What I learned from my fourth half-marathon

I guess these are a tradition now (although I never wrote one for the Wellington half-marathon, my third last year) and now that I’m just a few months out from running my first full marathon I think it’s even more important for me to take a look at my race and think about what I learned.

Yesterday I ran the half-marathon event at Run Melbourne in 1:54:21, beating my previous personal best by over two minutes. Apart from a shiny medal and tired quads, here’s what I took away from it:

EAiZNiaUwAA1iZF.jpg

Continue reading “What I learned from my fourth half-marathon”

Six Months to Marathon

When I finished my first half-marathon, I thought “I’ll definitely do that again, but I’ll probably never run more than a half.” When I ran my second, I thought, “I could probably tack on a few more kms, but I’ll probably never run a full marathon.” After the third, when I had finally reached my sub-two-hour half-marathon goal (1:56:42), I found myself immediately thinking ahead to the next goal. But this time my goal isn’t just time (although I’m hoping to run <1:55 in my next half-marathon in a few months), but distance. I finally felt ready to take the plunge and sign up for a full marathon.

The first thing I had to decide was: which one? My first, obvious thought was the Melbourne marathon in October, as I knew that we would be moving over here after our time in Wellington had finished. However, we originally weren’t certain that we were going to stay in Australia for a full year, and I didn’t want to train for a marathon and then not run it (barring circumstances like injury that could obviously crop up wherever I am).

I started looking at the Gold Coast marathon in July, hearing that it was a flat course and figuring that the dead of winter would hopefully cool things down. After moving to Australia I quickly reassessed; the heat and humidity of summer in Melbourne has both made it very hard to run much, meaning I’d be very behind on my training if I was to run a marathon three months from now, and it showed me that I have no interest in going up to the notoriously-humid Gold Coast for a race. Luckily, by this point we had decided that we were going to see out our year in Australia, so Melbourne was back on the table.

The Melbourne marathon is on Sunday, 13 October, exactly six months from now, and I officially registered last night. I’ve decided to use a Hal Higdon plan based on the recommendation of… pretty much everybody, and I’m going with the Novice 2 plan because I want to push myself a little (I’ll drop back to the Novice 1 plan if needed but looking at the prerequisites I think I should be okay. It will be slightly modified as the plan has you running a half-marathon at the end of the ninth week and I am going to do Run Melbourne’s half-marathon event on 28 July, which is only seven weeks in, but for the most part I’m aiming to stick to the plan as closely as possible. It’s definitely going to be tough to stick to in points—namely just two weeks before the race, when we’re planning to be in Japan for the Rugby World Cup—but I’ll make the time to run and will luckily be tapering then anyway.

The plan runs for 18 weeks up until the marathon which means that I won’t actually be starting it officially until the second week of June, but in the meantime I’m taking advantage of the cooler weather (finally) and building mileage, strength, and endurance by running as much as I can in preparation. Running a full marathon six months from today is going to be the biggest fitness goal I have ever, and maybe will ever, achieve, and I’m planning to do it right. I’ll check in with updates on my training and progress as I go, for support and accountability, and on 13 October I’ll see you at the far side of 26.2.

Follow me on Strava if you want to keep up with my training!

What I learned from my Second Half-Marathon

About a year and a half ago I ran my first half-marathon. Then I all but stopped running. It’s not that I don’t enjoy running, because I obviously do or I wouldn’t have run a half to begin with, but first I was taking a break after all that training; then the weather was too hot; then too cold; then we were living in a van. Next thing I knew it was a year and a half later and I hadn’t run in ages. When I moved to Wellington I decided to sign up for the Round the Bays half, convinced Steve to do the same, and started running again. I learned a lot from the Vancouver Half-Marathon, my first-ever race, but I still picked up a few new insights this time around.

IMG_7028
Before the race and ready to run!

The first thing I learned is that in some ways, it is like that old adage about riding a bicycle. Obviously you’re not going to jump back into running after not training for ages and immediately be able to run that whole 13.1mi/21.1km, but running a race requires mental training as well as physical. Before training for my first half-marathon I had never run 13.1 miles before. The longest run I could find in my Runkeeper records was 10 miles, way back in 2012. Usually I topped out around 5 or 6.

Training for my second half-marathon was different because I knew I could finish it. I had a good suspicion that I could back in Vancouver, but for this one I already knew because I had done it before. Getting over that mental hurdle (running pun, ha ha) made it much easier to jump into training and push myself toward that 13.1 mile goal.

While the first thing I learned came at the very start of my training for Round the Bays, the second arrived at the very end, as I crossed the finish line. I ran my first half-marathon in 2:08:12. That time around, I didn’t have a goal time because I had no benchmark for how fast I was and I just wanted to finish. This race, my goal was to finish in two hours or less. And… I didn’t. According to the official race results, my final time was 2:00:42. Just 42 seconds longer than my goal: close, but not quite there.

IMG_7036
After the race and ready to sit!

I’m a perfectionist, and I hate not meeting my own expectations. There are a lot of excuses that can be made– a serious head wind for most of the course, a rumour that the track is just a bit longer than a half-marathon (and the GPS on my phone would seem to back that up)–but at the end of the day, I just didn’t quite get there. Usually I’m pretty hard on myself when I “fail” at something, so I expected to feel disappointed that I didn’t achieve my goal.

Instead I felt proud and excited. I cut seven-and-a-half minutes off my previous time, with half as much training as I did for the last race. I also felt energized–after my last half-marathon I felt like there was no way I could see myself running a full marathon in the future. Now? It seems like a definite possibility (with a good bit more training first, of course). I’m happy to celebrate my victories instead of dwelling on my “failure,” and now I have a goal to work toward in my next half.

My main goal is to not stop running for over a year like I did after the Vancouver half. I’m enjoying a week off from running this week to rest and recharge, but I’m looking forward to getting back to it next week and breaking that sub-2 hour barrier in my next race for sure! And maybe then I’ll be ready to turn 13.1 into 26.2! Or not, but I’ll be glad to succeed or fail at whatever comes next.

IMG_7038
My unofficial race results—ready to do even better next time!

The Joy of Small Progress

One of the most important things I’ve learned since starting a regular yoga practice about a year and a half ago is the power of small movements. It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of or desire for the most intense and difficult postures—sinking a millimetre deeper in pigeon pose or your heels a nearly imperceptible amount closer to the floor in downward dog just don’t bring the same adrenaline rush that dropping back into wheel pose or managing your first headstand. Social media does not always help either. The “simple” poses just aren’t as sexy as inversions, backbends, and splits. But they’re equally important, and it’s equally important to notice and acknowledge our progress, however small, in whatever we do, and to recognise that there are different types of progress which are all worthwhile. 

Many people have discussed the negative effects of social media on yoga, and I definitely agree with many of those critiques. I am beyond tired of Instagram yogis preaching truthfulness and honesty then making undisclosed sponsorship posts an hour later. But I love social media’s other impacts on yoga—finding inspiration from more advanced practitioners, participating in “yoga challenges,” and learning tips from teachers around the world. Still, I think one thing that’s sometimes lost, not only on the internet but also in my and probably many folks’ personal practice is the way small progress can enrich your routine. There’s a reason, after all, that yoga is called a “practice.”  

IMG_5715
One of the first times I ever tried wheel pose, a difficult one for me due to a ganglion cyst on my wrist.

In every aspect of life, I am a big fan of setting small, achievable milestone goals on the way to a larger goal. Yoga-wise, one of my New Years resolutions for 2017 was to get my splits; I didn’t achieve that, not even close. I’m not disappointed, but I realise that what I should have done is set smaller goals to work on, from one to another. From X to Y degrees (with Y obviously not being near 180 yet), for example. Reaching these small goals would be a good way to motivate myself to stay on track.

Continue reading “The Joy of Small Progress”

Finding What Feels Good or: How I Learned to Stop Fidgeting and Love Yoga

When I was a kid, I found a yoga VHS in the house and gave it a few goes before I got bored of holding a single pose for five minutes. I’m fidgety now—I can only imagine it felt like an eternity of stillness back then. When I was a teenager, I had a set of “yoga cards,” cardboard squares with yoga poses and mantras that were, I suppose, designed to guide your practice. I carried them through several moves, always intending to use them and never quite getting around to it. When I was in college, I took a yoga class. It was at 8 or 9pm on a Sunday, which wasn’t the optimal time for a college student to feel motivated to do anything but lie in bed and watch reruns of The Office. I tried a few more times here and there, but always ended up writing off yoga as one just not for me.

yoga-pose-card-3
I think it was these cards, or something similar

That changed earlier this summer. When I couldn’t find an ATS bellydance class to pick up learning where I’d left off in Seattle, I signed up for the closest I could find to where I live (I’ve since found an ATS class so I’m happy to be taking that as well). This ended up being a fusion class with a strong yoga focus, so at first I was wary. Then, it began to click.

I still didn’t enjoy doing yoga for its own sake (yet), but I began to understand how the focus on flexibility, opening up joints, and strengthening muscles could translate into more powerful bellydancing. Every time I struggled into a slight backbend, I was making my body wave chewier and more dynamic. Every time I dropped from plank to the floor and into cobra (and, as time went on from plank to chaturanga to upward-facing dog), I was strengthening my core for better isolations.

I decided I needed to do yoga more than the once a week in class to really feel the difference, so I asked some friends for recommendations of youtube videos, and that’s when I found Yoga With Adriene. I jumped nearly straight into her “30 Days of Yoga” series, and that’s when things really began to fall in place. Aspects of yoga that had always disinterested me finally began to seem fun and important as I modulated my breathing and let the day slip away. Eight days into the series (as I noted in my bullet journal), I felt savasana. The “corpse pose” had always been a sticking point for me in that college yoga class—why would I lie on the cold gym floor when I could go home and lie in bed? I finally began to appreciate the way it tied together a practice to transition peacefully back into your day.

maxresdefault
My favourite of the 30 Days of Yoga videos, Full Potential Detox Practice

Not only did I begin to enjoy doing the poses, I began to notice improvements. Today I finished the 30 Days series with a deeper forward fold, lower heels in downward dog, and, again, a smoother vinyasa from plank to chaturanga to upward-facing dog. My attitude toward yoga has changed too. I’ve stopped checking the clock and started checking on my breath, started focusing on my body instead of every external distraction I could find. My yoga journey is just beginning, but it’s one I feel inspired and confident to continue for months, years, and perhaps even a lifetime. Namaste.