30 Good Things Before 30: #21 – Clif Shot Bloks

It’s Sunday. And I’m in marathon training mode.

You know what that means, don’t you?

It’s LSD day. (You know you’re a runner if you automatically translated that to long slow distance run and didn’t assume I was on some kind of psychedelic voyage.)

I’m in Week 2 of training and I wandered around all day yesterday thinking I had to run 10 km today. When I finally checked my plan this afternoon, however, I realized I was actually supposed to get an 8-miler on the books.

This was disappointing news.

Not that an 8-miler is that much longer or more difficult than a 10k. It’s just that I was up early yesterday and on the road for a family get-together and that I ran 4 very hilly miles on unforgiving concrete last evening and that I drank way too many coffees and not nearly enough water this morning and that I could barely keep my eyes open on the drive back home today.

But, so far, I’m at 100% adherence to my training plan and I didn’t want to break that streak so I suited up, laced up, and got ready to hit the treadmill (trying to do a couple of my weekly runs indoors to give my joints a break as they get used to this increased mileage).

30-good-things-before-30It was around this time, several hours post-brunch, that I realized I was kinda hungry. But having barely mustered the energy to tackle the run, I couldn’t stop to make something to eat.

Along came #21 on my list of 30 Good Things Before 30 to the rescue:

Clif Shot Bloks

I was forced to begin toying with eating during runs when I embarked on my marathon training last winter. I’d received a couple of energy gels in swag bags at previous races so I started experimenting with them.

This did not go well.

I’m a texture girl. Consistency is important. No matter what flavour gel I tried, each one threatened to come back up every time I gulped it down. I just couldn’t get past the slimy goo sliding down my throat.

I don’t know why. It’s a mental block. But I knew I couldn’t be the only runner to feel that way.

For my first marathon, I was going at it alone. Google was my coach. So I turned to Coach Google for alternatives.

There I discovered there was a whole world of candy-like alternatives that could fuel my miles. I picked up a variety of options and quickly became hooked on these:

My two favourite flavours of Clif Shot Bloks

My two favourite flavours of Clif Shot Bloks: Citrus and Strawberry

Clif Shot Bloks are like gummy bears for endurance athletes. Each package contains six 33-calorie cubes that have a great chewy-but-not-too-chewy consistency with a sweet-but-not-too-sweet flavour. They’re my go-to on all my long training runs and on race day.

My mind also occasionally turns to my stash of Clif Shot Bloks longingly when I’m craving a sweet treat. They’re that good!

A Mountain Berry Clif Shot Blok

A Mountain Berry Clif Shot Blok

Today, I started popping a couple of Bloks two miles into my long run when my legs were already feeling like dead-weight. In minutes, they felt revived.

That’s why I love these things.

If gels gross you out but you need some good long distance fuel, check out Clif Shot Bloks. Also, I should mention that I have not received any kind of compensation from Clif Bar for this post. I just live off these things during marathon training–and occasionally when I just want a treat…

Do energy gels gross you out?

What are your favourite fuelling products for long runs?

What’s your tried-and-true strategy for consuming calories on long runs?

Three goals is better than one

I am now officially less than a week from my first race of the season: the Fredericton Marathon 10k. Training-wise, things are going well.

It’s suddenly spring in Fredericton and the sunshine pulled me outdoors this weekend for a couple of nice easy runs and an interesting discovery: It turns out I may actually be solar-powered. Each sun-soaked run felt light and relaxed and my pace was consistently faster than intended (though still not as fast as I hoped I would be when I set out on this training plan).


My legs experiencing exposure to sunlight for the first time in months.

It’s a sharp contrast to last week when slogging out a couple of low-energy outdoor runs forced me to own up to the fact that my original goal of a new PR might be just out of reach. Unfortunately, despite my newfound sun-energy, I think that’s still the case.

Yet, I haven’t invested a single second into re-imagining the race and figuring out what my new goal should be. Somehow, I just couldn’t let it go.

And now, I’ve decided I don’t have to.

Instead of letting go of this goal, I’m keeping it and adding two others. Yeah, that’s right: One race, three goals.

Apparently, this is an actual thing so it may not come as a surprise to you more seasoned runners, but it blew my little mind when it came up in the #RunAtCan chat last night.

The chat was focused on “altering the plan” for training and goals. Perfect timing, right? After a lot of heartbreaking talk about injuries and setbacks, one of the questions that came up was if our training had ever gone so well that we had to change our goals in a positive way. (Wouldn’t it be grand to have that problem?)

One of my wonderful fellow #RunAtCan tweeps mentioned that while that had never happened for her, she always sets three goals and has exceeded her “dream goal” on more than one occasion.

Intrigued, I inquired for more detail:

Here’s another good summary from hillrunner.com:

Floor Goal – The minimum that I would be satisfied with if I have an off day or bad race conditions (weather, course, etc.).

Realistic Goal – What I realistically think I should be able to do considering my stage/state of conditioning and knowledge of the race specifics.

Optimistic Goal – What I think I might be able to do if I pop a really exceptional one and everything goes right.

Love. This.

It removes the black-and-white success/failure dichotomy and gives you multiple options to run a race you can feel good about. And isn’t the whole damn point of this running thing to feel good about what you’re doing?

Here’s what I’m thinking for Sunday’s race:

  • Floor Goal: 59:59. Much longer than this and it will officially be my slowest 10k yet. I just can’t see that happening with the shape I’m in now; regardless, getting in under an hour is still respectable and I’ll take it.
  • Realistic Goal: 57:00. Still kinda ambitious for the paces I’ve recorded during my training but achievable given the speed of my outdoor runs lately.
  • Optimistic Goal: 53:00 (a.k.a. just enough for a new PR). It’s not completely out of the question. It’s definitely a pace I can achieve and maybe, with the right mix of race day adrenaline and cheering spectators, even sustain.

Still hoping to land somewhere between realistic and optimistic (and, let’s be honest, hoping it’s a lot closer to optimistic than realistic), but I’ll take what I can get come race day.

In the meantime, I’ll be focused on eating right, hydrating well, and sticking to the final week of my training plan, which (glory, hallelujah!) includes a few extra rest days,

And then? Well, let race season begin!!!

Adjusting expectations: A tale of two training runs

Today’s run: 3 miles at 9:50/mile

I am now officially two weeks from my first race of the season: the Fredericton Marathon 10k.

I set a goal for this race to beat my PR of 53:02 using this Women’s Running training plan. I’d like to say I’m on track to pulverize that goal. The reality is it may be time to adjust expectations.

As I’ve entered the last few weeks of my training, my plan has called for me to attempt some race pace runs. With the deepfreeze of winter finally lifting, I got off the treadmill and onto the footpaths for such a run. It looked like this:

3-mile supposed-to-be-race-pace run

3 mile supposed-to-be-race-pace run. Goal pace? 8:02/mile. Reality? 8:46.

This run came after a full day of yardwork. I had also just drank half-a-beer while admiring my yardwork and then, after getting some crappy news, decided to run off the disappointment. All this to say, I may not have been in the best physical or mental condition for a high-performance run. Nonetheless, I ran until my lungs burned as fast as my legs could carry me, never coming near 8:02/mile.

A few days later, my plan called for a short tempo run. It looked like this:

3.5 mile supposed-to-be-tempo-run

3.5 mile supposed-to-be-tempo-run. Goal pace? 8:12/mile. Reality? 8:46.

Yeah, that’s right: the exact same pace as my supposed-to-be-race-pace run.

No yardwork, no beer, no inner turmoil on this run, but I was dragging my butt right out of the gate. My legs were lead weights. I was uncomfortable. My inner voice said “screw it” and encouraged me to just slow down, goal pace be damned.

Neither run was close to my goal race pace. More heartbreaking still, neither even matched the average 8:33/mile pace a 23-year-old me ran in my 10k PR.

A few short weeks ago, I was overflowing with excitement and confidence that a new PR was within my reach with this training plan. So what went wrong?

  1. Too many treadmill runs – The weather’s been crap. I’ve been content to stay inside my cozy house, hop on the treadmill and watch reruns of Parenthood. This, unfortunately, is not the same as running outside. It doesn’t prepare you for uneven terrain or headwinds. It doesn’t force you to learn the discipline of pace. I know I can run an 8:12/mile. I’ve done it on the treadmill. Forcing your body to cover that ground at that speed on its own without a belt setting the pace, is a different beast.
  2. Too many missed runs – 11 missed runs over the past 6 weeks. That’s a 74% rate of adherence to my plan, and to be totally honest, that still sounds pretty good to me. I took rest days when I felt worn down, which probably saved me from a lot of illness and injury. Indeed, I’m sure that level of adherence still would have been enough to get me to my goal if not for…
  3. Too many easy runs – The runs I tended to skip were the ones I needed most: hills and interval training. You don’t get faster running an easy pace on level ground, but those were the runs I never missed because they were comfortable, because I could do them with my eyes shut, no matter what else went on that day, no matter how low my energy was.

I’m two weeks out. I know where I’ve gone astray and what to look out for in training for my big event this race season (Hello, Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon!). I’m aiming to stick to my training plan for these two weeks, hoping for the best, but preparing for a performance a bit shy of my expectations.

It’s possible that the adrenaline of race day, the cheering spectators, my fellow runners, including (for the first time in a long time) a couple of friends, and my supportive family will give me the kick in the pants I need to achieve a new PR. But if not?

Well, shoot. I still get to experience the adrenaline of race day, the cheering spectators, running alongside friends, and the support of my family.That’s enough to make this a great race no matter what pace I run it at!

It’s a hill: Get over it

Today’s run: 5.5 miles at 10:00/mile (4 miles easy, 1.5 miles HR)


Words of wisdom from Hal Higdon (except maybe the “love” part–I’m not there yet). Pin this.

I hate hills.

I have no poetic way to express it, no humorous observation to make.

To be fair, I may have been able to come up with something a bit more clever when I woke this morning, when spring sunshine and fresh coffee infused me with a sense of infinite possibilities for the day ahead.

Unfortunately for you, dear readers, I invested that vigour in hill repeats, causing my body to devour any and all potential creative energy and shuttle it to my quivering quadriceps in a last-ditch effort to save me from a face-full of treadmill belt.

So yeah. I hate hills.

They suck. They’re hard. They hurt. They make you feel like your heart’s going to explode. Or at the very least like you’re gonna throw up. And I loathe throwing up.

I’ve recently accepted, however, that I’m something of a “serious” runner (“serious” in that it eats up large chunks of both my disposable income and free time, not “serious” in that I’m particularly fit, fast or knowledgeable).

And “serious” runners embrace those hills.

Full disclosure: Hills have been part of several of my past training plans, but I ignored each nasty little “HR” on the calendar and used those days to log a few miles on level ground at an easy pace. Which worked out okay. My races have been mostly flat courses and the ones that weren’t–well, those peaks and valleys were a pretty good excuse for a slow pace. But if I’m going to achieve a sub-4:00 marathon this fall or record a new 10k PR next month, the status quo ain’t gonna cut it.

The subject of hills came up in Sunday’s #RunAtCan chat, when a fellow runner asked if anyone had successfully trained for a half- or full-marathon without hill training, and I ‘fessed up. This got me thinking about my stubborn resistance to hills, and I posed this question:

And as the #RunAtCan folk are wont to do, they responded with a slew of good suggestions:

  • Start small
  • Buddy up
  • Try out some positive self-talk and tell yourself you’re awesome at hills
  • Try walking them first and gradually increase your pace
  • Try out some inclines on the treadmill to get a feel for it

This morning when I saw my training plan called for some hill repeats, I vowed to give it an honest effort.

I took the treadmill advice to heart and decided to do my hill repeats indoors since it would give me control over speed and incline. (It would also allow me to vomit peacefully in the privacy of my own home, should the need arise.)

There were a few problems: first being that my plan calls for hill repeats at a breakneck 7:43/mile, which is fast even on flat ground for the likes of me. Not gonna happen. I opted for a more reasonable 8:34/mile.

Also problematic was the fact that I’m in Week 9 of my training plan, which expects me to be a seasoned hill runner capable of completing six 2-minute hill repeats. (Nope. Nope, nope, nope.) I scaled back to Week 6’s HR workout: 1:30 x 5. More reasonable, still scary.

The result?

Well, I did it. And it sucked. Pretty much as badly as I thought it would.

Each repeat was the longest 90 seconds of my life and, I’ll admit, I did the last one holding onto the treadmill console for dear life (a big no-no, I know, know).

But I guess the bottom line is I did it, right? And that maybe next time will suck a little less?

Because after all, I’m awesome at hills! (Or at least that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself, as per my #RunAtCan counsel.)

Surviving hot yoga

Today’s run: Not happening (rest day)

There was a time back in 2010 when I pledged to give hot yoga a try. Five years later, I’m making good on that promise.

Hot yoga: the aftermath (a.k.a. sweat bikini)

Hot yoga: the aftermath (a.k.a. the sweat bikini)

My mom talked me into it. As a recent convert, she’s been spreading the good news about hot yoga: that it’s a great stress-buster, that it’s rejuvenating, that it’s one heck of a workout if you want it to be, but that you can also go at your own pace, adjusting to your personal blend of balance, flexibility and fitness.

Sounded like exactly what I needed after navigating a particularly stressful stretch in my life, not to mention the first week of my new 10k training plan. So mom twisted my rubber arm and I found myself at a Saturday morning hot yoga class at Peak Performance Health Center.

I showed up ready to rock: well-hydrated (lots of water that morning and the evening before), lightly fueled (teeny tiny breakfast providing just enough energy to get up and go but not enough to feel like a lead weight in your tummy), and fully equipped (lightweight workout clothes, yoga mat, towels, water bottle).

But I was also pretty nervous. The heat and I don’t have the best relationship. There have been a few fainting spells on hot summer days or in steamy showers. There was also a particularly traumatizing race in 30+°C heat when I crossed the finish line, threw up, and ended up lying under a tree, covered in ice packs, attended to by a paramedic. (Good times, good times.)

So when I entered the room, kept at a balmy 38-40°C, I was feeling the exact opposite of zen.

Thankfully, Peak Performance doesn’t fool around. They have very specific rules set out for hot yoga participants: the first being that you have to show up at least 20 minutes before class, giving you time to get into the room and acclimatize to the heat.

That 20-minute buffer was a godsend. After spending just a few minutes in corpse pose (see, I know yoga stuff now!), my heart rate slowed, my breathing deepened, my body relaxed, and the class seemed doable.

Doable and, it would turn out, enjoyable.

Our instructor was lovely, suggesting variations for the poses as we moved through them so we could all find the proper fit for our bodies. She also maintained a very light vibe: smiling, joking, playing music that was actual music and not just chanting or ambient, ethereal strains.

All the small things that make a beginner like me feel at home.

As for the workout itself? It was a pleasant shift from pounding through interval training and slogging through distance runs to focusing on other aspects of my fitness, like flexibility (pretty on point) and balance (I may have fallen over a few times). There was also some definite strength work, which I felt in my abs during class and in my arms and shoulders for a couple days afterward.

The best part though? Just walking out of there in a state of total relaxation, feeling like I’d done something awesome for body and mind. A feeling I’d love to find again.

A couple of Christmases ago, my dear husband bought me a gift certificate for 10 yoga classes. I never went, too afraid to put myself out there, try something new, potentially make a fool of myself. Time to cash it in…

The plan, the whole plan, and nothing but the plan

Today’s run: 5 miles, 9:50/mile

When I last left you, dear readers, I was getting pumped up to start training for my next race: the Fredericton Marathon 10k on May 10.


It’s everything you dreamed it would be.

And since then? Well, I haven’t been sitting around eating pecan butter tart ice cream.

Ok, ok. I haven’t just been sitting around eating pecan butter tart ice cream. I’ve also been working on a plan that will (hopefully) get me to a new PR in less than 8 weeks.

Today, I’ll put down my spoon long enough to share it with you.

As we’ve discussed before, I’m a very lazy runner when it comes to planning. Tell me to run 10 miles and I’m fine with that. Tell me to spend a couple hours researching training plans and, suddenly, there’s at least half-a-dozen Teen Mom episodes that I need to binge-watch immediately.

Luckily for me, Google is extremely adept at crunching up my words and spitting back exactly what I want. Seriously adept.

How adept? Well, I searched “run a faster 10k training plan” and instantly a new training plan, which has literally everything I’m looking for, appeared as the #1 result. The future is now, kids, and it’s amazing.

Behold the new training plan, courtesy of Women’s Running:

The plan!

The plan!

My fav thing about this plan? It leaves nothing to guesstimation.The target pace for every run is laid out in real numbers, not mythical little imaginings like perceived rates of exertion.

It’s also doable, though challenging, and should hopefully get me across the finish line before the timer hits 53:02. In theory, it should get me there around 50:00 but let’s not be greedy. Any finish 53:01 or faster will do.

The only downside? It’s a 12-week plan and I’ve got 8 weeks to go. But who really needs Weeks 1-4, right? To hell with caution, I’m diving in at Week 5 and hoping the decent base of fitness I’ve maintained over the winter will see me through.

So far, so good. I’ve completed two easy runs at 9:50/mile, including today’s 5-miler. (No problems.) I’ve also managed a 3.5 mile tempo run at 8:12/mile. (No problems exactly, but definitely some cursing on the inside and much grimacing on the outside.)

Tomorrow, I attempt some intervals. Right now, though, my dear husband has placed a glass of pinot noir by my desk that I must attend to.

That may be the only thing this plan is missing…

So that’s what 9 mph feels like…

In my quest to become a speedier runner, I’ve begun dabbling more seriously in interval training.

And by “more seriously”, I mean I’ve Googled “speed workouts for treadmills,” combed through the first page of results, and tried a grand total of two of them.

What you should know about me is that I’m a very, very lazy runner in one very, very specific way. I have no problem committing to a training plan and completing most of the runs and workouts on that plan. I have a very serious problem in actually sitting down to find a suitable training plan or modify an existing plan to fit my goals.

I blame the Internet. As a whole. Too many distractions. For example, over the past week when I could have been researching training plans I have instead devoted time to reading this, watching this, and playing this. (As you can see, my online pastimes are many, varied, and completely useless to all humankind.)

This particular brand of laziness makes me really appreciate it when a much more ambitious person than I documents their exact training regiments online so I can find them and replicate them; hence, the two interval workouts I’ve tried.

Advanced treadmill speed workout from Sparkpeople#1: Advanced Speed Program (Sparkpeople.com) – Sparkpeople is a super-handy website for those trying to adopt a healthy lifestyle. It can help you log food, exercise, and other wellness initiatives in one of the most supportive communities you can hope to find online. It also offers workout videos and, I recently discovered, some treadmill speed workouts. I skimmed through and was surprised to find the “Advanced” program looked to be about my speed. After printing it out and taking it for a test run, though, I found it was actually a bit below my speed. It was a happy discovery that even in a workout longer than 50 minutes, the maximum 6.9 mph pace felt pretty darn comfortable.

Speed-It-Up-Treadmill-Interval-Run_thumb #2: “Speed It Up” Treadmill Interval Workout (Sweet Tooth Sweet Life) – This one offered more of a challenge. So much of a challenge, in fact, that I wasn’t sure I should attempt it. Because, you see, I’ve never hit 9 mph on a treadmill before. 8 mph, sure. Maybe even an occasional 30 seconds at 8.2 if I’m feeling especially brave. But never 9 mph. I’ve always been terrified that I’d lose my footing and be ejected off the back, leaving an Alison-shaped hole in the wall. Against my better judgement, however, I decided to give it a try. And when I did, I soon heard those familiar voices: “Just tone it down a bit. Don’t bother hitting those high speeds. It’ll still be a good workout.” And I ignored them. And I pushed through. And I finished the whole damn thing.

On Pinterest this week, I found a running pin that said “If it doesn’t scare you, it’s not far enough.” May I suggest instead:


If it doesn’t scare you, it’s not fast enough. Pin it.

We’ll never know our limits ’til we hit ’em.

Mind over matter: A new personal best

This was me when I finished my run today:

Why? Because (1) that song just happened to be playing as I did my cool-down and I’m not one to let a Taylor Swift song go by without singing lead vocals (she may be my spirit animal), and (2) I just ran a new personal best for a 5k!

Let’s put aside my perhaps questionable taste in music for a minute and focus on the latter part.

In my quest to run a sub-4:00 marathon (more on that here), I’ve been researching training plans and speed workouts with two questions in mind:

  1. Is a sub-4:00 finish even possible for a relative slowpoke like me?
  2. And, if so, what kind of gut-churning, leg-burning regiment will it take to get there?

Today, I came across this post: How to Run a Marathon in Under 4 Hours. The author suggested the following regarding speedwork:

I have found that 1 kilometer and 1 mile repeats at around 5k to 10k race pace work best.  For a 4-hour marathon an equivalent 5k pace would be 7:56 mile pace and 10K pace is 8:14 mile pace.

Hard, cold numbers. I like that.

(I hate training plans that tell you to run at a certain level of perceived exertion because I’m a fickle, fickle judge. A 5 out of 10 one day might feel like an 8 the next because there’s a new episode of Grey’s Anatomy I’d rather be watching or I just really want to eat a giant bowl of popcorn.)

So, armed with these numbers, I brought up a Speed Time Distance calculator and figured out at what speed I’d need to set the trusty old treadmill (yes, I’m running indoors because we got a foot of snow last night and I’m a delicate flower) in order to achieve these paces. Somewhere between 7.3 and 7.5 mph.

For me, that’s hella fast. My best 5k ever was probably last summer when I placed third in my division at a small local race with a 27:39 finish time (around 6.7 mph). Never have I came in around the 25-minute mark for a 5k.

Lately though, I’ve been running 6.6 mph or better on a regular basis. ‘So what the hell,’ I thought. ‘Sunday’s good a day as any to run ’til you vomit. #SundayRunday!’

I got on the treadmill with a goal of running a 5k at 7.4 mph. And I actually did it. Finished in 25:08, a new personal best!

It was a powerful reminder of how running is so much a mental game. I was doubtful from the get-go that I could actually hold that pace for the full 5k and, indeed, as the run unfolded my mind kept trying to find excuses to get out of it.

I found myself bargaining internally: ‘Just run a mile at this pace and then you can run the next mile at a jog. Ok, two miles at this pace and then the last mile can be your cooldown. So, just hold this pace until you’ve got half-mile to go and then slow it down.’

But as I passed each marker, it was obvious that my legs and lungs were able. It was my mind that was weak.

Our bodies are capable of so much more than we realize. Maybe even capable of a sub-4:00 marathon? Even that naysaying mind of mine is starting to believe it’s possible.