How Far Will You Go?

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When I tell people that I occasionally drive to Hamilton to do a stair workout, I am usually asked: Are you nuts? Why not just do the Casa Loma or Sunnybrook Stairs? Don’t you have better things to do with time?

 I understand their perplexity; Hamilton is at least an hour drive, usually longer on the way home because of traffic. So why go all that way? Because these are not just any stairs. Locals know them as Kenilworth Stairs. I know them as “the crazy place with 387 stairs”. Three hundred and eighty seven stairs!!!

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I first came across these stairs last year while training for a trail race in the French Alpes. I was looking for an alternative hill training workouts while I was nursing a chronic injury. After my first attempt at the stairs, I was hooked. Before explaining the reasons for my obsession, let me describe the workout:

My Stair Workout*

  1. Climb 228 stairs nonstop at a steady pace
  2. Run at a steady pace approximately 600m along the Bruce Trail, while jumping over rocks, roots and a sprinkling of ups and downs
  3. Climb another 159 stairs nonstop at a steady pace (don’t let this lower number excite you; these steps are much steeper!) IMG_4682
  4. At the top, run 50m on the bike path before turning around (in other words, fight every urge to collapse and just keep the legs moving!)
  5. Run down the 159 stairs as fast as possible (without tripping)
  6. Run at a steady pace once again for 600m along Bruce Trail
  7. Run down the remaining 228 stairs as fast as possible (without tripping)
  8. Stop for few seconds, take water, Gulp!
  9. Repeat the cycle as many times as possible in the hour!

*ideally, each step should be done one after the other without any pauses

It goes without saying that this workout is tough! My quads are screaming, my butt is begging for mercy and I’m tired!! So why do I love this workout so much? What makes it so addictive?

First off, I love the training benefits that I reap from this workout, while minimizing the amount of stress to my body. I’m developing wicked strength, power and endurance to my lower body. I’m increasing the threshold at which my body can perform. I’m teaching my body to adapt to multiple demands in a workout. However, the impact to my body is slightly different (compared to hill repeats) and my injury-prone body responds well.

Second, I love that this workout makes me more tough, more resilient. I’m an accomplished athlete and I can run fast, but I’m the first to admit that I like to operate in my comfort zone. This workout is getting me out of my comfort zone. When my legs are screaming for me to stop, I tell my legs to shut up and I keep going. When I run the section along the trail that’s a bit tricky, I try to run a bit faster each time. When I’m quickly running down the stairs and praying that I don’t fall, I try to hold onto the railing with less of a grip.

Despite the above, there is something relaxing about this workout. The repetitive nature of this workout allows me to go into this auto-pilot mode and I just go-go-go. Although I’m not completely “checked-out” as I might otherwise be during an easy trail run, there is part of my brain that shuts off.

And it is for these 3 reasons why I love doing this workout periodically throughout the season. The long commute to get to/from the stairs is worth it for me. How far will you go for a kick-ass workout?

Trail Run Clinics 2016

 

With the snow melting away and the mud in the trails quickly accumulating, now is the perfect time to start getting ready for 2016 season! Join me on a variety of trail running clinics, something for everyone.

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April 16-Terra Cotta Conservation Park (5 Peaks Race April 30)

Great opportunity for a little refresher on trail run technique and/or simply get your feet wet (and dirty) before the first race of the season. 9:30-12:00

Cost: $20

 June 11-Kortright Centre (5Peaks Race September 10)

Hosted by Kortright Centre, this is an excellent venue for those wanting to give trail running a try. 9:30-12:00

Payment and registration directly to Kortright. http://www.kortright.org/whats-on/

July (date to be finalized)-Salomon Store (shops at Don Mills Toronto)

9:30-12:00. More details to be provided soon.

June 18-Rattlesnake Conservation Park (5 Peaks race June25) 

*2 OPTIONS TO CHOOSE FROM

 Part 1 9:00-11:30

One of the most popular trail running scenes in the GTA, this course offers perfect terrain to hone in on your technique, especially hills! Or come see for yourself why this is one of 5Peaks most popular venues.

 Part 2 12:00-2:30

Learn even more about trail running, including how to enhance your training with specific strength training, key workouts and nutrition. Option to add in an extra run afterwards with Jennifer.

Cost: $20 for either Part 1 or 2; $35 for both

ADDITIONAL CLINIC AT ALBION HILLS MAY BE ADDED

 

Advanced registration & payment is required. Bring a friend and your name will be entered in draw prize. Email me at runningthetrails@yahoo.ca to register  

 

Finding My Way In Going Long

So when are you going to run a marathon?

Although one of the most commonly asked questions, its words have haunted me! For years, I’ve been asked over and over again when I was going to run a marathon. And time and time again, I would explain that I simply wasn’t interested in running the distance. Physically, I found it hard on my injury-prone body. I actually tried training for a marathon 3 times—but each time I would get injured (disclaimer: looking back, I’m sure that I could have done things differently to avoid injury). Emotionally, I wasn’t very motivated and I worried that I would get bored on the long runs. I liked capping my long runs at 1h30min! Still, it felt like there was this looming unspoken expectation that I should be running longer.

But then at the end of 2014 I had a medical episode that forced me to back-off completely from training. As I started to heal, I found that I could tolerate longer workouts so long as I kept the intensity easy. So I started training longer. And longer. And all on the trails. Before I knew it, I was running for 2h+ most weeks. My long run capped at 3h:45min. I ran a 37K trail race in the French Alpes (which took 5h30min due to the CRAZY elevation) followed by a 50K trail race in NY State (which had me running for just over 5H, due to the crazy but oh-so-fun hills). And I absolutely LOVED IT ALL!!!

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All smiles after winning Virgil Crest 50k

So what caused this sudden transformation? First of all, I discovered that my body could handle a larger training volume – distance and intensity, by incorporating trail running. The softer terrain, in comparison to the road or pavement, as well as the ever-changing direction and elevation of the trails, bode well for my body. Second, the time-off forced me to change my training habits and my expectations. Unlike when I was training for my first marathon, where I was gunning for a fast time, my goal this time was to simply finish the race. Plus, I had no choice but to keep the intensity easy, otherwise my symptoms would flare up. Combined, this removed any pressure and made my training much more relaxed, enjoyable and less stressful. I didn’t worry about nailing a certain pace for a particular run; my main consideration was to gradually build the amount of time on my feet regardless of the distance covered (disclaimer: training approach for ultra trail race is slightly different than training for road race). I never monitored my pace, distance or heart rate—in this sense, I was totally carefree! I simply went back to the basics of listening to what my body was telling me and adjusting my run accordingly. Finally, there is the element of timing – I believe that I simply wasn’t ready to run longer prior to now. My mind knew that, and my body was trying to tell me that as well. Trying to force something that you are simply not ready for only ends in disappointment.

To my surprise, I wasn’t bored with the long, solitude runs. I rediscovered a new love and passion for running by embracing the slower pace and longer distance. My weekly long runs became therapeutic and meditative for me. And the two ultra races I did were the perfect distance – I never reached that dark lonely place where I would ask myself “why am I doing this”? Instead, I embraced every KM of the race with a smile on my face.

Its now been a few months since I’ve ran beyond 1h30min..and I’m definitely feeling the itch to go longer again. And I’m starting to plan for my next 50K races. Will I ever run a marathon on the road? At this point, my best guess is “not likely”—except perhaps when I run an Ironman! But who knows, perhaps next year I will be motivated to train again for shorter distances. But at the end of the day, the distance covered is not what’s distinguishes me as a runner. There is NO underlying and unspoken expectation that running longer is better. What makes me a runner, just like all of the athletes I coach or train with is the dedication and commitment that we put into it, and the joy that we derive from it! So whether you are training for a 5K, 10K, 21.1K or marathon this season, road or trail, remember to let your passion, and not your expectations, fuel your runs!

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We should all celebrate our victories! 

Enjoying the Vacation

I love the “off season” – the break that comes following months of regimented training and racing, and before initiating another round of structured workouts with disciplined rest and eating habits. But not everyone shares this excitement; for some, taking time off can be challenging.

  • Fear starts to creep in. I don’t want to lose all the fitness I worked so hard on, so I’d better keep going.
  • Boredom may settle in. I don’t know what to do with this extra time on my hands.
  • The high and excitement from last race is still high. I finished my season on such a strong note; I just want to keep going.

I get that; I’ve been there. But take note: I’m not saying that you should cease working out altogether. Quite the opposite! Instead, I’m suggesting you adjust your mindset for a few weeks or even months, and give both your body and mind a bit of a vacation. Here’s a few suggestions.

Working out should be a sense of “I want” and not “I need” or “I ought to”. Any exercise at this point should be about having fun and being carefree. It should not be done because of a sense of obligation. Reconnect with our inner child and do what you crave.

Explore new types of activities. Always wanted to try indoor rock climbing? Belly dancing? Hockey? Now is the time to do it. Don’t worry about losing fitness. As long as you are doing something active, and no morphing into a couch potato, your body will maintain enough fitness to carry you thru until next season.

 Break away from the gadgets. Challenge yourself and leave your watch, your garmin, your heart rate etc. at home. Just go out and run, bike, swim etc. and simply tune in to what you are experiencing. It’s so easy to be consumed by our gadgets that we forget what exercising should feel like and we lose our ability to self-monitor.

Reconnect with family and friends. Your less-athletic friends and family may have forgotten what you look like. Take advantage of the extra time you have right now, and re-connect with them, share some laughs, and catch up on their lives. Make them the priority.

Give your body some extra TLC. It’s not uncommon for you to experience some form of injury right now, despite your lighter training mode. Think of it this way: our body was in “combat mode” during the high season, but now that you’re done, your body has let down its guard and defenses. Your body is saying “ok, I got you thru to the end of the season, and now I’m giving in. Time to take care of me”. Even if you are not experiencing some form of nagging injury, be proactive and treat yourself to a massage, spend some extra time stretching those tight muscles and catch up on some sleep. Your body will thank you for it.

Avoid the snap. Think of your body like an elastic band. If you are constantly training, the band is constantly stretched and loses its elasticity. Over time, the band gets stretched to the point where it snaps. Prevent this snapping by relieving the tension from time to time.

Conserve your energy. If you’re super motivated to get started again, bottle it up and save it for a few weeks. Avoid the tendency of wanting to jump back into things right away. Although you may think that you are ready, the risk of burnout either mentally or physically is still there. Plus it’s easy for there to be a disconnect between your body and mind – for instance, your high level of motivation can easily mask any lingering fatigue from last season. Instead, direct this energy to somewhere else. Trust that saving this motivation for the upcoming winter months – especially when it’s cold and dark outside – will come in handy!

And let’s face it, who doesn’t love a vacation from time to time?

 

Trail Run Retreat 2015-A Great Time By All

23 happy runners getting ready to run!

23 happy runners getting ready to run!

After hosting another Trail Running Retreat earlier Oct 2-4, I continue to be amazed with the energy, enthusiasm and pure fun that comes from bringing together a group of diverse people for a weekend. After nearly 48hrs, new friendships were formed, confidence levels were raised, stress levels were decreased, and motivation for a new training season had grown.

Participants came from all levels of experience: from having just ran their 1st 5K, road junkies looking for a new experience, Ironman finishers (bound for Kona 2016!), newly-converted trail runners and seasoned trail veterans with a few ultra’s under their belt. Ages ranged from the 20’s to the 60’s. But as diverse as the group was, we were all there for one common purpose: to play in nature’s very own backyard! And this one common thread lead to an amazing group dynamic and great time by all.

The focus for this year was Rejoice…Reflect…Renew. In other words, a celebration of the accomplishments, learnings, and a time for renewal! And no better place to host such an event than the Ecology Retreat Centre in Hockley Valley. Whereas it does not have the fixings of a luxurious hotel chain, its immediate access to the trails, the rustic charm décor, its peaceful setting nestled among the trees, the wonderful catered meals and the staff friendliness, makes ERC an excellent venue where participants feel like they have taken a little escape for their normal routine.

Learning to

Learning to “letting it go” on the descents

Four runs were organized, each held on a different trail and with a different focus (including technique and night running). Runs were set up in a such a way that people could run at their own pace/distance (or skip it altogether), all while being surrounded by the beautiful fall colors. A yoga/stretching session was offered, giving runners a much-appreciated opportunity to give some TLC to their muscles. Guest speakers were brought in, including:

  • Carol Ann Weis, chiropractor and personal trainer (and who coincidentally, co-wrote the book with me The Athletic Mom-to-Be) led us through a series of strengthening exercises targeted to trail runners
  • Jennifer Castle, Naturopath, provided additional insight on key 24/7 nutritional considerations
  • Alistair Munro, running coach and accomplished trail runner, shared some very helpful and practical tips on how to set up one’s training.

For additional entertainment and inspiration, runners viewed 2 episodes of the popular show Boundless, where Canadian Simon Donato and “Turbo” Paul Trebilcock competed in some pretty insane ultra running events. The weekend would not be complete without the option of roasting marshmallows by the fire!

Nothing beats a campfire!

Nothing beats a campfire!

But more importantly, what did the participants have to say about the retreat? Although feedback is still coming in, here’s a quick peak at what people have said:

Thanks Jennifer for an awesome weekend! you are a fabulous hostess and it was pretty great how you went out of your way to make sure everyone was affirmed in many ways…..way to go!!

 What a great weekend!  What fun we had but truly, your time and terrific effort put into the event all paid off.  The venue was excellent, the meals were perfect and the instruction was high end.

 I was really happy with the amount of time spend on the drills. I learned so much from these drills and will always remember “chest up!”

What fun is this?!

What fun is this?!

 I loved that it was two nights. Getting away for a full weekend really made it feel like a retreat and a time to unwind.

 Beautiful place and just perfect for a trail running clinic. It was not too far from where everyone lived yet far enough to make it feel like a short vacation.

 The ECR was exactly what I had hoped it would be – close to the trails and surrounded by trees – a perfect way to relax.

 I have had the most fun retreat experience in years! In addition, I learned several trail running techniques that are very useful.

 Your enthusiasm was contagious Jennifer and the retreat gave me a renewed desire to train harder and smarter for next season!

 I loved every aspect of it! I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the group, but Jennifer did a great job at accommodating people’s difference. I learned some helpful tips and could feel my confidence improve by the end of the weekend.

Surrounded by beauty

Surrounded by beauty

Getting Ready to Run

Getting Ready to Run

Bruce Trail is always a favourite!

Bruce Trail is always a favourite!

All in all, I would say it was a very fun and successful weekend. A very special thanks to those that were there and made it all happen. Also a big thanks to the great companies that supported me, including 5 Peaks, Salomon (especially Salomon Toronto), Clif, HoneyMaxx, Altra, Endurace Tap, MEC,Boundless (HLP tv), and Joshua Young. Now to start planning for next year’s retreat! Send me a message if you want me to keep you posted on the dates!

My special helper aka hubby

My special helper aka hubby

Special thanks to my helper Deanne

My other special helper Deanne

Taking Your Training to the Next Level: Goals

Check out part 2 of the series on how to get the most out of next season. Thanks Nat Korol and Kent Keeler (runbikerace.com)

HOW TO SET SOPHISTICATED RUNNING GOALS TO GET STRONGER

After you’ve spent time reflecting on your past running season, with the help of our last post alongside Jenn Faraone, the next logical step is to set training goals that will help staying focused and dedicated to pushing yourself to achieve more or maintain what you’ve achieved so far.

For many of us, the extent of setting running goal goes no further than, “I want to run a specific race in a time of X”.  However, as Jenn Faraone, running coach, author and competing athlete states, “to get the most of your training season, goal setting should be a little more sophisticated.” If you’re a dedicated runner (and all of us are, of course 😉 ), and want to evolve and progress your performance while staying dedicated to achieving a ‘simple’ goal, Jenn shares the  considerations below on sophisticated goals setting.

Working on my form is no doubt a goal for me! (or at least knowing how to look good in front of a camera!)

Working on my form is no doubt a goal for me! (or at least knowing how to look good in front of a camera!)

Read more here.

Looking back…and forward!

Check out the awesome write up that my friend Nat Korol wrote on Kent Keeler’s blog runbikerace.com.

3 Ways + 1 Solution to elevate your training to the next level is a great way to reflect on your past season and plan for the months ahead.  Some of this will be discussed at my upcoming Trail Retreat October 2-4.

Friends Deanne, Shar, (me) and Nat at ECSNY this past spring

Friends Deanne, Shar, (me) and Nat at ECSNY this past spring

http://runbikerace.com/2015/09/03/3-ways-1-solution-to-elevate-your-training-to-the-next-level/