of my friends from the Road Runners group at one point or another, which was very encouraging. (In the end most of us finished within 2 minutes of each other! Talk about group homogeneity!)

On such a long run you truly need some support. Especially toward the end, when your legs start to give, and the saying "Mind over matter" takes all its meaning. At one point I was literally talking to my feet! When there's no matter left, the mind has to take over completely. A few high-fives (especially when given by children) and inspiring signs definitely made a difference!

My favorite signs were obviously the ones D had made with the kids, and that they held at kilometer 10, then 20:

"No cape, still a superhero" and "My arms are tired"

I saw other daddies and kiddies that I know (my running friend's), and I got a little emotional over the fact that those wonderful supporters have enabled us, the women, to give ourselves the gift of fitness and pride, and to become by the same token an example for the children.

(I also had my emotional moment witnessing a grandfather and his grandson running the kid's race - 4.2 km - together yesterday; the boy had a t-shirt that said: "You're never too young to exercise. Look! My grandpa is running with me")

I can only reiterate: running is NOT a lonely activity!

The other signs I particularly liked, and that came with perfect timing, toward the end of the race when I basically wanted to sit down and cry (okay, it wasn't that bad) were the following:

"You can do it! Trust your training"

"In 4 km the water changes into wine"

And of course the 3 most beautiful words in the world:

"No more hills"

Speaking of good timing, the song that started playing on my iPod about 500 m from the finish line was this one:

The first person I saw after crossing the finish line was my dear friend K. We hugged again, and said "I love you" again. (This time I blame the runners' high!)

I think this running tale goes to show that even if you're out of shape, busy, and/or a mother, there's always hope. You can become fit and strong. You can get your body to work for you instead of against you. Your body can do things you never dreamed possible! I hope this post inspires you to challenge yourself and become healthy. I hope you feel that you are worth embracing the Olympics spirit: citius, altius, fortius: faster, higher, stronger.

The feeling is indescribable!

Any athletic challenges and successes and goals you want to share with us today?


  1. Awesome tale of the road to your 1/2. I am so proud of you! And I love the inspirational signs you saw today - the superhero/no cape one is perfect! Love the pic of the girls with their bluenoses and medals!

  2. Nice! And great work today! My favourite sign was "Run faster, the Kenyans are drinking all the beer".

    1. That's a good one, T! BTW I saw your time... you must have been close behind the Kenyans! Awesome job!

  3. Wow, so inspiring!!!! Love all the pics and thanks so much for sharing... some of us are probably not gonna get around to training for a half ourselves and appreciate the vicarious triumph!

    1. The specific distance (or sport, for that matter) does not matter so much as challenging ourselves in a way that is optimal for each of us individually.

      Don't forget that I used to be out of breath after a minute of running. :-)

      Thank you for your comment Crabby! You have a very inspiring blog too! :-)

  4. Glad you had a great time, warrior girl!!

    I looked a lot like you when I ran in the northeast US winters at 4 to 6 in the morning!

    The colder, the fewer, lol!

    1. It feels like an even bigger accomplishment when you know you're among the - crazy - minority who does it. E.g. going for a run in the dark by minus 20 Celsius.

      And I like the taste of adventure. :-)

  5. J'ai si hâte de recommencer à courir... tu me redonnes le goût des courses!!! Et voici une affiche que j'ai trouvé si inspirante lors de mon premier marathon, je t'en souhaite une du genre pour ton premier qui viendra, bien certainement, très bientôt... "dig deep"! À 34 km, ça fesse. On prend une gorgée d'eau, on oublie les jambes qui tremblent et les cuisses qui chauffent, puis on se remet à courir avec ça en tête! Bisous mon amie coureuse, câline que j'ai hâte de courir avec toi!!!

    1. Ah, Annik, tu me donnes juste le goût de te dire JE T'AIME! Je dois encore être sur mon runner's high! hahaha!

      Oui, j'ai le goût d'un marathon, mais je me demande bien si mes jambes suivraient! J'ai trouvé les 2 derniers kilomètres difficiles, et c'était juste un demi! J'imagine qu'avec un entraînement adéquat...

      Je pensais justement à toi, qui fus mon inspiration il y a quelques années... on se passe le flambeau on dirait! :-)

      Faudrait qu'on en coure un ensemble!

  6. Wow - what an amazing accomplishment. I'm so proud of you and love that your kids are right there cheering you on. What a great example you are setting for them in the years to come.

    1. Thank you Diane! It feels wonderful to set a goal and attain it, doesn't it? :-) I know you know what I'm talking about!