Saturday, May 25, 2013

Beer Replacement

Last weekend, here in Canada we celebrated Victoria Day. The long weekend is fondly referred to as
May "2-4" weekend. Historically this was my favorite long weekend of the summer. It was like a ribbon cutting ceremony to the start of summer. Cheers to that!

It's name alone suggests a 3 day party, powered by beer, bars and barfing.  The weekend has not changed, but I have. I just spent my third May "2-4" weekend as a sober girl. Admittedly, this year was much easier to get through than the previous two.

What made this year easier?

It certainly wasn't the sight of packed patio bars or a parking lot full of eager to drink, consumers, at the liquor store. Those things will ignite a craving so strong that I can taste the icy, cold beer and I can feel the cool glass bottle in my hand and the condensation dripping. Those kinds of triggers will probably always stick with me. Just as the sound of the bell made Pavlov's dog salivate, the sight of certain things reminiscent of a good drunk fest will arouse liquor hunger in me. The part that makes all of that livable this year is strength.

I think about drinking often, but not to the point where I am moments away from popping a cork. They are thoughts without action. My thoughts of drinking are often the same, full of good feelings and happiness, but I don't act n them. Time has marched on and with it a healthier mind and body have emerged on my behalf. These changes have not come by thought alone. These modifications have taken root through strict and conscious action.

I eat a clean, healthy plant based diet. I get enough rest. I drink 4-6 litres of water a day. I exercise, except by now, I don't really consider it "exercise", it's just a part of the routine to my day. These choices have all come together to create not only physical strength, but emotional and psychological toughness, as well.

This fortitude is what made this year's May "2-4" weekend pass by without the same desperate longing as the years before. I still thought about drinking, but those thoughts sat somewhere in the back of my mind and not front and centre. The front and centre thoughts were of running.

Canada Running Series posted a page on the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon site, introducing it's "Digital Champions". I am so flattered to be part of this group of influential and dedicated runners. The people at CRS have no idea how good this is for me. When a recovering alcoholic has things to focus on, other than drinking, healing is so much easier. They are playing a big role in my continued wellness. Consider following our journey to the #STWM in October, or even better, run with us.

My long run on the weekend was also a source of focus that kept the thoughts of boozing from taking centre stage. I am still following my coach's low heart rate training plan, so my runs are measured by time and not distance. I ran for1 hour and 45 minutes and didn't once think of beer. What I was thinking about was the energy supplement I had taken prior to heading out for my run.

Jonathon from energybits gave me the chance to try the product which is great because I am always interested in new things. I was even more interested in energybits because many of the tweeps I follow have incorporated them into their training. What Jonathon didn't realize is that he was also giving me an opportunity to be a part of something that redirected my thoughts from the firewater. The product is 100% organically grown spirulina algae. To a vegan this means another plant based option for protein which is another reason I was eager to give them a go.

As I ran I was happy to find that my energy level stayed consistent. I did not have a big burst of energy at the beginning of my run, nor did I experience a big crash of fatigue part way through as I have with other glucose based products. I had no uneasy feeling in my stomach and I had no regurgitation. I felt as good at the end of my run as I did at the start and my thoughts were just as wholesome as the supplement. Beer was once again sstationed far away from my mind's spotlight. Instead I was considering what I had to do to get my hands on more energybits.

CRS and energybits are two of the things keeping me focused on staying sober. I have so many other things in my life that are deserving of my sobriety, including my family, my friends and my job, but I always had those reasons and I still drank. The number one reason I am sober and staying that way is because I want to. I want to be the best I can be for the things that matter. My motivation and strength to continue honoring my commitment comes from these external things and people. The more time and space I can put between me and my last drink, the better. If it takes running 100km and alignment with 100 ambassador programs, that is what I am going to do. I don't see it as "cheesy", I see it as therapy. It feels pretty damn good to have people who don't even know me, believing in me. I am replacing the good times and feelings I had drinking beer with the good times and feelings I am experiencing via the running community.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Desire and the De-hydration Station

Have you ever noticed that the moment you realize you cant have something, you want it even more?

 A shift in thinking takes place from previously feeling somewhat ambivalent about said desire to feeling like you cant go on without it. If you have been following along since my inaugural post for the iRUN blog contest, you know that  the desirous object of mention, for me, is alcohol. For anyone who doesn't know my history, I am a past drinker with  two years and four months sobriety to my name. I run instead of drinking.

Last Sunday, I ran the Goodlife Toronto Half Marathon and the object of my usual want and desire took a back seat.

 My coach, Greg advised me to take it easy on the course as my training was in a phase of rebuilding and had not been speed driven. I had no problem with the plan as I knew I was going to at least be running faster and more freely than the slow training runs I had been doing.

Typically for distances greater than 10k, I use a hydration belt. For this race I decided against the belt as it feels cumbersome and restrictive around my waist and I just wanted to feel light and free. I also reasoned that I was not going to be aiming for a personal best, so it was fine to be losing a bit of time using the hydration stations on the course.


Even with an 8:30am start time, the day was quickly heating up and the sun's UV rays could be felt. I wasn't concerned because I knew I wasn't going to be pushing myself hard in the race. Approaching the first water station, I planned to grab and go and not to worry about the extra time it took to dodge people and flying cups(I am, after all, an experienced bar girl). I was surprised when I realized that runners were at a full stop and even worse, had formed a line to get a drink. As I looked closer, I saw that each cup was being filled and given to the waiting runner. I was immediately reminded of "last call" at the bar, same scene, different vice, but in this case I'm not leaving a tip. If I was concerned with time, I would have flashed some cash to get served quicker.

The station was wiped out of pre-filled cups and the volunteers were working frantically to pass out water, but the demand was too great for them to get ahead. So, one by one we got our fluids and moved on. Many people seemed frantic;checking their clocks and speeding away.I was fine. No pressure to perform today. I was just along for a great Sunday run.

Each station I came to had the same problem with back log. Again, I handled it without getting anxious. As the kilometers passed by, so did the time of day, bringing the sun higher in the sky making it hotter on the course. With heat comes perspiration, and with perspiration comes dehydration. A strange thing happens when you run far, you can feel on top of the world and in a flash, something changes and you feel like you might not make it. That happened to me around 16k. I came around a corner, smiling and feeling great and by the time I had run 100 meters in the new direction, I was feeling, a bit lightheaded and chilled, my legs were heavy and I was dying for a drink. I spotted a guy in front of me with a water belt on and I was considering whether I could lift a container without him noticing. I further considered just asking him for one, counting on the idea of a running brotherhood and no runner wanting to see another suffer, but I didn't. I saw spectators with bottles of water. I considered snatching one form their hands as I ran by(I once did that with a bottle of beer, to an unsuspecting dude in a bar). I didn't do that either. Obviously I was not desperate enough for a drink, as I did not lower myself to stealing from my fellow man, but water was all I could think about.

At 17k there was a water station and I didn't care how long it took, I stood in line for a second cup.
The symptoms of dehydration do not just recede with a cup or two of water, so I still felt heavy and chilled, thankfully there was no nausea, so I knew I would be fine. The 19k mark offered another chance to hydrate, and the line up situation there was even more pitiful. The volunteers had by passed filling the giant bucket with water and scooping from it, to filling cups directly from the hose!

I finished the race with a time that is far from my best, but given my training stage, the lack of pressure I put on myself to perform and the hold ups at the hydration stations, I accept my results humbly.
What I have learned is that I will be wearing that stupid belt whether I am taking it easy or running hard.
I have handled the constant crave for alcohol, but I can't handle wanting water and not having it.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Confession Time...

 I have a confession to make.

First let me reassure you that this confession does not involve an admission of a drunken relapse, consisting of a night or two of partying with my former bff, Alexander Keith. It might be worse than that...

Hold on to your (free from the last race) running hat and promise me you will read on for a full explanation after I drop the bomb! Place your left hand on your running shoes and swear to me that you will not judge me until you have read my last word!

At the end of March I began working with a running coach. My objective in putting him in charge of my training was mostly to find a better way to train. I found that I didnt have enough physical power to support my will, perseverance and desire to be better. I also have very little patience for taking the long way to my goals. These pesky realities have served me injury, after injury on a silver platter, and there is no glass of wine to wash them down with.

Injuries halt progress and leave you starting over, which takes time and I already mentioned, I dont have the patience for that. I am sober because I run, so when I am sidelined, I get anxious that my old coping strategies (which consisted of beer) are only a twist top away. The sooner I can run the better I feel.

My coach, Greg, made a lengthy assessment of everything about me that related to running. When he came up with the plan, he cautioned me more than once that I needed to focus on my long term goals and be smart about my workouts (I'm getting close to the confession). This is where Greg presented me with the schedule and explanation of what I would be doing for the coming weeks.

Since the end of March I have been running using the heart rate approach developed by Phil Maffetone known as Maximum Aerobic Function or MAF training. This means I have been running with a heart rate monitor and I am stricken to maintain my heart rate to 135 beats/min.  Please repeat that sentence to yourself and let it sink in, take a drink if you need to and please have one for me too. Can you imagine how slowly I am running? I can't even crack 7km in 60mins. Take a moment and let that resonate...

Let me help you understand. I got passed by a walker, the other day. My Grandma can run faster than me right now. A crawling baby could lap me.

I have spent time encouraging others to run. I advise anyone that holds the belief that being slow is a bad thing, that it doesnt matter how fast you go, it just matters that you go. I have authored blog posts that in black and white outline my ideas that its not important how long it takes to run anywhere, just run. Here's the confession...

I am a  big, giant, lousy HYPOCRITE.

I believe that speed doesn't matter...for everyone else. I apparently don't hold myself accountable to that mantra. The day the white haired lady with the obvious double knee replacements and the "let's get physical" sweatband overtook me, I will be honest and say I picked up the pace despite my nagging Garmin alerting me that my heart rate was over the limit. In that moment, I let my pride win and left the oldie in my dust.

 The people in my neighborhood are aware that I run and that I like to race. Many of them have been curious enough at times to ask me what I do and how I do it. They seem to think I am awesome and amazing for doing all the running I do. These days, when I am approaching their yards and I see them out working away, I have to pick up the pace as I pass by because I don't want them to reconsider their previous assessment of my awesomeness. I am embarrassed to be seen running so slowly.

Lastly, I have found it impossible to run at a snail's pace when I am passing by a construction site. Enough said on that one.

There is extreme value in the training I am doing and that is why I continue doing what Greg has palnned for me, beyond these little incidents of ego driven disobedience. Along with the MAF running I have been doing, strength and flexibility excercises and cross training fill the rest of the plan. I am rebuilding to be stronger, faster and more patient for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October.

I am very happy I chose to work with Greg. In June, he assures me the speed work will begin, in which case I may wish for the days of the slow easy run.

In summary, it's okay for you to run slowly, as long as you are up off your couch and running, how far and how fast are unimportant. No one looks at you and thinks any thing other than, "good for her/him". Unfortunately, I am having a hard go off accepting my own advice.