Monday, August 23, 2010


I don't have much to say, rather I have volumes to say but not the time nor coherency of thought to get it out in a comprehensible way. However we are about to pack up our modem, one of the last items to go into a box. We get on a plane in 26 hours. I wanted to have one last post, even if only token, from Italia.

Arrivederci Trieste! Mi Mancherai.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Running the numbers

A very quick post (since I am supposed to be packing up to move across the ocean) which will be almost entirely numbers (since I am a quantitative freak). The work-out I have done most often since coming back from pregnancy is 5-6 X 1600 m with one minute rest. I thought I would take a quick look at my progression on this work-out over the past year as a way of assessing (again) my fitness for the marathon:

Oct. 13 - averaged 6:21 (6 repeats)
Oct. 16 - averaged 6:14 ( only did 5)
Nov. 11 - averaged 6:10 (only did 5, last big work-out before running a 1:23:50 1/2 marathon)
Jan. 24 - averaged 6:07 (only did 4)
Jan. 28 - averaged 6:04 (only did 5, last big work-out before running another 1:23:50 1/2 marathon)
Mar. 27 - averaged 6:05 (only did 5, sick with head cold)
Apr. 21 - averaged 5:53 (hello! did 6. last big work-out before running a 1:20:49 1/2 marathon)
July 8 - averaged 6:10 (did 6, heat wave - 35 deg C. ugh)
Aug. 19 - averaged 5:55 (did 6)

Wow, that must all be staggeringly dull for anyone who isn't, say, me. But what I glean from these numbers is that first, I most often did 5 repeats, bummer I thought I usually did 6. There was predictably steady, consistent improvement after the pregnancy until April where I hit my peak fitness. The blip in July was caused by the heat wave and can be disregarded, in fact may be an even better work-out than the one previous. But, most important, I have more or less achieved the same fitness as I had in April, the difference  between 5:53 average and 5:55 average is within the noise of the signal itself I think. Does 6 X 1600 m predict well for a marathon. No. But it predicts well for a 1/2 marathon I think. So I think I am in about 1:22:45 1/2 marathon shape (adding 2 minutes to the 1/2 I ran in April to compensate for the huge downhill). That predicts a 2:54:36 marathon BUT, one more caveat, I am a better runner over 10 km/half than I am over a full marathon. Why bother to predict if I am going to throw in all these if ands buts and caveats? To procrastinate from packing of course. But it's good food for thought.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Montreal Marathon Preview: A Risk Management Approach

I did my last pre-marathon long run today. For me this is the moment to pause, introspect and puzzle out my marathon fitness. Here are the basic stats from today's long run:

Distance: 36.4 km
Time: 2:38:47
Pace: 4:21.7 (3:04:02 marathon pace)

Optimistically speaking:
-This run was done at "altitude" 3,412 feet, okay, it's not that high but considering I am a sea-level dwelling creature I think the altitude definitely had an impact. Certainly I felt the altitude on the easy runs I did in the days before this long run.
-I was not completely ruined after the run. I was able to go on an easy hike (okay stroll) with hubby and la cocotte and play a round of mini golf in the hours following. This is far more than I can manage after running a full 'thon all out, so this was definitely not an all-out effort.

On the other hand:
-I took some breaks. I took 60 seconds at 19 km to drink, a 6 minute break (mostly due to logistics) after 24 km, a two minute break after 34 km to drink. I also took a one minute walking break in the 33rd and 34th kilometers because I was hitting the wall and then some however the walking breaks and the 34 km coca cola stop revived me enough to finish in style. Also, as a point of interest, those one minute long walking breaks only slowed my per km time by 30 seconds.
-I took the day before this run off and did ZERO work-outs this week (though 100 km of running, just no quality).

Now is the moment to be painfully honest with myself, disregard any fantasies and figure out in an emotionless, calculating manner what I am capable of running on Sept. 5th. 

Marathoning is all about risk management. One must weigh the risk of going out too fast against the risk of not running to one's potential. My feeling is that things can go horribly wrong in a marathon, to wit, I have gone from running 6:30 per mile to 12:00 per mile within 3 miles one time when I went out too fast. However, it rarely happens the other way. With the exception of one's first marathon, athletes rarely run FAR faster than expected. If that does happen inevitably it is because the runner was either deliberately setting low expectations or didn't know their body very well. To figure out how to maximize performance and manage risk, the runner must realistically assess how fast she can run on race day. Also the runner must figure out what her true goals are in undertaking the distance to determine how risk-friendly or risk-adverse her approach should be.

When I ran my two fastest marathon times (2:54:37 Boston 2006, 2:54:11 Chicago 2006) I was feeling risk friendly. I had already broken 3 hours once (2:59:16 Chicago 2005) and so the mystique of the 3 hour marathon was gone. I was interested to see how fast my body could possibly go. I felt that I had a 25% chance of breaking 2:50 based on a 1:20:50 half marathon in the build-up to each and I was willing to risk blowing up for the chance of running sub-2:50. In each case I went through the half marathon in 1:25 and slowed by 4 minutes in the second half. It was a great outcome, I gave myself the opportunity to run a sub-2:50 but still scored a 5 minute PB.

This brings me to my motivations for Montreal. I am not in PB shape and certainly not in PB shape on the Montreal course which is a toughy. Here is the kind of shape I think I am in - the estimates below all assume no injury, no adverse weather conditions and no adverse stupidity on my part. I can with:

-100% certainty run sub-3:07
-95% certainty run sub-3:05
-85% certainty run sub-3:02
-80% certainty run sub-3:00
-70% certainty run sub-2:58
-50% certainty run sub-2:56

So, a PB is not in the cards. Though I would of course like to run as fast as my fitness allows, it is more important to me NOT to blow up than it is to maximize performance. In other words, I am feeling rather risk adverse. Risk adverse - it is certainly not an exciting or glamorous approach. It's not "go hard or go home" mentality or "second place is the first loser" or "pain is only temporary, pride is forever" or any of that obnoxious commercial drivel. It is, however, how I am honestly feeling. I think I can accept going out on a pace that I can, with 80% certainty handle and therefore 3 hour pace it is. So if I can manage to not be stupid on race day, let's put that at an 85% likelihood :), sub-3 hour it is.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Last Sunday la cocotte and I went for an airplane ride. This in itself is not unusual. In her short life, la cocotte has done her more than her fair share of cruising at 37,000 feet. What was noteworthy about this flight was that our pilot was none other than hubby! La cocotte and I were his first passengers with him as the pilot in command - to be clear he has flown other people whilst still a student with the instructor present however this flight was all him. Hubby has been working on his pilot's license on and off for close to two years, he got sort-of close before we left Montreal and then there was a bit of lag time while we were finding our bearings here, didn't have a car and he slowly searched for a new flight school. Long story short, he has been working on his license out of a small airport in Divaca, Slovenia and about two weeks ago, he got his wings.

It's a strange thing when someone close in one's life makes an important life change, be it a positive, negative, obvious or subtle change. It can take awhile for those close to the change-maker to intellectually absorb and accept the change. So even though hubby has been coming home 1-2 times per week with stories of his flying lessons, studying flight manuals and taking online courses for the past almost two years, I still had not quite absorbed the change. As we backtracked down the runway to get into position for takeoff, hubby in the pilot seat, me behind him and la cocotte looking utterly non-plussed in her car-turned-airplane seat next to me, I was hit by a very brief but very strong moment of panic where it suddenly occurred to me that we had left the pilot behind. It was utterly surreal to only be the three of us in an airplane that was about to be airborne.

But as the wheels left the ground and hubby continued to do all the pilotey things that one says and does while climbing to 3000 feet, the panic subsided very quickly and I found myself being amazed and proud that hubby had learnt to fly a plane, learnt it so well in fact that the officiating body in Slovenia (Transport Slovenia? that can't be right) had given him the legal right to do so. I was impressed that he was even able to act as a tour guide pointing out various sights of interest as he tooled us around the sky.

The flight was short by design. Hubby's instructor suggested that a short flight was in order to see how well la cocotte and I took to being flown by him. La cocotte had a good doze and I had an incredibly gorgeous scenic flight over a beautiful country, flown by my husband, the pilot.

Despite the short flight, there was a beverage service.

Stop reading the user manual and fly the plane! Fly the plane! 

Gorgeous, green countryside of Slovenia.

Striking sinkhole in the landscape caused by underground cavities (caves) that sometimes collapse when they are close to the surface.

Walled, hillside city (don't know the name), despite the lack of perspective you can tell it is on a steep hill by the shape of the road leading up to it in the bottom of the picture.

Under wing mountain.

Our handsome pilot.

Our blasé baby.

Gorging on the scenery

This is a long winded and winding post. If you don't make it through the whole thing I would ask you just to scroll down to the last paragraph where I have a question for any runner reading. If you have a thought, please leave it in the comments. Grazie!

My last two long runs have been spectacular thanks to my new friend M whom I met through my less new friend K (also K). M takes joy, fortunately for me, in showing Trieste newbies around this gorgeous part of the world that he calls home. Yesterday I was fortunate to see some gorgeous sights on the carso (the uplifted area above Trieste) on a near perfect day that, dare I say, made me realize autumn is just around the corner. It's still hiding to be sure but it occasionally peeks its shy head out and breathes a puff of air before scurrying back.

So we started out along the gravel road that connect Baso Vizza, Italy to Sezana, Slovenia. This road, for me, is quintessential carso with stone lined fences and rolling terrain. It is not in-your-face gorgeous like the Alps but there is a subtlety to its beauty that speaks to the Canadian in me.

As we ran along I learned that M has a blog about energy conservation and peak oil related issues. I learned that it currently costs one barrel of oil to extract 70. M defines peak oil as the time when it costs one barrel of oil to extract one barrel of oil. Perhaps I misunderstood (moving, as I was, at about 13 kph), to me 1 barrel per 1 barrel  would have to be well beyond the point of peak oil. Peak oil, as I understand it, is the moment at which we are extracting the greatest rate of extraction and beyond this point the price irrevocably rises. I also learned during this stretch of the run that when insulating one's home, it is best when the option is available, to insulate the outside rather than the inside otherwise there can be problems with mold and heating/cooling cycles.

This road crosses the Italian/Slovenian border without any ceremony whatsoever. There are very few souvenirs of the time when Slovenia was not part of the EU let alone the time when Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia and I did not actually realize when we had crossed the border.

Then we turned left onto a paved road into the Slovenian town of Orlek which is a tiny, picturesque place where I believe I managed to take the least flattering picture possible in the history of picture-taking in Orlek but I include it anyway as proof of having passed through.
I believe it was somewhere around here that M applied the second law of thermodynamics to strategies for efficient energy use. As I understand it, it is most efficient to use primary sources of energy i.e. use the energy source directly do not first transform it into something else. So, for example, one should heat one's home or power one's oven with gas. Heating via electricity is inherently inefficient because to do so one must transform a higher quality energy, electricity, into a lower quality energy, heat. I guess this scenario is even worse if one's source of electricity is coal based as then one burns coal to produce electricity to produce heat and with each transformation, particularly from a low quality energy like heat to a high quality energy like electricity there is great loss. Or something like that.

This makes me wonder about Quebec though. In my home province we have an abundance of hydroelectric to the point that electricity is so cheap it is the most method of heating homes (not a trivial thing in Quebec) and cooking. In this case is it still best to heat using a primary energy source? And I guess the answer depends on one's goal. If one desires to save money, probably yes. However if one is thinking in energy conservation terms, then no. This also makes me wonder, on a more abstract level, if one of the consequences of peak oil and the energy crisis will be to bring individual goals more in line with what is best for society and the environment? As a side note, by environment I mean the environment for use by humans... b/c let's face it when people talk about "protecting to the environment" what they typically mean is "protecting the environment for human use".

After passing through Orlek, we headed back towards the Slovenian/Italijian border; in the above picture I am running towards the border on an asphalt path that felt surprisingly cushioned. Below is all that remains of the border. To appreciate the picture below you have to realize that Trieste was formerly right on the edge of Iron Curtain, or as Churchill put it: "From Stettin in the north to Trieste in the south, an iron curtain has descended over Europe." The "border" seen below was part of THE border during the cold war.

Back in Italija, or I guess Italia, we crossed the highway and commenced what, on paper should have been a gruesome climb up to Opicina but in reality felt awesome. I have noticed throughout my training program that I tend to feel best after about 75-80 minutes of running. I believe this bodes well for Sept. 5th. Below is a shot of me disappearing into the woods to start the climb:
In Opicina we climbed some more in order to reach a ridge which afforded amazing views over the Gulf of Trieste. I used my steep hill running over mountain bike advantage to take this shot of Marko working the hill:

Why can't I justify these photos properly? Hmmm... I'm not going to stress about it and just keep going otherwise I will never get this posted. Below is a shot over the Gulf of Trieste:

And one of the hilliness of the ridge trail we were on though much like the camera adds 10 pounds (though in my case it seems to also re-arrange the pounds :) ) the camera also seems to flatten hills, this looked far more imposing in real life:

We also got very slightly lost:

Which allowed me to take this picture - talk about a home with a view:

Finally we did the last 7 km along a rocky road with a precipitous drop on one side which M's grandmother used to use to transport milk to her family. She would carry 5 liters in each hand and 5 liters on her head. Not bad for a photo taken WHILE running:

This made me think, as almost everything does these days, about what a cooshy lifestyle I lead (as do most people in many parts of the world). My life is so cooshy that I actually have to invent artifical forms of exercise. I ran 31.5 km on this run but I wound up exactly where I started, I transported nothing, there was no practical purpose to this run and think of all the greenhouse gases I exhaled and all the extra food I ate to fuel the run. Total inefficiency!! Far worse I DROVE to the starting point (something I rarely do because it makes me feel too guilty). I am somewhat joking about the inefficiency of my run. I do think though that the lifestyle changes that inevitably occur over the next decade as the price of oil irrevocably rises will include the rebirth of functional exercise i.e. exercise that serves a purpose over and above burning fat, training VO2 etc. etc.

Finally, a question for any runner reading, you don't have to have read the post to answer. Say you were on vacation in a new town and had no idea where to run. How much would you pay for a guide who would plan a running route to your EXACT specifications (length, climb, surface, scenery), would accompany you on a bike giving you your splits, altitude, any data you wanted, carry your water & food, take pictures of you and provide you with interesting historical and contemporary information about the area? How much, per hour, would that be worth to you? Granted it is not something most of us could afford on a regular basis but imagine you are on vacation and want to treat yourself - what do you think that service would be worth?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Some years ago today...

SteveQ was born! Happy Birthday Coach! Buon Compleano!

To the familiar tune of Happy Birthday:

Tante auguri a te!
Tante auguri a te!
Tante auguri, Tante auguri,
Tante auguri a te!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Leaving Trieste

Unfamiliar cities in foreign countries are daunting. They are filled with streets with unpronouncable names, odd angles and a feeling of timelessness. Last year as I navigated the streets of Trieste, my eyes were automatically drawn to certain aspects of the city to help me find my way. The height of buildings, the colours of the walls, the location of the bus stops. As I pounded the pavement of the-not-so numerous streets here a half dozen, a dozen, hundreds of times, the city around me shifted and I noticed its more subtle treats. The spill of afternoon light on the leaves of its numerous sycamore trees, the way a mess of vines spills forth from a loosely bricked wall, the amazing cloudscapes in the sky. As I take in the more subtle details, the city changes character before my eyes; streets have become familiar and appear completely transformed from when I first walked along them.

There are so many aspects of living in Trieste I will miss: the variety of different architectural styles whose names I never bothered to learn, being completely and utterly surrounded by glorious nature. I will miss all the amazing running trails I never got to know. I will miss the Italian adoration of babies. I will miss the seemingly random and hilariously translated snatches of English that can be seen in and around town "For opening door, press button and pull handle contemporarily." Above all, I will miss long, lazy days in the park playing with la cocotte. I will miss the alps and living within a 3 hour drive of 3 different countries; where I come from one can literally drive for a day and a half and still be in the province next door - (for any Canadians reading, sing it with me: "A place to stand. A place to grow. Ontari-ari-ari-o."). I will also miss the person that this year has allowed me to become. Moving away means, to some degree, having the opportunity to re-invent oneself, letting go of unhealthy patterns and making room for healthier ones. I hope I can carry some of that home with me.

I went for a run last week-end with some of the runners I have met here. As we ran along, the talk was about a half-marathon coming up in the fall in Palmanova. This was the first race I ran after my pregnancy last year. It was so strange to hear them talking about a race I have already run; every month here, every race, every happening so far has been new to me. As they chatted about who was going to Palmanova I thought to myself: "Oh, this is where I got on, we're at my stop, the end of this crazy, wonderful ride. Time to get off."

Cloudscape over Trieste from Castello San Giusto

View of Trieste through window in castle wall

Delightful view from our house.

Roman ruins outside of Castello San Giusto

Piazza Unita' in a driving rain storm, the covered area we were standing in was flooded shortly after this photo was taken. I wish we had taken the photo in FRONT of the garbage can so that the emphasis was on the piazza, not the garbage can but we did not want to get closer to the rain with our camera. Take a second to click on the photo to appreciate just how intense the rain was. In the far distance, probably not visible, is the Adriatic.

Same piazza taken 3 ours later after the rain from the other end. The first photo was taken under the clock tower one can see in the background. I love the indigo colour that was chosen for the lights in the piazza.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Go Packers!

"The thing about birthday parties is that the first birthday party you have and the last birthday party you have are actually quite similar. You know, you just kinda sit there... you're the least excited person at the party. You don't even really realize that there is a party. You don't know what's goin' on. Both birthday parties, people have to kinda help you blow out the candles, you don't even know why you're doing it. It's also the only two birthday parties where other people have to gather your friends together for you. Sometimes they're not even your friends. They make the judgement. They bring 'em in, they sit 'em down, and they tell you - 'these are your friends!"

I have to hand it to Jerry Seinfeld, he nailed the first birthday party experience. We had about 25 people over to celebrate la cocotte's birthday but six of those people were other cocottes so it felt more like 50. La cocotte of course had no idea what was going on, I think her largest impression of the day was that there was suddenly a plethora of sippy cups from which to drink in colours far more exicting than her own.

We got very few gifts as people were under very strict instructions (in four different languages) NOT to bring anything as we are try to reduce, reduce, reduce at the moment given our impending trans-continental move. However one of hubby's colleagues originally from the midwest did send us an incredibly creative birthday present. What does one get a one year old cocotte who already has everything?

A cheesehead! As seen on TV!


We will actually be attending a cheese festival in Wisconsin in September and I imagine this hat will figure prominently.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

One year ago today

One year ago today la cocotte came screaming into our lives. I often mentally replay the memory of lying on the OR table under the bright lights, shivering uncontrollably from the anesthesia. It seemed like there was a platoon of nurses and doctors on the other side of the curtain that was carefully blocking mine and hubby's view of the proceedings. I remember the murmurings of the surgical team as they carefully counted every sponge, clip and surgical gadget they placed inside me. There was a feeling of intense pressure followed by a long moment of silence which was broken by the calm, measured voice of my obstetrician: "Well... hello there." This was followed by the wail we had waited 41.5 weeks to hear. My hubby whispered "somebody's here" and indeed she was. A life altering second, not parents one moment, parents the next. There was not enough room in my chest for my heart. There was simply no way of expressing the overwhelming emotion. I remember crying.

It is beyond my gift as a writer to describe how being a mom has affected me never mind how in love and enchanted I am with with baby. I do not want to reduce my experience with hackneyed cliches so I will simply say - Bonne Anniversaire ma cocotte toute douce. Je t'aime forte and je t'embrasse.