Sunday, April 28, 2013

Guest Post: Toronto Yonge St. 10K Race Report

This week's post comes courtesy of my sister, Rachael, who ran the Toronto Yonge Street 10K last Sunday... I will not comment on her crushing my own 10K PR...

Package pick-up
When I arrived at the hotel, there were plenty of well-informed volunteers to direct traffic up to the second floor conference room.  When I got to that room, the lines for the kits were tangled up with the lines to pick up the race shirts, but no sooner had I noticed this, a volunteer was there directing traffic and separating the lines and getting everyone sorted out. Easy as pie. I got my kit and I got one of the special bibs the race organizers had done up for Runners United for Boston for us to wear on our backs, and got it all done within my lunch hour.
Race Day
Let me start off by saying I like to run in costume. I ran my first two races in regular clothes and my third one in costume, and I’ll probably wear costumes from now on. I’m a nerd, and it adds some fun to the day, along with a little extra energy from the spectators. I chose She-Hulk for this race. OK, so she’s not a very well-known character so nobody knew who I was supposed to be. I had thought that at least the green skin and purple shorts would have at least been a clue. Comic book civilians. 
Anyway, my hair took way longer and was way less thoroughly green than I’d hoped for. And I spent so much time on it that I got a late start on the day and ended up running out the front door in a panic to try to catch public transit to the start line. Got a block and a half from the house and realized that I’d left my camera at home, and absolutely did not have time to go back for it, so there are no race photos for me. Boo.
Met another runner at the bus stop and we had a nice chat on the way up. There were actually quite a few people on that bus carrying their Yonge Street 10K bag-check bags.
Speaking of bag-check, this was such an easy and organized bag check! Each set of race bib numbers had their own table and I was in an out of the bag check in a pop, after a brief debate with myself about whether or not I would keep my jacket with me or check it in my bag.
Race day was cold. It was only 3 degrees out (35 if you speak Fahrenheit). But I checked my jacket anyway. For a while it was OK, I found a spot in the sun and out of the wind to wait until I had to go into my corral. Then it was time for all the runners to go into their corrals and get the race started.
I’m not a fast runner so I was in the very last corral, quite a distance from the start line. I heard some loudspeaker announcements way in the distance, but nobody way back in Purple Corral could really hear what was going on. Which is too bad, because I think they were making some speeches and having a moment of silence for Boston. But then it was time for the elite runners in the Red corral to start running, and for us to wait for 20 minutes until it was our turn to run. 
So I spent 20 minutes hopping back and forth and stretching and generally trying to keep warm. My Garmin kept going into standby mode, so when the corral ahead of ours started, I started my timer in “warmup” mode. Finally, it was our turn to run, and we were off!
The Yonge Street 10K is a really fast course, mostly all downhill (the number of people who said “it’s all downhill from here” was amusing, if repetitive). So once I started moving my Garmin started chirping at me to slow down.  I thought about it for a second or two and decided to ignore it, even though the pace was set a little faster than what I’d been comfortably able to maintain in my training runs, and just listen to my body and let the Garmin tell me when my run/walk interval changes were. I ended up slowing down a little bit after the first 20 minutes, but not too much.
So I ran, and I counted my “in-two-three, out-two-three” breathing. And focused on keeping my legs relaxed and my toes flat. And I ran. And I waved back at cheering people, and made “Hulk Smash!” faces for the photographers.
And pretty soon I didn’t notice the cold any more. 
There were a bunch of people with happy cheerful signs on the bridge over Yonge Street near Mt Pleasant, and they waved and cheered us all on, and then we were at the 4K water station with lots of cheerful volunteers all bundled up and handing out water and Gatorade. 
Before I knew it we were cruising past the half-way point at Yonge & Bloor and the first of the four entertainment centres on the route (the other three were at intersections where we had to turn, at Yonge & Richmond, at Richmond and Peter, and at Front & Bathurst). Kudos to all the entertainers for hanging in there on a cold day and keeping our spirits up!
I noticed the clock tower at Yonge & College and thought it was odd, because according to that I had done 6 km in a little over a half hour. 
Then it was time for the 7km water stop with another group of happy volunteers, some of whom couldn’t have been more than 10 or 11 years old. Thanks for volunteering, kids! I was happy to have some Gatorade by then, and a little pause. I’d been sick and coughing non-stop for a couple of weeks before the race and my chest was starting to hurt.
Most of the way down Yonge Street there were four or five people that I would pass while they were on a walk break, and they would pass me while I was on one.
When I hit the 8 km mark, I still had energy, and started speeding up. Not a lot, but I was cruising along and passing more people than passed me. I just kept running, and even skipped a few of my walk breaks between the 8th and 9th kilometer.
My training runs have mostly involved at least some hill work, and one of my regular routes has a pretty significant incline at about mile 4 or 5. So when I heard some of the other runners talking before the race about the “killer hill” near the finish line, I was ready for it. Then I was cruising along, and heard the runners around (and now behind) me talking about how hard the hill was. We were on the incline, and I didn’t even know it. 
Then it was the finish chute, along Fort York Blvd. And I just poured it all in and ran. My chest hurt, and I just growled “Grahr!” (I was in character, ok?) and kept running. I saw people ahead of me. I caught up with them. I passed them.  I saw the finish line timer, and the clock said that it was an hour and a half, gun time, so I was pretty sure I’d set a new PR. I crossed the finish line with one hand over my heart for Boston, and one in the air for me.
Then I chugged along to the exit, and remembered my Garmin was still going. So I stopped the timer and was all “Yah! 1:16 No, wait… I started my Garmin five minutes before I started running. Wait, what?”
I went over to the very clearly-marked bag check area where all the bags were on school busses with bib number signs in the windows. I went up to the window with my bib number range on it, and got my checked bag, easy peasy in and out in a pop again. Which was good because by now I was starting to notice the cold and I was happy to have my jacket back.
There was lots and lots of food, the usual stuff, bagels and bananas and apples, and cookies. I ate up my food and wandered around for a while. I found where the race results were posted, but I couldn’t find my time. I started with the slowest times, and checked all the names with times over 1:12 because I couldn’t have gone faster than that, right?
Except I did. When I got home , I looked up my chip time and I’d done the race in 1:09. I’d beat my previous record (which was from a test run of the approximately same route a couple of weeks earlier) by 11 minutes. I had to do the math twice, because I didn’t believe it. 
Hulk Smash P.R.
I would totally do this race again. And next time, I won’t be in the very last corral.

Hulk smash PR.
Also, isn't Scooter cute?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Boston Strong

I've held off a long time on writing this post. Like everyone, I was shocked and appalled by the cowardly actions by two brothers in Boston.

A lot has already been said, and a lot more will be said to come. There is a lot of hurt, a lot of misconception and a lot of anger. Not to mention the endless flow of conclusion-jumping, right or wrong.

My feelings are this.

Those boys messed up. Big time.

They thought they could terrorize Boston and by extension, America. But they misunderstood. They didn't strike fear, they poked the bear.

Boston's not scared. Boston's pissed off. This is a city which has grimly but quietly mourned their own losses from the attacks on the World Trade Centre. They never forgot that the flights originated from Logan. They never forgot their citizens on board those planes. Heck, this city hasn't released their hold on the pride they feel for being the birthplace of the American Revolution - you think they're going to let go of anything?

And to attack on Marathon Monday. Here's one thing I know about runners, and especially Marathon runners. They are a breed apart. If there's anything marathoners are good at, it's endurance. They run through weather, injury, pain... These are not people who give up easily. So much so that their own determination isn't enough, they often choose to be determined on behalf of other people. Other causes. The attacks took place when the Mere Mortals of Marathoning (albeit Boston Qualifying Mortals, another breed apart) were finishing. The weekend warriors. The people who run "on behalf". These are not people who break easily.

To place the bombs in the Stands... even more cowardly. They killed two women. A Child. Supporters. These are people who come out for various reasons. To cheer on a family member or a friend who they have watched work so very hard to make it to this moment. To be inspired by the triumph of strangers. To be a community celebrating a common goal. These are not victims. These are people who have proven that they are part of something bigger than themselves. To have no direct personal stake, but to stand out and watch people accomplish something and say "I support you", or to help the runners find the crucial strength to take those final few steps to cross the finish line. Community.

And not even just an American community. A global community. This is bigger than just "America". It is Us. And We are not scared.

Runners around the world are out this week, "Running for Boston". Races will go on this weekend, and despite what Tom Ridge opined on Andrea Mitchell this morning, that there may be "fewer runners", my guess is that there will actually be MORE.

No, I think these young men gravely underestimated their target. They misunderstood the impact of their attack. Those explosions backfired on them.

I stand with you, Boston.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

REVIEW: Pear Heart Rate Monitor

Know this: I am a gadget geek.

If it's a piece of technology designed to help you get in shape, lose weight or keep track of something, I'm on board. And while I know these devices don't do the work FOR you, they can help make the work seem a little less onerous.

I like to keep track. I like to see the statistics. I like checking boxes and crossing dates off calendars.

So as a result, I've worked my way through a number of doo-dads and gee-gaws, be they GPS watches, pedometers or even the BodyMedia armbands, but far and away (aside from my Garmin) my favourite bit of health-nut equipment has to be a good Heart Rate Monitor.

I mean, you can have an idea of how hard you're working and you can estimate how many calories you're burning, but if you're anything like me (and I hope for your sake, you're not) you'd be grossly off the mark. Then you'd be one of those folks who walk for 10 minutes on a treadmill and then have a cupcake.

Specificity. Yes please.

I'd been using a pretty decent Polar Heart Rate Monitor for a couple of years, but it had been getting a bit spotty, not reading properly, losing signal. It probably needed a new battery for the HRM strap. But I wasn't entirely happy with it. Plus it felt ridiculous to use one thing for my P90X workouts, then have to add another device for my runs (my Garmin).

This is where a trip to the Apple Store comes in.

I noticed the Pear Mobile Heart Rate Monitor and was immediately intrigued.
In the box is a Heart Rate Monitor and a set of Pear Stride Headphones (which are GREAT) plus a little storage bag. That's it.
From there, you download the Pear iPhone App, and you're off and running - the HRM communicates with your iPhone 4s or 5 via Bluetooth and gives you live feedback on the go.

Once you're set up, the App will walk you through a calibration run so that it can get a read on your personal heart rate zones, which will in turn help when you pick a training plan to follow. That's right, the App has a BUNCH of training programs to choose from including plans fro Matt Fitzgerald and Jenny Hadfield. Some are included, free of charge, and others are available at a fee.

So that's some of the nitty-gritty. How's it working, I hear you ask.

I love it. I really do. I like that I can use it for my P90X workouts (it has an open workout setting for non-running workouts, which is exactly what I needed) and then just plug my earphones in, pop it into my arm band and use it for a run as well - using my own music through the App.

I like the interface as well.
Pear is very polite. "Good Afternoon"!

 Pear is very friendly, when you open it up it greets you with a cheery message.

From here, you choose your plan for the day.
Once you decide what kind of workout you'll be doing, it's off to the races. You can add Training Plans from the Plan Store to your schedule here, as well. Since they're all distance based (more on that later) I always go for the Free Format Workout, whether I'm running or not.
There are also plans for Spinning, Treadmill, Core & Strength, Power Walking and Stretching. Something for everyone.

In the workout itself.
While you're working out, you can get feedback on your time, distance, heart rate, pace, current heart rate zone, target heart rate zone and your calorie burn - and you're able to customize which, if any, of these stats you want to hear regularly and on demand.

Once you're done your workout, you just hit "Done", turn your phone sideways and you're met with this beauty:

Look at those spikes!

So not only do you know exactly how many calories you've burned, but you can also see where you were working hard and where you were dogging it.

Plus, Pear keeps everything in a nice, orderly history for you, so if you can't remember how you did last time you trotted out KenpoX, you can just go back and look.

Clearly, I'm a Free Format kind of gal.

Overall, as I said, I've been very happy with my Pear Heart Rate Monitor system. I think the only things I might change about it may not be things that are possible to change - like, I would add an accelerometer to the App so that people who work out on treadmills (I have no choice) can have the benefit of pace and distance included in their reading. At present, I'm still using my Garmin/footpod combo to figure that out, then just add the Pear into the mix for Heart Rate, calories and music. It's really no big deal, and at least it's not adding another thing to wear or use since I'd be using my iPhone for music anyway.
I'd also add an edit function, so you could title your work-outs, plus add distance if you're doing a Treadmill run.

I'm actually really looking forward to getting a chance to use the Pear on land so I can dig a little deeper into the Training Plans. I've done a couple of runs using the Intro to High Intensity Intervals and love those, plus I did a non-distance based training run that was part of the 10K running program that was very helpful - I like the idea of training based on your heart rate, so the feedback was informative.

As far as customer service goes, I have to give Pear a double thumbs up and a gold star. After my first few workouts, I had some sort of a glitch. I wasn't sure if it was a missed update, a function problem with the App or with the actual device itself. I shot a quick email to Pear Support and hoped for the best.

I got an answer back in less than an hour, and they carried on a regular and friendly communication with me while we tried to trouble-shoot the problem and figure out what the culprit was.

In the end, they offered to just send me a new HRM and FedExed me a replacement right away. The replacement has worked flawlessly.

All in all, I'm very happy with how multifaceted this device is, and I as useful as it is now, I can only see myself growing into it more and more as I develop in my fitness regimens.

DISCLAIMER: I purchased the Pear Heart Rate Monitor from an Apple Store. I am in no way affiliated with either Pear Sports or Apple.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

runDisney Marathon Weekend Registration is OPEN!

I'm hitting the pause button on my Pear Heart Rate Monitor review one more time because I have new race news!

Now, you know I love me some runDisney events, and this year they've sweetened their already super-sweet Marathon Weekend pot o'goodness with a new race distance (10K!) and a new mega-challenge (The Dopey). How could we refuse?

The addition of the Dopey is a clear response to runDisney fans everywhere who had already been running their own "unofficial" Dopey Challenge - meaning, 5K on Friday, Half Marathon on Saturday, Full Marathon on Sunday - but Disney doesn't do anything small. They've added the 10K race into that mix. So one could say that this is a "Race and a Half... and a Half..."

Now, it's not cheap, this mega-challenge. The price tag is almost $500, but... you get 6 medals... 5K, 10K, Half, Full, Goofy and Dopey. Plus 6 shirts. That's right. SIX WHOLE SHIRTS!

They're also responding to the ongoing outcry from all us lady runners, and they're finally offering race shirts in women's sizes! Hooray!

I'm also glad to see that they're taking the overcrowding on the course more seriously, by trimming back the number of participants in the half and full marathons, plus putting stricter controls on the corral placements. Hopefully that'll make the course a bit more enjoyable. I left my Half Marathon experience last year not being entirely sure that I wanted to attempt it again. It was frustrating to not have room to run, or MOVE for that matter.

Initially, we weren't going to register at all. We're Disney Vacation Club members and we could have signed up for the races a few days ago... but, being on the ship, you don't always notice dates, and you try not to think to far ahead because who knows where we'll be in January?

But then today, while trying to download Game of Thrones in Roatan, Honduras, my sister emailed to see what our Marathon Weekend plans might be. I was non-committal. Until I saw that the 10K was 80% sold out!


Didn't registration just open to the public this morning?

Yeah, let's get signed up for that. Now if I could just get the DVC Member website to open so I can make room reservations...

We figure 10k is a nice, civilized distance to do this year, and we can probably get a couple of rounds of golf in while we're down there.

And how can you say no to a Minnie Mouse medal? You can't. Don't even try.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Why you scruffy looking... nerf-herder!

I know I said my next blog post would be a review of my new Heart Rate Monitor by Pear, but something has popped up. And that something is a race.

A virtual race, to be exact. Well, two virtual races, to be super-exact.

To the uninitiated (including myself, up till now) a virtual race is, as far as I can tell, a relatively new thing. It's pretty much what it sounds like. You're running a race, but you're not. You don't have to travel anywhere, you don't have to get up early, you don't have to rush somewhere for packet pick-up. You just run, log your miles and submit proof of time to the Race Director and bing-bang-boom... Medal in the mail.

This works perfectly for people in areas where there aren't a lot of races, for people who are worried about course's pace limits, or for people who aren't that in to crowds, I suppose. I fit into that first category currently. Let's be honest. There aren't a lot of races on a ship. Like, none.

As I mentioned in my last post, there was a Star Wars themed virtual race challenge that my sister brought to my attention, but I dropped the ball on registering. Well, turns out they opened up some more spots, and my sister registered both me and Greg for the 2 race challenge. If you want to know more about the race (which benefits St. Jude's Hospital), check out the organizer's blog at 

Why Star Wars? Well, May 4th is coming up, and to all Star Wars fans, "May the Fourth be with you" is the nerdiest, but most awesome date-related pun, like, ever.

And the challenge is awesome. Do the 5K, and then a 10K within that week, and earn both of these medals:



I mean it's as easy as bulls-eying womprats in my T-16 back home...