Saturday, 22 September 2012

The New Normal

A year ago, I was living together with an old boyfriend in Yaletown. My maximum weekly mileage was 50k. Friday nights involved drinks out and shouted conversations in uncomfortable chairs. Weekends called for dinners with other couples (and sometimes their young children) and a solo 24k run on the seawall. Weeknights involved making dinner (an actual dinner!) and watching TV. In a lot of ways, it was a very good life - very comfortable. I meal-planned different meals. I dressed up and ate nice dinners out. I had running, in its own box, as a small and separate part of my life - I picked a couple half-marathons each year, I sort of trained, and I hadn't had a PB since 2008.

Things are a lot different now.

My life is busier now, and messier. I worry less, and have much more fun (along with this fun comes occasional hefty physio bills and consistently beat-up legs).

I have six pairs of running shoes scattered around a 400-square foot apartment (each running shoe has it's own special purpose!) and I am considering adding a couple new members to the trail shoe family.

A lot happens before 7am
I have realized that it is useless to try and sleep in anywhere past 6am without turning my phone onto silent. If I forget to do this, my bad habit of texting friends at 5:30a, when I am usually up, has come back to haunt me. I wake up to my phone buzzing:

" I know it is early but somebody needs to know how much my tempo hurt."

From my tri friends, who have consistently early swims: "Good morning, sunshine!" (that is a lot of endorphins to be so perky).

Or I get treated to a workout, via live-texting:

"About to attempt 6x1km at 3:00 to 3:07.5"

"2 down at 3:00 flat."

"Halfway. They are killing me."

"Four done but I think I might DNF on the next."

"Go big or bust on this one."

"Five done. Almost barfed."

I make one big batch of quinoa each week, and mix different fruit and veggies into it as the week progresses. Luckily, I have a high degree of tolerance for eating close to the same thing every day, and have yet to get sick of it. As a result, "cooking dinner" each night has become scooping the quinoa and veggie mixture into a bowl, which is about as much meal prep energy as I have.

I also have embraced "recovery" food after long weekend trail runs, and truly believe eating nachos with a pound of cheese has enhanced my performance.

I ran a half-marathon in February. Then I ran the Vancouver marathon. I told others: my family, my (very tolerant) work that this would be a one-time thing - train hard, run well, get back to my regular life. The marathon was back in May. Since then, I ran a trail 30 mile race. I signed up for a trail 50 mile race this early December. I signed up for the Colorado transrockies run ( with trail and life bestie Katie Wadden (200k, 20,000 ft elevation, 6 days) next August. Whatever I thought normal was, I won't be going back to it. This is the new normal.

Run recovery
Thursday nights involve running on trails of varying distances (1 mile 5/8ths? 2k net downhill?) with varying navigational references ("turn when you can see the ocean through the trees", "at the intersection it's about 400m", "take a right at the raccoon", "turn around when the blacktop ends"). Afterwards, I should theoretically stretch, roll out stiff muscles, and get to bed early. Instead, Thursday is my "big night out" - especially as we have found a West End patio that doesn't mind runners showing up in full spandex.

Long runs
My weekend "run" plans, lately, have involved picking a hiking route, then running it. In the last six weeks, I have done the Garibaldi traverse (1500m, 25k), the Howe Sound Creest (3500m, 28k), whatever the hell the part of the Squamish 50 trails we did (a lot of elevation very fast?, 32-ishk), and Hanes Creek (1100m, 34k). These runs involve several cars, frequent weather checks, water planning, and way too many gels. They take up virtually all of the day - at the end, I am dropped off back at my apartment: dusty, sore, scraped and ready to do it all over again the next weekend. Doing enough of my runs has given me the feeling that I can do anything - always a bit risky when you have poor eyesight (I don't run in glasses / contacts), get lost / misdirected on virtually every trail run I go own, and have poor co-ordination skills.

Social life
I love planning. I love my weekends. I get to see my friends, but the way we hang out is a bit different. Friday nights are yoga or a grouse grind. Saturday, instead of brunch, we do easy trails (or, theoretically, track, if I can ever make myself go back). Sunday we chat our way as we powerhike up a mountain. When we do get together for a non-exercise event, it is always a bit of a shock to see people in normal clothes with makeup on.

Letting go
As much as I loved running, I used to be afraid. I was afraid of running too much, and getting injured. I was afraid to push hard in tempos or Thursday night VFAC practices (, in case I "blew up" and couldn't hold my pace during the workout. I was afraid of getting lost on trails, or injured from going downhill too fast.

In February, I did a 25k trail race around Seymour. I got lost so badly I ended up going up the mountain twice, and DNF'd. In April, I battled a hip injury the last month of marathon training. It hurt, I trained through it, and I eventually recovered. When I did the Kneeknacker in July, I sprained my ankle badly enough to need a month's recovery. Everything I was scared of happened - and I'm still running. When my ankle was swollen up to twice its size, all I could think about was the downhill from top of Seymour grind to Deep Cove, and how much I wanted to be back on the trail taking the drops down and picking my way through the roots. When I was going to yoga, and doing my hip exercises, I just wanted to be back doing tempos as the sun rose, feeling the mix of adrenaline and peace that happens when my pace finally kicks in and everything feels smooth.

Take away my doubt
This is the lifestyle that I choose. It means that some nights I fall asleep at 7:30 because my body needs rest. It means that my weekend plans revolve around which mountain my friends and I feel like running up. It means that my google search history can pretty much be summed up with: "why does my leg hurt? is it a stress fracture?". It means that my drink tolerance is now two glasses of wine (and sometimes less).  It means that I embrace everything: the dark, rainy mornings, the trail wipeouts, the unnerving aches and pains, the tired legs. It means that, when things start to hurt, I choose to exhale into the pain, trust the strength in my bones, and keep going.


  1. Your tolerance was always 2 glasses of wine ;)

    And I clearly can't move back! If you texted me at 6 am and I was on the west coast, I would delete you from my phone. At least if you text me here, it's the reasonable hour of 9 am.

  2. Nice writing Alex - enjoyed it and your photos :)