My shoes, my story

If my shoes could talk, surely they’d have a lot to say. I have been running (willingly) for about 7 years. Being 22, that’s nearly a third of my life. And in this life I have only relied on only two pairs of running shoes.

Pair #1

I can’t even remember the brand of this pair. They were the product of a back-to-school shopping list that required students to buy a pair of running shoes with white soles to not mark the floor of the gymnasium. My mother purchased me the finest pair that Zellers can buy, size eight, with shiny silver racing stripes. They were a decent shoe and they lasted me years, being used relatively gently. My feet didn’t grow past middle school, so there was never a need to replace them. The spring I signed up for my first half marathon, I trained in these shoes. I was in no-way prepared to run a marathon at this point, I was just trying to get into shape. About a month before the race, I had only worked up to about 10 kilometres in training—very very bad. So as I kicked my training into rapid high gear in these shoes, I realized that they were not built for long distance running (quelle surprise) so I developed a fairly bad case of ITBS in my left leg. I decided that it was a bad idea to purchase new shoes so close to a race without breaking them in, so I ran and finished my first half marathon in cheap, ugly, department store shoes and was crippled with ITBS for weeks. Not to mention all the blisters I had to bandage halfway through the race. Which brings me to introduce you to shoes number 2.

Pair #2

In line with my bargain hunting ways, I found my next pair of running shoes at Costco. This was approximately 8 months after my crap-shoe-fandango and I was itching to get back running again. There they were, next to a free sample station of trail mix: my white and blue, reasonably priced Adidas. These shoes gave me no pain ever. There was no break-in time. They were absolutely the best investment ever because to this day they still feel great. There really isn’t much more to say about these shoes, they were great from the minute I tried them on. They got me through a much more successful half marathon, a handful of 10 ks and even a winter half marathon. These are the ol’ reliables that I have no reason to replace until they break or wear out.

And that’s it. Just the two. So as you can see, it’s not very often I let a new pair of running shoes into my life. But yesterday I was feeling adventurous.

It all started when I visited Vancouver a few weeks ago. I spent many days walking the streets of downtown Vancouver in sensible walking shoes (not my running shoes.) I couldn’t help but notice that everybody seemed to be dressed as though they were going to the gym. More specifically, every second woman was stomping the streets in Lululemon tights and pink Nikes. If they weren’t wearing those exact brands, they had damn close knockoffs. And seeing these outfits sitting on the sky train, picking up a coffee or dining on a late lunch made it quite clear that all of these women were, in fact, not on their way to the gym. It seems as though this city, who does way more walking than Winnipeg, has found a way to make their walking lifestyle practical and trendy. Because everyone wants to dress the exact same, right? Right.

Winnipeg isn’t quite there yet. We embraced the yoga pant craze with open arms years ago. But from my understanding of prairie fashion conventions, tights with riding boots equals day wear and tights with runners means I’m on my way to the gym. The rules are rarely broken.

However there’s a twist. I walked through one of Winnipeg’s finest shopping malls the other day and found every athletic store chocked full of pink Nikes and various other fluorescent running shoes. It’s still, like, minus a billion here, but it won’t be for long. So even though I’m not seeing my fellow Winnipegers walking down Portage Avenue in pink Nikes yet, we could be not far off. Only time will tell if our city slowly embraces the style of our western Canadian friends, or if the fluorescent shoes are kept strictly for workouts.

Well whatever happens, I am ready to join right in. Because I have just purchased my third ever pair of running shoes in an exhilarating shade of fluorescent purple and lime green.

snazzy.

snazzy.

For me it’s not just for the fashion. Other runners likely know how motivating it can be to purchase a new piece of gear and hit the streets to test it out. My new shoes make me excited to run, and I love that. But I’ll only wear them every odd jog because I don’t want my old running shoes to feel like they’re being replaced. Not. Possible.

If your shoes could talk, what do you think they’d have to say?

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What goes on at a winter marathon?

Finally the Hypothermic Half Marathon is complete and I’m very excited to share my experience with you! With so many winter runners in one place at one time, I learned so much just on the day of my marathon.

How did I do? Well I finished and I am ecstatic about that. It was the slowest time I’ve clocked to date on a half marathon, but that was the least of my worries for this race. I didn’t even wear a watch. I am proud of myself for pushing myself to try something new. And perhaps the only thing harder than running the 13 miles on the -16 plus wind-chill day was weekly long runs in weather even worse than that as I trained. It is not an easy task and merely completing it feels great.

So what’s a winter marathon like anyhow? Well it ain’t no run in the park (ha). You know that feeling you get at a race as people start to gather at the starting line, they wait for the gun shot, and Chariots of Fire or some other comparable classic is blasted and hoards of runners slowly funnel through the arch of the start? Well none of that happened because we were obviously hiding indoors trying to avoid the cold weather until the last possible second. I froze my fingers trying to take a few pictures before the race. That was comforting given I was wearing gloves at the time. Not.

Just minutes before we were ushered to the starting line, we were gathered indoors, zipping up our battle gear and lathering our faces with Vaseline. I was fumbling around with my iPod trying to find where the cord should fit between my many layers of clothes. A woman standing next to me saw me wrap my iPod in a Kleenex before I put it in my pocket. I do this so it won’t freeze from being damp; it works occasionally. She pulled a toe warmer out of her pocket and offered it to me, you know the disposable ones that heat up your boots for hours? It stuck right to the back of my iPod and kept it running the whole race. I thanked her kindly as she showed me that they came two in a pack and attached one to her own mp3 player. What a great tip!

Another cool tip which I caught on camera was that many of the runners were Duct taping their shoes before the race. I shouldn’t have been so surprised, we’re Canadian eh? Well the reason I’ve never written about taping your shoes is because I’ve never really had a problem with cold feet. Even my runners with mesh keep my feet warm, so it’s not something I ever considered. But after running the race it appeared that there were more people taping their shoes than there were people wearing grips so I guess this is the real deal. I will likely follow up on this topic in a future blog post. But I can tell you now that as I ran through the snow, I was dodging fallen Duct tape wads every odd pace. I wonder how well it works if it doesn’t appear to stay on.

I really didn’t face any major challenges during the race that were winter related. Sure, the water at the water stations was a bit frozen. And, yes, it was a dread wearing as much clothes as I was. But overall, the biggest challenge I had was simply keeping focused on putting one foot in front of the other. Near mile 11 I got to the point where I was jogging so slow that I was spending more energy bouncing up and down than I was moving forward. My power walking was more efficient at this point, so I took some breaks. My iPod playlist ran out so I wound up listening to an old running playlist and found myself running to a variety of seasonal hits such as Summer Nights by Rascall Flatts. I was so cold at this point that the irony irritated me. But I pressed on.

The finish line in this particular race was anti-climactic. I had no idea when it was coming, as it was hidden around a bend in thick trees. I knew I was close, but that last mile feels like a marathon in itself, so it’s hard to judge. Anyway, I slowly turned a corner and poof, there was the finish line. I didn’t even have time to pick up speed and pretend I was running that fast the whole way for the cheering spectators. I’m a firm believer in a strong finish. But nevertheless, I was greeted at the finish line with high fives from volunteers and a shiny medal placed on my neck. For me, that’s what this was all about and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Now that I mention that, a HUGE shout out to all the volunteers who handed out water and marshaled us in the right direction. The only thing worse than running around in the cold is just standing there for hours as three waves of runners passed through. You couldn’t see me smiling at you through my balaclava when you cheered for me, but I sure do appreciate all who helped out.

Finally, I was very impressed with the hot brunch served after the race. I stuffed myself with french toast, hot chocolate, bacon, sausages, and dozens of fresh breads and salads. This was a lovely treat and much more appropriate than a post-race Popsicle after such a cold morning.

Despite this wonderful experience, I can’t say at this point that I’m keen on running this race next year. However, I am so thrilled that I am in the shape I’m in now so that I carry on my training for a spring run or two.

Thank you to everyone who followed my journey, your support encouraged me push through and I am ever grateful. You rock!

What goes through your mind during a race?

Tomorrow is my big winter race—the Hypothermic Half at Fort Whyte Alive! I’ve run in handful of races before, but never in the winter. I’m wondering how tomorrow’s experience will be different. Based on previous races, this is how my half marathons usually pan out. Do you see any similarities with your own experiences?

Sara’s thought process per Kilometre:

1 – Okay, feeling good.
2 – Am I tired already? This can’t be good.
3 – Yep, I’m already out of breath.
4 – Great, I have to pee.
5 – Alright, finding my stride.
6 – Would it be acceptable to walk yet?
7 – One third done. Really? Only a third??
8 – Think happy thoughts. This really isn’t so bad.
9 – I’m almost at 10 kilometres!
10 – Just about half done! You know, 10 kilometres is just the perfect amount. I’d love to stop now.
11 – Well at least my feet don’t hurt yet.
12 – Okay my feet hurt a bit now.
13 – I haven’t seen a water stand in freaking forever… oh there’s one up ahead!
14 – My playlist sucks.
15 – Someone’s handing out Freezies! Thank you!
16 – I am officially dying.
17 – I don’t care, I’m walking.
18 – Hmm the faster I run, the faster I’ll be able to finish this nightmare. Let’s see if I can muster up a second wind.
19 – Well that was short lived. Run a bit, walk a bit, run a bit, walk a bit.
20 – Home stretch! I’m never running again!
21 – Whoever marked this course is a dirty liar because this last kilometre is sooo not a kilometre. I give up. Fine, I’ll keep going.
Finish – Thank you very much I’m fabulous and so very athletic. Now where’s the snacks and why are they so far away??

Running (not) in Winterpeg

I am spending the week before my half marathon in and around Vancouver, BC. It’s not my first choice to be on vacation so close to a race, but it is what it is and I’m trying to behave myself. Though I can’t say I’ve said no the occasional glass of wine or dessert, I have been walking up a storm and getting up early to jog. What a treat it has been to jog without snow pants on. It’s been about +8 C and drizzly with the occasional beam of sunlight. Though I feel like I’ve been cheating on running in Winterpeg, my experience running in White Rock, BC has been far from a breeze.

That’s just it – the breeze here is insane. The ocean generates such strong winds, especially in the rainy winter. When I was running into the wind, I felt like I was going in slow motion and I could barely even inhale. When I was running away from the wind, I felt like a rocket, so that wasn’t so bad. The wind here (at least when I’ve experienced it) is stronger than any wind I’d ever felt in Winnipeg, though thankfully not as frigid. It creates an added element of challenge which, for me, is more than welcome.

Perhaps even more challenging is the steep terrain. I guess I shouldn’t have been so shocked that when I left the prairies and entered a city surrounded by mountains that there’d be hills. Well are there ever. White Rock in particular is full of dangerously steep hills. Many of them have roads built on them and I am entertained to watch cars struggle up them. So naturally I decided to run up and down these big hills.  In order to get from the residential area to the ocean, you have to go down a steep hill. This was probably more challenging than going back up it. I was not prepared for how much strain my shins would feel from safely trying to trot down a steep, steep hill. I am still sore from that. And when I’d turn around and run back up, I only lasted seconds before I was slowly walking my way up. The hills beat me round one, but I’m planning to tackle them once more this week before I take it easy before my half marathon.

It’s great experience different parts of Canada. Unlike the States, we only have a few climates to choose from, and it’s refreshing to go for a run in weather mild enough to not freeze my nostrils shut. But at the end of the day, I’m looking forward to getting back to ol’ Winterpeg where the roads are flat, the sky is sunny, and the weather is already starting to warm up.

Lovely boardwalk to run (when the wind was in my favour)

Lovely boardwalk to run (when the wind was in my favour)

My new pals

My new pals

Finally wearing thin layers!

Finally wearing thin layers!

Oxford Street hill - waay steeper than it appears here

Oxford Street hill – waaay steeper than it appears here

Olympic fever

God I love the Olympics. But I can’t help but notice there still isn’t a winter marathon event. Should the winter Olympics include some sort of outdoor running?

Since the Olympics reestablished in Athens in 1896, they have grown and accommodated with the times. Gone are the days of tug-of-war and polo as we now watch sports like ice dancing and BMX cycling on our televisions. Over 100 events have been added since 1980.

Though we see updates with every Olympic Games, it’s quite a challenge for a new sport to receive a spot in the Olympic program. Here’s the short version of becoming an Olympic sport:

• First, receive recognition as a sport from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
• Second, receive International Sports Federation status.
• Third, enforce drug testing code.
• Then, to be considered, the sport must be widely practiced by men in at least 75 countries and on four continents, and by women in no fewer than 40 countries and on three continents.
• The sport must also increase the ‘‘value and appeal” of the Olympic Games and retain and reflect its modern traditions.
• The sport then must pass various other vague rules and considerations.
(http://www.britannica.com/olympics/reflections/article-277355)

Well my personal argument for adding a winter running event is simple. Running in the winter is crazy hard, and a true test of strength. Plus, there are only 15 sports in the winter games currently and 41 in the summer games. There’s plenty of room for another winter sport.

If I were to take a wild guess, I would say that there probably aren’t hoards of men practicing winter running in at least 75 countries. But before they became winter events, I probably would have guessed the same for skeleton and luge. Running represents athleticism of the human body in its simplest form, all you need are your two feet. The challenges of winter weather would only make this sport more impressive at the winter games. This is why I believe that winter running overdue in the Olympic games.

What do you think? Does winter running belong at the Olympics? Or does it favor only a small portion of athletes who live in cold climates?

Pushing through

For the past few weeks, I’ve been hiding the fact that I am terrified about my half marathon that is less than a month away. Since I kicked my training into high gear after New Years, I have been really struggling to prepare myself, something that I thought would go smoothly since I’ve run a few halfs before.

What I wasn’t prepared for is that running in the winter is DAMN HARD. It’s like running in wet sand mixed with evil snow men thrusting a snow blower in your face with minus forty winds. And while running outside on a sunny winter morning can be exhilarating, forcing myself to train through a polar vortex is quite another.

Despite applying everything I learned so far from Stride Ahead and Corydon Physiotherapy, I was struggling to run 7 kilometres at the beginning of the month. This is terrible and dangerous for someone who is going to try to run 21 kilometres.

My biggest issue was being out of breath and trying to cover my face to prevent windburn. Though experts suggest you should inhale through your nose, I often find myself relying on my mouth to breath. Covering my mouth in any way made it very difficult to breathe, so I found myself relying solely on Vaseline to protect my face and waiting for -20 runs or warmer.

After playing around with some supplements to give me energy, which didn’t do much, I discovered why I was having so much trouble. I happened to have an old asthma inhaler from a bad cough a while back and decided to use it before a recent run. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t struggling to breathe. I ran 12 kilometres and felt pretty good.

I am not a person who regularly struggles with asthma, but turns out it is quite common for winter sports to induce asthma. However I will say that there are many factors that make long distance running in the winter harder than the summer, and some upcoming videos will be posted to the blog to explore why.  

Here are some links that I found helpful. If you struggle with breathing—even if it’s just exercise induced or cold weather triggered—you may benefit from seeing a doctor for asthma treatment options. Always visit a doctor before self-diagnosing.

http://asthma.ca/teamasthma/asthma_ExerciseandCold_eng.pdf

http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=15994

http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/asthma-library/asthma-winter-sports.aspx

Splish splash

Running on pavement = not bad.

Running on compact snow = do-able.

Running on fluffy snow = slippery.

Running in slush = death.

Winnipeg couldn’t have been more ready to dip back down from arctic temperatures to something semi-livable last weekend. From skating at the forks to going for a stroll in shorts, people celebrated the comfortable winter temperatures. I celebrated with a jog and it was a slushy, sloppy mess. I was overdressed, STILL managed to chap my face and dragged myself through way too much slush and puddles. One treat, however, was the clean pavement that peeked through.

The forecast predicts some more unusually warm days this month, so enjoy the weather while we have it but keep in mind important cold weather basics that I managed to mess up.

  • Wear moisture wicking socks. It’s still cold enough for a cotton sock to make your feet cold from perspiration. Plus, if you wind up running through some slush, your feet will feel a bit more protected from wetness with a proper sock. Acrylic is a good moisture wicking fabric.
  • Re-evaluate your runners. Many running shoes have areas of mesh to maximize breathability. If your runners have a lot of mesh, you’re asking for trouble in wet conditions. You can buy trail running shoes that are suitable for winter, but I recommend a shoe with minimal mesh that can be worn all seasons.
  • Protect your face. When it’s really cold, a scarf, balaclava or bandana is great. When it’s not too cold, still consider putting Vaseline on your cheeks. The condensation from your breath will moisten your face. If you take a walking break or do a cool down, your face will get cold again. This change in temperature can lead to uncomfortable windburn or chapped skin.
  • Cover your head. Because you lose so much heat on your head, it’s important to cover up, even when the temperatures are closer to zero. Your ears especially can get cold. Again, thin moisture wicking fabric will keep you more comfortable and prevent overheating.
  • Don’t overdress. I spend a lot of time finding ways to keep warm, but when the weather is nice, overdressing can be brutal. You should never need more than three layers, even in the most frigid temperatures. In temps -10(ish) or warmer, you probably don’t need your insulation layer.