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.)

Zen and the art of treadmill maintenance

Today’s run: TBD

I’ve been meditating lately (yep, hot yoga last week, meditating this week: I’m that girl). Specifically, I’ve been working through Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s 21-Day Meditation Experience: Manifesting True Success.

Each day, a link to a new guided meditation shows up in my inbox. I barricade myself in my office, light a candle or some incense, sit cross-legged on my dog’s bed, and let Oprah and Deepak guide me from “limiting beliefs” to discovering that my successes can be “infinite.”


“You’re stealing my bed to do what?”

You may think this sounds ridiculous. And if you could talk to 19-year-old me, she’d agree and you could conspire about how lame and new-agey I’ve become over a pitcher of Alpine.

Historically, I’ve been a firm believer in the glorification of busy. I’ve equated success with being constantly on the move or, failing that, at least having a brain that was operating at breakneck speeds.

I’m starting to figure out there’s little glory in dashing through life like it’s a race to the finish line (ironic coming from a runner, no?) and that a few minutes of stillness, deep breathing and turning inward is way more fruitful than several hours with a mind so busy its focus is split in a dozen different directions.

I’m in Week 2 of my meditation experience and we’re starting to focus on making SMART choices. Yep, that’s an acronym. And yep, I’m aware of how super-dorky it sounds, but bear with me.

SMART choices encompass the following:

S – Stretch more than you can reach

M – Make everything measurable

A – Agreement with your inner self and those around you

R – Record your progress

T – Time limits for acting and getting a result

I’m still new to the SMART doctrine, In fact, so far, I’ve only been introduced to S, which essentially just asks that I move beyond my comfort zone and familiar boundaries.

And that’s how I found myself here yesterday:

I’m fortunate enough to have a treadmill in my home gym. I’m also fortunate enough to have a husband who is rather handy and generally takes care of the related maintenance. Not because I can’t do it. But because I don’t wanna. And because that’s just one of the benefits of having a husband.

This past week, my treadmill started skipping. At best, it was super-annoying. At worst? Kind of dangerous. I let dear hubby know that the belt needed to be tensioned and lubricated. And he promised he’d get to it.

But then, of course, life happened. He worked a week of 14-hour days, coming home just to sleep. On Friday, as he was running late for an out-of-town, all-weekend engagement, he gave me a call to let me know that, once again, he wouldn’t have time for the treadmill.

“I’ve got a great idea for your blog,” he said. “Write about fixing your treadmill. It’s something every runner has to do at some point, right?”

Well-played, sir. Well-played.


Tools of the trade (including what would turn out to be the wrong T-handled thingy)

So trying very hard to stretch more that I can reach, I marched into the gym, busted out the owner’s manual and got to work. I learned a couple of things:

  1. Read the instructions. Read all the instructions. I did pretty much everything wrong because I gave the instructions a very casual perusal and then just did what I thought should be done. This included loosening the belt, even though it didn’t need to be loosened, trying to run the treadmill while the belt was still loosened, and doing the exact opposite of what I should have done to center the belt. Essentially, not reading the instructions turned what should have been a 15-minute job into an hour-long one. READ THE INSTRUCTIONS.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the necessary tools. I also wasted a lot of time trying to adjust the belt using the wrong T-handled thingy. The treadmill comes with two T-handled thingies. I don’t know why. I don’t care why. But this would have been handy to know from the get-go. I was also using a new-to-me piece of technology called the Lube-N-Walk. It’s designed to simplify this process because you can just slide it under the belt, saving you from loosening it in order to apply the lubricant. I didn’t know this. So I wasted a lot of time (see above).

In the end, the mission was (mostly) a success. I took my freshly-lubricated, newly-tensioned treadmill for a 6-mile trial run and it worked. Only had to readjust the belt once.

Today I might take it for another spin and enjoy the fruits of stretching beyond my reach. But not until I do some meditation because after that nonsense, my state of zen is in need of some serious restoration.

Namaste, y’all.

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 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.

Pace yo’self ‘fore you race yo’self

A sub-4:00 marathon may be crazy; however, I’ve discovered that 4 miles at a sub-4:00 pace is not. That’s… something, right?

Since last I left you, I’ve combed through some training plans, thought about the best timing for my sub-4:00 feat (spring or fall?), and told my husband of my goal, although I don’t think he quite gets the magnitude of it for someone like me.

(The conversation went something like this: I told him I wanted to try to run a marathon in less than four hours. He assured me I could. I then found out he assumed I meant I would try to accomplish this in the immediate future–like, next week–and still saw no problem with this. Sigh. Non-runners, amIright?)

I decided that a good starting point would be to test my current limits. To get over the finish line (wherever and whenever it might be) under the 4-hour mark, I need to maintain an average pace of 9:09/mile.

Since my last half-marathon in October, I’ve just been running occasionally, aimlessly and at my convenience (translation: rarely, slowly, and not too far). My average pace in that time has ranged from 8:59 to 10:01 (i.e. from “Sub-4:00? No problem!” to “Sub-4:00? Forget about it!”).

So this week, I vowed to test out the ol’ legs and lungs and see how 9:09/mile felt. And because it’s been hovering around the -20 degrees Celsius mark ’round these parts, I wussed out and got on the treadmill. First for 5 km at 6.6 mph. Then for 4 miles at the same speed.


Average pace for my last 10 runs, including the last two treadmill runs at sub-4:00 pace.

At first, I felt like I was gonna die or, at the very least, fly arse over teakettle off the back of the thing. But within a couple of minutes, my body adjusted to the pace. My breathing was even. My legs found their rhythm. My mind immersed itself in a Serial episode (Have you listened to these yet? DO IT NOW!).

It was over before I knew it, and I had energy to spare.

Of course, pacing is only half the problem. The other, equally scary half is distance. Sure, I’m running a decent pace, but can I maintain it for 10 miles? 20? 26.2?

Let’s find out, shall we?