Sunday, February 28, 2010

Race Report: 4 km Provincial Cross Country Championships

So I think I may have given the impression that I don't enjoy cross country running in my last post (the one titled 'Why I hate cross country'). Well, that post title was, I think, an unconscious homage to one of my favorite books 'Why I hate Canadians", a great read by Will Ferguson that debunks the myth of the "nice" Canadian.

There are some great things about cross country: mud is fun, the spectacle of brightly coloured uniforms against the inevitably grey day, not having the feeling of being beaten up after running 5, 10,21.1 or 42.2 kilometers in poorly cushioned racing flats on cement, feeling like I am 12 again (cross country feels young, road racing feels old, not sure why).

Anyway today was my kind of cross country race, muddy, pancake flat and shorter than advertised (the stated distance was 4 km but my finishing time of 13.25 says not so much). So, yes, I had a really fun time running cross country today. I went out super conservatively and finished strong. I got to see baby and hubby at many points on the course (boy that pink snowsuit REALLY stands out in a crowd).

Racing as a mommy is a very different experience. Instead of running strides and focussing on the task ahead at T minus ten minutes, I was nursing baby and singing a round of "Il coccodrillo come fa" with hubby. I think it's better this way. I never do really run well when I focus intensely on the task at hand. I think I need to train hard ahead of time and then just relax on race day. Baby is great for that! And it was so much fun seeing that omnipresent pink snowsuit all over the course.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why I hate cross country

I am a quantitative beast. I adore the black and white objectivity that running stats provide to let me know where I am at, how I compare (mostly to myself). I love knowing that I averaged my km repeats 3 seconds faster this week than last. I love knowing, to the decimal place, how close I came to my PB or bettered it (as an aside this is also why I hate doing fartlek work-outs). One of my important rewards for the work of racing is to have a time to celebrate (and sometimes bemoan) at the end of it. Placing, I feel, is completely irrelevant because except at a very high levels of racing (and I mean Golden League, World Champs, the Olympics) placing is so very subjective. It depends on things out of one's control. How can one celebrate finishing 3rd when the fastest runner in town stayed in bed that morning? How can one celebrate winning a local race when one town over there are ten people faster?? I have never understood what the big deal is with place.

But, place is ALL cross country has to offer as a quantitative result. Times are meaningless. Ok... sure... times can often not be directly compared on the roads as well due to differences in course difficulty, weather etc. etc. but that pales in comparison to cross country. I ran a 4 km cross country race two weeks ago in which I ran the same pace per km as I did in my half marathon last week... what am I supposed to do with that?

I whine about this now because I have provincial 4 km championships coming up tomorrow which, for members of my team, are "quasi obligatorio". The people on this team have done a lot for me to help me get my feet on the ground so to speak in the Italian racing scene and so I am happy to my part and show up for provincial cross country championships (not to be confused with regional cross country championships I ran two weeks ago). But it doesn't mean I have to like it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I don't understand you because you speak bad Italian

I am very lucky to have grown up bilingual(ish). I am further fortunate in that one of the languages I happen to speak (French) is very similar to Italian. So many of the verbs in Italian are similar to French: Mangiare, Parlare, Ritornare, Entrare and sometimes English: Stressare (seriously, that is the infinitive form of the Italian verb which means to be under stress). In fact, hubby and I often entertain ourselves by looking for words that are completely different in all three languages, my favorite in the word German (allemand, tedesco). However of course there are important differences in Italian such as, for example, in French the formal/polite voice is second person plural as in "Comment allez vous?" whereas in Italian it is third person singular "Come sta?" and strangely (to me) the female form of third person singular is used for the formal/polite voice regardless of the gender of the person in question. Anyhow my major source of errors & embarassment when speaking in Italian stems from the fact that Italians do not typically use pronouns. So, for instance, rather than saying "You are late", they would simply say "Are late". This works far better in Italian than English (in fact it doesn't work at all in English) because in Italian the verb endings are different for the various people so the listener knows who is being referred to despite the absence of a pronoun by the ending of the verb. Enter my difficulties. I am forever mixing up the endings for first & third person singular and thus have developed the incredibly ANNOYING habit of referring to myself in third person. It would at least be tolerable if at least I were consistent however several weeks ago I was in the grocery store. To set the scene, I was trying to bag my groceries, scramble for money with baby strapped to my chest. The woman in line behind me began to speak to me in rapid fire Italian. Now, if I have a context... if I know what a person is likely to be talking about than I can follow about 60% of what is being said. (If the person is talking about babies or running than that percentage jumps to 80% ish). However the random, out-of-context conversation by stranger who doesn't know how poorly I speak Italian is a source of much stress and very little comprehension for me. Anyway I was struggling with groceries, bags, money, baby and very cognizant of the many people in line behind me as this woman began speaking to me quite insistently. Finally in desperation I tried to tell her that I didn't understand her because I speak very bad Italian. Sadly, I got the verb ending correct for the first verb (understand) but not for the second verb (speak) and wound up telling her that I didn't understand her because she spoke very bad Italian. Ouch.

Baby Jogging

Let me provide a bit of background to this post by stating outright that I ran throughout my entire pregnancy. I'm not talking a little jog here and there... I'm talking I racked up over 1500 km during my pregnancy, over 3000 km if we include cross-training. For the first five months it was enjoyable if slightly slower than my pre-pregnancy running, months six, seven and eight were noticeably slower yet still enjoyable, months nine and ten consisted of ten minute miles, occasional stops en-route for orange juice (and in one desperate incident a doughnut), they were enjoyable but definitely hard work. Yesterday baby & I went for our first run together with her outside the womb (she is now almost 7 months old). Hmmm... I am honestly not sure what is more taxing, running while heavily pregnant or pushing the baby jogger. It is hard, hard work! College physics is a distant memory for me but somehow I thought that fact that I was pushing the weight on wheels would make baby's 7 kg plus the 10 (?) kg of the jogger negligible. So not the case! I would say the baby jogger adds 10-15 seconds per km. It also definitely changes my already poor form for the worse. Perhaps I just need to adjust. Perhaps I can parlay this into an opportunity to work on strengthening and posture and both are sorely in need of work. (As an aside, I had secretly hoped that as baby gained weight my biceps and triceps would grow in proportion to her gain so that a) she would not feel heavier to me and b) I would actually get stronger - ha! how naive). But I do wonder if this baby jogging thing is an effective training mechanism for my primary goal which is, of course, to run fast!
The good news and most important aspect is that baby really enjoyed it. She slept through some of it and commented through the rest "ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba".

3 months for 3 seconds & ponderings on the Italian Road Running Scene

In November I ran my first post partum race, a half marathon... why mess around with a 5 or 10 km?? Somehow I pulled off a 1:23:53. I was thrilled. Sure it was 3 minutes slower than my personal best BUT I was *only* three months post partum. I thought for sure faster times, and possible a personal best, were just around the corner. Fast forward three months... to last week-end actually when I ran my second half marathon post partum. Actually first let me emphasize that I trained arduously in the intervening three months. So... after three months of hard training with expectations of great things I toed the line and improved by... 3 seconds. Yup, 3 months of training for 3 seconds. The course was similar to November i.e. pancake flat with the obligatory short stretch of cobblestone to remind us all we are in the old world. The weather was ideal. I was mentally tough (normally that is my biggest problem). I finished on my knees (literally... on the aforementioned cobblestone) so I am sure that I gave it all I had on that particular day so my question is why didn't I have more? I am going to write this off as a noisy data point for now and hope a downward trend emerges in my next race.

On the other hand it was a fabulous, warm, sunny day and I got to run a fun race (past a bonafide castle and medieval city wall) in a city dating from the 1200s (this is so very strange for a Canadian!) and hang out with baby and hubby afterwards so really no true complaints. It also gave me the opportunity to further my study of the differences between Italian & Canadian road racing.

First, let me say there is NO bureaucracy like Italian bureaucracy. I could go on ad infinitum (and probably will eventually in another post) about the hoops I jumped through to get signed up with FIDAL (the Italian Athletics Federation). I'm talking flaming, spinning hoops many meters above the ground the likes of which most circus lions have never seen. But my point is that many races here require that one is a member of FIDAL (which entails much of the previously alluded to bureaucracy) and, in my naive opinion, this results in a racing community which tends to not include the recreational jogger. Go to any large city Canadian half marathon and the peak flow of runners crossing the finish line will occur somewhere between 1h50 and 2h00. Granted this was a small(ish) half marathon (650 runners) but I was shocked to glance over at the race clock at 1h55 minutes and NOT see masses of runners crossing the line, in fact there was just the tiniest of trickles. The quintessential lady/man with baby jogger was nowhere to be seen, no dude running backwards (yes, there is almost always one in Cdn races), absent was the person trying to break the world half marathon while juggling record (it's called joggling... yes, I'm serious), I didn't see the 85 year old woman finishing phalanxed by her children and grandchildren, nor the walk/runner who had just had a quadruple bypass last month and, to be frank, I just didn't see the masses of people who are just slow but really, really love running. I have to say the whole scene felt incomplete without these members of the cast. I guess it is not worth it to these people to hurdle the obstacles involved to be able to race here (hoops, hurdles, whatever). To be fair there are also "non-competitivo" races here and these require little if any bureaucracy but somehow it's not the same as having everyone, the whole cast and crew on the same start line.

On the other hand the prizes here are amazing and best of all, useful! Medals are great. They're fun. They made me really love running, when I was 10 years old. Now that I am 35, not so much. It seems here, in my limited experience, that standard practice is to give away groceries. Yes, food! How awesome is that? I am not talking some token items of dried fruit or granola bars. I'm talking sugar and flour and juice (almost 3 L baby!) and fresh garlic and garlic paste and pasta and some kind of gelatinized meat I have never seen before and am slightly frightened by. Useful, consumable prizes. Very nice indeed. And, 300 euro for running a1:23:50, not a bad day's work!

What it was going to be

This was going to be a blog about running and keeping fit during pregnancy. Everyday for nine months I intended to start it. Now my baby is almost 7 months old. Then it was going to be a blog about moving overseas and adjusting to life as a new mom in a foreign country where I don't speak the language and know absolutely nobody. Now we have lived here for almost six months, I am moderately capable in the language (Italian) and I am fortunate to have made many acquaintances in both the running and mommy world.

So now it is just a blog... in which I will mostly ramble about training & racing for long distance running but also share my experiences and probably naive observations about being a Canadian living in Italy. No doubt the baby love of my life will receive frequent mention.