Sunday, April 25, 2010

Marathon Training on a Budget

This post is not about money, though speaking of money, now that I have been dropped by my running shoe sponsor (who shall not be named and shall not be blamed... can't complain about 5 years of free shoes!) I am SHOCKED at the price of running shoes! Since when are decent running shoes without even extra forefoot cushioning 110 euro?? Don't know if it is because 5 years has gone by since I last bought running shoes or because prices are higher in Europe/Italy than North America but seriously, I remember paying $110 CANADIAN dollars for really amazing running shoes.

But no I am not budgeting money here, I am trying to budget mileage. Once my spring half marathon is over, I will start focussing for my fall marathon. The last time I ran a marathon, I ran 110-130 km/week and did 9 long runs in preparation of 24, 24, 25, 28, 28, 30, 32, 33 and 38 km. This time around I essentially want to put myself on a mileage diet. Put another way I want to try and cheat, run a marathon in a time that satisfies me with minimal effort. Yes, I would like some gain without pain please and while we're at it, a side of free lunch!

It's not that I'm lazy (I am but that is not the principal motivator here) the issue is that 9 months after my section, my body still does not feel ready to run real marathon mileage. Whenever I get over about 100 km/week or over 25 km on a long run, I can feel a deep ache in the pelvic/groin area. It's hard to describe exactly where but it seems to be somewhere around the pubic bone. I always recover so I don't think it is a stress fracture, my intuition (blind guess) is that it is related to the surgical scars which are still healing. Anyone else out there have a similar experience after a c-section? How long did it take for the pain to resolve completely? Anyway I am hesitant to put my body through the type of marathon training I normally do and as a result I am trying to create a marathon training program on diet mileage.

So... my question to myself is, how low can I go? How little work can I get away with? The problem is that my endurance is not easily come by. I have natural speed but no natural endurance so high weekly mileage and multiple long runs have always been a necessity to run my marathon goal times. My hope is that the following will allow me to run a time that is personally fulfilling: mileage cycling between 75-105 km/week and six long runs of: 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 38. It's a little bit skimpy for a runner who is not naturally endurant but I am hoping this diet marathon training plan (marathon lite?) will be well tolerated by my still uncertain post c-section body.

Speaking of my post c-section body, if anyone has favorite exercises for core strengthening for runners that they would like to share, I'm listening. My core has never been weaker. All I know is the plank position (and I can barely do it... it's truly pathetic). I'm looking for exercises I can do by myself, at home with no particular equipment. Thanks!!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Men and Racing.

As I go about my daily life, I feel that I am not a sexist person. However, I think that one's most honest thoughts and feelings come out when in the throws of lactic acid and oxygen deprivation in the middle of a race (racing is not unlike being drunk in that respect). I am ashamed to admit that I am often sexist when racing. I`ll be running along, doing my thing and I approach and pass a man and very often, he`ll glance over, see me and speed up. My first thought is very often... male chauvinist, doesn't want to be passed by a woman! Which is really unfair and sexist of me. I am willing to bet that 90% of the time (ok, maybe 80%) the guy doesn't care that he is being passed by a woman... I bet, as a runner, he either a) cares that he is being passed by a PERSON or b) wants to use the person passing him to run a faster time which is, after all, what racing is all about. In other words, I bet I am usually the one inserting gender into the equation, not this poor, unsuspecting guy who is being subject to horribly, venomous thoughts inside by lactic acid addled brain. Very often when I do pass a guy, once I am obviously past him, he will cheer for me or tell me what place he thinks I am in (insert the shame spiral here). So, anyway, this sexist presumption of mine is something I am trying to work on.

On a related tangent, I had a strange experience at my last race - the 12 km. With about a mile to go, I was closing in on this man and had been using him for awhile as a motivator to keep me going. As I caught up to him and passed him, he immediately picked it up and started running with me. So at first I made my usual, horrible assumption that he didn't want to be passed by a woman but then I noticed he was running right next to me, practically matching me stride for stride. Then I wondered if he was trying to help me but it was a really windy day and if he really wanted to help, he should have run in front of me but he was stuck to my side. Anyway we had less than a km to go and I felt this weird pressure having him RIGHT there (definitely in my personal space) and also like he was raining on my parade as I had run most of this race alone. So I decided to try to drop him and started surging a good 800 m from the finish line and I am talking finishing kick speed... and he stayed RIGHT THERE, stride for stride, in my personal space. I couldn't maintain that speed for long so I dropped back and he dropped back with me and stayed RIGHT THERE. So, for the first time ever, I deliberately slowed down almost to a walk, I was just desperate to get rid of him (really not sure why) AND HE DID TO! Finally I rasped at him: "Dai, dai, lasci me... fai la tua gara!" which the part of my brain that speaks Italian thinks means "Go go, leave me alone, run your own race." He looked very surprised, a little hurt and off he went.

I am not sure why he elicited such a strong reaction from me (and I think I would have had the same reaction to a woman... it wasn't a gender thing, it was a person thing). It was just so intensely irritating. It reminded me of the imitating thing kids do to annoy each other, you know: "Stop COPYING me!" "Stop COPYING me!", "Mom, she's COPYING ME!", "Mom, she's COPYING ME", "You're a BIG DUMB STUPIDHEAD", "YOU'RE a BIG DUMB STUPIDHEAD." (Why did it take me 30 years to figure out the correct strategy is to say: [Insert best friend's name] is a big dumb stupidhead??) Anyhow after my little temper tantrum with 500 m to go, I finished about 3 seconds behind him. I found him at the ristoro (isn't that a great word for refreshment??) table and apologized. He also apologized and was a bit confused (by both my bad Italian and the situation) anyway it was all good - though I couldn't help but notice that he made a big deal about how he's not in good shape right now :).

All that to say, I am working on my mid-race presumptions and attitudes. File THAT under: goals, qualitative :)

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Despite the fact that this has been a truly crappy week in training (ran three times and tried to run two other times and gave up... the 12 km I ran last week-end felt easy but it took something out of me - or perhaps it was the two 100 km+ weeks that preceded it) I am ready to commit to some goals for my major race of the season, a half marathon in two weeks time. When making goals, I like to make an A, B and C goal. The A goal is something I am likely not going to achieve unless the stars REALLY line up for me, I have a tailwind, amazing air quality (I have asthma) and I take a short-cut :); typically I don't expect to achieve my A goal. Conversely, my C goal is something that if I do not achieve, something has gone really wrong. Finally, the B goal is something that is do-able but challenging. So here we go:

A goal: run sub-1:20, 1:19:59 will do. This has been a lifelong goal. As I said, not likely to happen especially since this course is a straight point to point along the coast i.e. hard to find a short-cut!

B goal: run an all-time PB i.e. sub 1:20:51.

C goal: run a post-pregnancy PB i.e. sub 1:23:53.

I have two non-quantitative goals, the first of which is to run a smart race meaning well-paced yet responding to the race around me as it develops. Example, if there is a pack travelling slightly faster than I had planned on going, I should adjust and try to go with them for the benefit of "getting on the bus" (this course is notoriously windy... actually this city is notoriously windy - I bet if you google "wind, city, Italy" you can figure out where I live - though there have been tons of other clues).

My second non-quantitative is to win. As I have said in a previous post, I don't normally care about placement because it is so subjective unless one is racing at the highest level BUT it is a big deal to my club if I win (plus, yes, winning is lots of fun and an ego boost, no doubt about it). But I will not sacrifice running a faster time for the win. I have NO idea whether I can win or not, there are certainly local people who are faster than me, and there are certainly invited foreign athletes coming (but am not sure if any of them are female half-marathoners). Anyway adding "winning" to my list of goals gives me five goals, so surely I can accomplish two out of five.

Blah blah blah, enough of that, is anyone else dying to know whether SLG broke 1:30 today?

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Until I began studying Italian, I never realized how lucky we are to have the word THE in English. So easy to use.... the [insert ANY noun in the english language here], done. People know exactly what you're talking about. French adds a layer of complexity because, of course, the nouns have gender so one can no longer use one all purpose definite article, enter le and la and, for use before vowels, l' (for both genders). Not bad, not bad. As a bonus in french, when a noun is plural, BOTH genders use the definite article les. Now we come to Italian:

lo: masculine, singular nouns starting with s+consonant OR z
l': masculine or feminine singular nouns starting with a vowel
il: masculine, singular nous starting with any other consonant
la: feminine, singular nouns starting with any consonant
gli: masculine, plural nouns starting with any vowel OR s+consonant OR Z
i: masculine, plural nouns starting with any other consonant
le: all feminine plural nouns

Phew. But the party is just getting started. These definite articles when used in conjunction with certain prepositions: con(with), su(on), in(thankfully, in), da(from, by), di(from, of) combine to make new words so for example if one wishes to state the baby is sleeping in the bed, one does not say: La bimba dorma in il letto, rather one says: La bimba dorma nel letto - because in + il combine to make a new word nel. So, a few more examples in case I haven't bored everybody away yet:

di + gli = degli
in + lo = nello
su + i = sui

etc. (or, as they say in Italian, e cose via).

These word combinations are, in part, what makes Italian such a beautiful, lyrical language to listen to (it also helps that so many words end in vowels which gives the language a sing song quality). It's impressively exacting to have a specific definite article for a multitude of vocabulistic scenarios. English is often limiting in that way, for example vocabulistic is not actually a word. Italians have the exact right article for every occassion, one would expect nothing less from a country that has the exact right form and stamp for every occassion. However from the standpoint of a foreigner trying to learn the language it's paralyzing. As I go about my day trying to express important sentiments like "the baby is in the bed" or "the cat is in the tree" or "the incessantly barking dog next door is getting on my nerves", I must first remember the gender of each word, then chose the correct definite article, then remember how it combines with the preposition (assuming of course I have remembered the correct preposition) and it becomes absolutely paralyzing. I actually know far more Italian than I speak because I keep getting tongue tied in the details.

So, I've come to the conclusion that the only way forward for me is to stop sweating the details. I am picking one indefinite article for each gender and using them because I have to get out of this linguistic hole I am trapped in so that I can work on wider issues like... my limited vocabulary, the fact that I only know six verb tenses, the fact that I am STILL referring to myself in the third person occasionally. I have to just start speaking the language without worrying too much about the details.

This kind of segues to a more general topic which has been on my mind lately which is the trade-off between perfectionism and, well, just getting stuff done. A continuum exists with a perfectionist who never finishes anything on one extreme and mistake-maker who gets a multitude of things "accomplished" on the other end. I probably am too far towards the latter end of this continuum. Whenever I interview people and ask them that tired, hackneyed question "What's your grestest weakness?" (note to self, STOP asking that question, it is irritating beyond belief and never yields anything enlightening.) I always cringe when the person inevitably tells me "Well, I'm a perfectionist and sometimes I get too caught up in the details." The cynic in me always thinks 'Hmmm, a perfectionist eh? Tell me what it is you SHOULD be getting done but aren't?' (or maybe it's the jealous person in my who wishes she was more detail oriented).
I guess there are times to be a detail-oriented perfectionist and times to just let things slide for the sake of getting things done.

Hmmm this has been a fairly lengthy post that is probably not of much interest to anyone but myself (why should this post be any different :) ). It is just me trying to learn Italian but also trying to figure out what kind of a person I am going to be when I return to my job (which will be a very different job than the one I left due to changes in my company), am a mommy and a runner... yup, I have to say it feels very intimidating to me (though I have been heartened by the people I have met online and IRL who seem to just be DOING it).

Anyway, there you have it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A cautionary tale

For all the mommies out there who, like me, bench press their babies to build upper body strength (oh come on... I know I am not the only one who does it). If, while bench pressing baby, baby picks up a large heavy object (like for example a full water bottle)... do not think "cool, more weight to press." Instead, be aware that baby can and will randomly drop aforementioned large, heavy object at any time, without warning and said large heavy object may then fall into your eye. Ouch.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Race Report: In which I breast feed on stage! (Now with more photos, thanks internet!)

La cocotte's nap is almost over so I'll cut to the chase. Today I finally ran the kind of time my training has been suggesting I am capable of. I split 10 km in 37:05 and ran the entire 12 km in 44:55. I'm really pleased.

Also very exciting, la cocotte "ran" her first race outside the womb (she ran 2 5 kms and a 7.8 km inside the womb). No... I didn't run a 44:55 pushing la cocotte, hubby ran the 4 km with her in the BOB. She seemed to enjoy it as judged by her foot action.

It was after the races that things got interesting. La cocotte had not had her morning nap and was getting fussier and fussier as the morning progressed. As we approached the awards ceremony she clearly wanted to sleep and her normal way of doing so is to fall asleep nursing. I kept debating as the speaker was thanking various sponsors whether I could quickly nurse her to sleep before the awards. Just as I decided I could not, she made it known she wanted to nurse, NOW! So I brought her to my breast as the announcer started with the 5th place woman. I had won so I figured I *just* might have enough time to get her to fall asleep and put her in the BOB. Nope. As they called my name, she was still nukking away. Of course I *could* have cut her off but I hate doing that. So up I went onto the stage, both sweaty running bras pushed up over my boobs, club running jacket and la cocotte herself providing some degree of cover. As cool and open as people are about nursing in public here, it is one thing to nurse discretely in a restaurant and quite another to nurse ON A STAGE! Then it got really funny/ridiculous. The prizes for this race were amazingly ostentatious. I was first handed a HUGE bouquet of flowers (taller than la cocotte). Ok.... I could handle it. Then two books, a DVD and a bag of clothing, ok, barely holding on. Then the kicker, a GIGANTIC trophy with a very solid granite base. The cup on the trophy was so large I swear I could have put la cocotte in it (except she was still busy drinking). At this point everyone, including me, was laughing and my teammate who had finished second took the trophy for me. It was an awkward turned humerous moment:

Here is la cocotte with the gigantic trophy and flowers in her post-breastfeeding stupor:

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A representative moment

This scene takes place on a city bus, in the city where I live. It happened yesterday. I had to go to the Children's Hospital with la cocotte (nothing serious). Since we have been extremely fortunate with her health, I actually had NO idea how to get to the Children's Hospital and so I duly did my research prior to leaving. I found out that the #10 bus would drop us off right at the front door while the #1 bus would drop us off 500 m and slightly downhill from the front door.

I chose the #1 bus because I know where its terminus is which meant I could wait, seated on the actual bus rather than waiting at a stop with la cocotte strapped to my chest. I sat down at the front so I would have a clear view of where we were and followed the bus' progress on my map so we would not miss our stop.

At the point where the #1 diverges from its shared route with the #10, the bus driver stopped the bus and came to see me. No, I had not spoken to him nor asked for his help prior. He asked is I was trying to get to the Children's Hospital. Um, yes, actually I was. He told me I should get off at this stop and transfer to the #10 bus. The small part of my brain which speaks Italian told him: "Grazie ma in effetti preferisco stare su questa autobus", which may or may not mean "Thanks but I would actually prefer to stay on this bus." At which point three other passengers joined into the conversation and assured me that transferring to the #10 bus at this point was the right way to get to the hospital. I wanted to say, "Thanks again, but I don't mind walking the extra distance and I just saw the #10 bus go by so I will have to wait a long time for it and I'm actually in a bit of a rush." But with the pressure these four people were exerting on me to get off the bus and also the pressure of the entire bus waiting for me to make my decision, the small part of my brain that speaks Italian just said: "Grazie." and I got off the bus.

Of course I didn't wait for the next #10 bus (which the schedule showed wasn't due for another 15 minutes). So rather than walking 500 m from the #1 bus stop, I walked about a mile along the #10 route to the hospital, the exact opposite intention of the friendly strangers on the bus.

Why am I recording all of this minutia? To me this little scene is very representative of what it is like to live here, both positive and negative. It is amazing to me that the bus driver noticed the baby and map, intuited where I must be headed and then took the time and trouble to intervene to stop me from making what he felt was clearly a mistake. It's further amazing to me that random people on the bus backed him up and helped me to exit thus saving me that terrible 500 m walk from the #1 bus stop. Surely in this town, no one would ever get beat up, attacked or mugged while passers-by on the streets averted their eyes. People are involved and engaged and there is a lot to be said for that.

On the flip side, it reinforces this notion I have of this place that people are very much "in one's business". Also there seems to be a RIGHT way to do things and not much flexibility or understanding of alternatives i.e. if there is a bus that goes to the hospital and a bus that goes 500 m from the hospital than to get to the hospital, one takes the bus that goes there. Period. No question of wanting the walk or (in my case) being too impatient to wait for a second bus. You take the right bus, that's all there is to it. Also, you listen to authority, be it the bus driver or whomever. I find in some ways things are quite authoritarian here to a degree that exceeds my comfort level.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Getting my game face on

Enough mushy stuff about being a mommy. There is a local 12 km race this week-end and I am ready to BRING IT! It has taken five days but I have overcome the jet lag (which, as an aside, I finally vanquished using shock therapy this morning and FORCED myself to get out of bed at 5.45 am and hit the road for a run by 6 am, it felt so.... very... awful - my body processed the time as being about 3 am however I could feel the horrible yuckiness leaking out of my muscles kilometer by kilometer and 16 km later I was finally back on good old Italian time). I am feeling fit, strong and kind of cocky actually. I`m not saying I won`t get beat BUT people are going to have to HURT if they want to get by me. Yeah, cocky is something I am still experimenting with, it's not really my natural state.

So how does one race 12 km anyway? In more than 20 years of competitve running, I have never raced 12 km. I figure I have to guess my current 10 km fitness and then run slower by about 2-3 seconds per kilometer. Based on the Mercier Calculator, my 17:55 5 km two weeks ago is worth a 38:06 10 km - that doesn't seem right to me, surely a 17:55 is faster than 38:06? Enter the Macmillan Calculator, which predicts a 37:15 10 km; that seems more accurate to me. Anyone out there have a great formula for converting a 5 km time into a 10 km time? So, to be conservative, I will say I am in 37:30 10 km shape, add 2 seconds per kilometer and plan to run 3:47 per km which means an 18:55 5 km split and a 37:50 10 km split and a total 12 km time of 45:24... I'm very curious to know how close I get!

Speaking of predictions, there's still lots of time to enter your prediction in the Sea Legs Girl Marathon prediction contest by commenting on this post.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Motherhood doesn't change you except... Part 2

One of the things I have always taken pride in is that I am not a materialistic person. Sure, I have things and if things includes running gear then yes, I have things-a-plenty. However until the birth of la cocotte, I was never attached to any material object over and above the function it served. Sure, I like my running shoes but when they have done their 800 km of running and then their year of walking then I toss them no matter how many PBs they might have run. I am not one who desires to own pretty things. I am not really interested in jewelery. If I want to look at beautiful objects I am happy to see them in a gallery or a shop window. But moreover, I don't (or didn't) attach emotion to objects. And I liked that in myself. It translates to a clutter-free life.

Then came the night of the snowstorm. We were at a friend's place for dinner, me, hubby, la cocotte and the omni-present Monsieur le Dinosaur. We took a cab home and the next morning I realized that Monsier le Dinosaur was AWOL. I contacted our friend to find out if he had spent the night at her place. He had not. Which could only mean, in my mind, that Monsieur le Dinosaur was riding around town in the backseat of cab 8761 (strangely hubby had remembered the cab number we took). As I thought of Monsieur le Dinosaur getting sat on, and dripped on with dirty boot water and worst of all, unknowingly kicked out of the cab into a nameless gutter, his innocent smile still intact despite all abuse, I truly began to feel ill. At that moment I realized I had become attached to a material object. I wasn't feeling attached on behalf of la cocotte. She was still too young to form attachments to anything except mommy & daddy. No, I was genuinely missing him and fearing his permanent loss. Me! Missing a stuffed, blue dinosaur...

Now as I evaluate all of the possessions that have come along with la cocotte in the form of gifts (many), hand-me-downs (the majority) and purchases (some), I realize I have become helplessly and hopelessly attached to these material objects. I remember when I bought her snowsuit. I picked it off a rack of a half dozen other identical, clean, inanimate, generic looking snowsuits. Throughout this winter she has imbibed that snowsuit with purpose. Through the drool, the diaper leaks, the coffee spill (mine not hers and not when she was in it), the thousands of mental and hundreds of real snapshots I have taken of her in this snowsuit she has brought life to that empty shell of a snowsuit.

I have been slowly giving away her things as she outgrows them. Since the vast majority of them were donated from erstwhile babies, it is only fair to keep passing them along to the babies downstream on this great conveyor belt of life. But it is with great reluctance that I part with each shirt, each pair of socks, each hat and yes, finally, THE snowsuit. I want to hoard and to hold and to keep that part of her history with me. I want to fill my life with the clutter that is hers. But I pack it up and ship it off and console myself with Monsieur le Dinosaur.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Motherhood doesn't change you except...

I was at the track today putting together a pretty decent 5 X 1.6 km work-out. My first four were 6:07.8, 6:07.8, 6:07.9, 6:07.6 ... consistency thy name is the common cold - it's amazing how consistent my intervals are when I am a little sick because there is simply no capacity to go out too fast and not much capacity for heroic kicks at the end of intervals. Anyhow, on my last interval I set myself up pretty well to go sub-6:00 on the first three laps. I went through 1200 m in 4:29 so I figured I was going to run 5:5-something for sure. On the last 200 m I happened to pass this man who was moving pretty quickly and as I did, his son (presumably) who was spectating on the in-field started cheering for him and encouraging him to catch me. His son was *maybe* 5 years old, old enough to walk and sprint a little and talk. (I guess I'll get better at the age estimations as my cocotte gets bigger). I ignored the whole scene for a couple of strides, I was a few meters past the man. Then I felt him coming up on my right side. The runner in me immediately picked it up to hold him off.... but then the parent in me, who until now has been silent during my work-outs presumably occupied with other matters, said: "Um, excuse me, but what are you doing there sport? Are you really going to outkick daddy in front of his son who is so excited to see his daddy be a hero? TELL ME you AREN'T about to do that." So, for the first time in my life, I deliberately put on the brakes ON THE LAST LAP of MY LAST INTERVAL! It took superhuman effort let me tell you. I slowed way down and, unfortunately, so did the man who was a bit winded from his surge. I chopped my strides, tried desperately not to clip his heels. I swear it would have taken less effort to run the last 200 m at sub-6 pace. I was hoping the man would bust a move and I could sneak in under 6:00 but, alas, I reached the finish line, an appropriate 3 meters behind him, in 6:04.

I can hear inside my head the objections of various friends from athletic, parental and even feminist perspectives. I won't bore you with the objections I can fathom because I think they are all BS. All I know is that on this fine spring morning, that little boy's daddy was the fastest person at the track... and how cool is that?