Monday Musings: Rain, Rain & More Rain

I know, I know, it’s so perfectly banal to speak of the weather, and I choose to live in Vancouver, where one can expect season upon season of above-average rainfall.  Still, it’s putting a serious damper (pun fully intended) on my desire to get outside. Think I’m exaggerating? This year, it rained 28 out of 31 days in October. I don’t know about you, but that seems fairly excessive. Come on Mother Nature, cut us a break!

If any of you happen to live in a generally grey and gloomy locale, you may echo my sentiments here: the grey and the rain really start to get you down after a while.  You might find that your motivation starts to dip. You might even start to play the “I’ll-just-wait-until-the-weather-gets-a-bit-better-before-I-go-for-a-run” game…except it never stops raining and, as a result, you never seem to go for that run.  I have no answers to this vicious circle of laziness.  None. I just know I struggle with workout motivation when we have particularly monsoon-like years here in Vancouver.

Yup.
Yup.

Instead of solutions for coping with dreary weather, I present you with my unfiltered thoughts on working out in the rain after several weeks of seemingly endless showers:

  1. I get that rain is good for the planet, but seriously can we just get a few consecutive days of blue sky?!?
  2. For the love of God, why has no one invented waterproof workout gear that BREATHES?!?!
  3. Would it be so bad to stop working out until the sun comes back? I mean, what’s a little winter weight?

Ah, that feels a little better. Sometimes you just need to vent. And, who knows, maybe the weather gods will hear my cries for sunshine. Also, if anyone lives in a sunnier and warmer destination and is open to a perfectly delightful (and temporary) houseguest, just say the word. I will bring lots of wine.

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RWIR #35: Gluteal Progress

Now that I look at the title for today’s post, it’s rather odd. But my piriformis muscle no longer feels like it’s on the verge of snapping, and that is cause for celebration. Also, I can once again complete one-legged exercises on my right leg without feeling like my muscles will give out on me. Also a win.

Saturday
Activity: Run
Relevant Stats: 6ish km, pace not tracked (but clearly slow)
Observations: I ran. I ran uphill. I ran slowly. Yet, I ran. And, for the first time in months, I did not experience severe tightening in my right calf muscle. This was a huge victory and left me, once again, cautiously optimistic. Of course, I outdid any good that my brief and slow run would have done by drinking lunch time (and dinner time) wine and having mid-day birthday cake. So…yeah.

Sunday
Activity: Unplanned rest day
Relevant Stats: grumpy factor at a 10/10, laziness factor also a 10/10
Observations: Despite gaining an hour, I couldn’t bear the thought of getting out of bed early enough to fit in a workout before spending the day baby showering. I had sort-of-intentions to work out following the shower but it ended later than I thought it would and, by that time, I had zero motivation. Instead, I ate pho and watched bad television and generally felt sorry for myself. Sometimes you just need one of those days.

Monday
Activity: Spin
Relevant Stats: 60 min.
Observations: I got back on the workout train and managed an hour-long spin session that, while I can’t say it was great, wasn’t my worst. I felt stronger than I have in the past few weeks and integrated more and more sprints. And we all know how I feel about sprints.

Tuesday
Activity: personal training session
Relevant Stats: single-legged exercises accomplished! a good, clean sweat was broken!
Observations: After last week’s training session, when I was nearly in tears, it was a pleasant surprise to actually be able to do something successfully on one leg. That said, my trainer went nuts on my triceps which are, in all likelihood, the weakest muscles in my entire body. It is cruel to make me do three sets of three back-to-back tricep engaging exercises. Cruel.  I capped off the day with almost six consecutive hours of US election coverage accompanied by compulsive stress-eating of candy. Ugh.

Wednesday
Activity: Spin
Relevant Stats: 52 min.
Observations: You know those days when you really don’t feel like working out but you make yourself go anyway? This was one of those days. I couldn’t quite make it to an hour–or, rather, I didn’t want to–but I do believe the 52 minutes was much higher quality than I thought it would be when I first started.

Thursday
Activity: Run!
Relevant Stats: 8ish km, pace unknown
Observations: My experiment continues…This was my second run of the week and only time would tell whether it would come back to bite me in the ass. I can say that my right calf didn’t hurt a lot while running, which is already a positive sign. Also I believe this was my first 8 km run in well over a month so three cheers for breaking the 6 km barrier!

Friday
Activity: Grouse Grind
Relevant Stats: the usual
Observations: Well, I survived despite it feeling like I was crawling through molasses.  And, as it turns out, I was only about two minutes slower than usual.  Bonus points: I got out of bed at 7:20 on a holiday to get my workout out of the way. Extra bonus points: my right leg muscles experienced no lingering soreness from yesterday’s run.  Hallelujah!

All in all, it was a much better week for me and my body, and particularly for my glutes. I had almost forgotten what it felt like before my sciatic went to hell, so it’s been delightful not to feel like my ass muscles are on the verge of snapping.  For that, this week gets a:

Okay, I don't have buns of steel but at least they don't feel like buns on the verge of collapsing.
Okay, I don’t have buns of steel but at least they don’t feel like buns on the verge of collapsing.

Throwback Thursday Cinque Terre Edition: Vernazza to Monterosso

I’m back with the final instalment of Throwback Thursdays Cinque Terre Edition (which fills my heart with great sadness). Today’s adventure is the short jaunt from Vernazza to Monterosso Al Mare. Join me in reliving my favourite section of the Cinque Terre Trail. And that’s saying a lot since it was incredibly hard to leave this little stretch of Vernazza beach heaven behind.

I could have stayed here all day. But the hike was calling me...
I could have stayed here all day. But the hike was calling me…

Trail: Vernazza to Monterosso
Distance: 3 km
Elevation Gain: negligible

Most of what I read (after the fact) talks about this being the most challenging leg of the trail. I think because only the considerable harder upper route from Riomaggiore to Manarola is open now, my opinion may be skewed. Nonetheless, I recall nothing more than some minor ups and downs with so many spectacular views that I didn’t even notice the uphill stretches.

Other selling features of this trail, in my opinion, are the sections of un-railed trail and the cat sanctuary. Let’s start with the cat sanctuary, because obviously it’s the one you want to know the most about.  I cannot explain it. All I can say is that half-way between these two towns there is a little rock shelf along the trail featuring a row of tiny cat houses, each with a picture of its feline occupant. Sadly, only one cat was present the day we hiked through but, as a crazy cat lady, I was over-the-moon excited.

I wanted to take him home with me but a) I don't think you can take wildlife from a national park and b) my boyfriend wouldn't let me.
I wanted to take him home with me but a) I don’t think you can take wildlife from a national park and b) my boyfriend wouldn’t let me.

I wonder what the cats do all day, where they go, and whether they actually sleep inside the tiny cat houses (which, sadly, I did not photograph). I suppose I could Google it to find out, but I almost don’t want to ruin the mystery.

Now that the cats are out the way, let’s move on to the un-railed section of the trail.  I sort of understand why they put railings along most sections of the trail. I can imagine with the volume of people it would be altogether too easy for someone to plummet into the sea, perhaps while trying to capture the perfect picture (this is something I’ve imagined happening to my father any time we’ve hiked near precipitous edges in the Rockies).  Still, they sort of kill the feel of a real hike, making it feel more like a guided walk. This trail featured the most sections where you got to really live on the edge, which isn’t really dicey at all since the path is at least two feet wide.  Still, those sections felt like real nature and real hiking.

img_9954
See? Perfectly safe and wide.

In terms of general scenery, I feel like this trail also boasted some of the best views of the Legurian Sea, and some of the best views into the towns it runs between.

Exhibit A: Looking back to Vernazza en route to Monterosso.

Pardon the lighting. The sun was in the worst possible location for photos in this direction.
Pardon the lighting. The sun was in the worst possible location for photos in this direction.

Exhibit B: Coastlines for days

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Exhibit C: Views coming into Monterosso

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In my opinion, this is the best way to experience Monterosso. Since it’s the biggest of the villages, everyone told me we had to go there.  Guess what? I didn’t love it.  It lacked the quaint and cozy feel of the other villages, and I just didn’t feel a good energy there.  If I were to go back, I would visit the sandy beach, stick my sweaty feet in the sea (which is exactly what we did), find a gelato, and promptly head right back where I came from.

Seriously. Beach heaven.
Seriously. Beach heaven.
Polluting some pretty nice water with sweaty feet.
Polluting some pretty nice water with sweaty feet.

All in all, despite my lack of love for Monterosso, this was the perfect hike to cap off our visit to Cinque Terre.  Now we just have to plan another trip back to see what types of views the upper trails have to offer…

Mid-Week Tangent: Top 5 Travel Food Finds

I am back again to take your mind off of running and anything fitness related and to distract you instead with fabulous foods that, if eaten in excess, would completely derail your attempts at health and fitness.  You know you love it.

As you may know, we recently returned from two weeks in France and Italy, during which time I stuffed as many new (to me) and interesting foods in my face as humanly possible. I have already written about my favourite gelato, as well as my love for the Valrhona Cite du Chocolat. This week, I turn my attention to my five favourite random food finds.  These were the things that I stumbled upon without intention, and which blew my mind in all the best possible ways.

Also, my list was incredibly hard to narrow to five things, so I had remove the more obvious things that I sought out en masse like ice cream, gelato, chocolate, macarons, pain au chocolat, croissants and such. I also have virtually no pictures of any of those things as I was too busy stuffing them in my face to even contemplate photographing them.

Without further adieu, here’s my list:

#5. Foie Gras, Chez Juliette, Nice . This wasn’t the best-rated restaurant but it looked warm and cozy and I had a good feeling about it.  Turns out I was right for the foie gras alone. Now, this will the controversial item on my favourites list, since there’s a lot of bad things to be said for how foie gras is produced. I have nothing to say in defense of those practices. What I can say is that in North America I never order foie gras because I always find it to be too rich, which is saying a lot for me as I rarely find anything rich. I was determined to try it at least once in its motherland and our first night in Nice was when I realized that, whatever we’re doing to foie gras in North America, we’re doing it all wrong. In France, it is delicate, rich but not overwhelmingly so, and it has actual texture instead of just being a glorified block of pate. It was heaven, so much so that I had already eaten a sizeable portion before having the wherewithal to snap a photo.  This experience ignited my love for foie gras, but only in France. Yes, I have all the makings of a food snob.

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Note the non-pate-like appearance. Perfection.

#4. Gorgonzola & Sesame Macaron, Seve Maitre Chocolatier Patissier, Lyon: Okay, okay, you caught me. I know I said that I wouldn’t talk about macarons but this is a savoury macaron which a) I have never seen and b) warrants forming a whole other category of macarons. First and foremost, I have to say I understand that people are either on the blue cheese bandwagon or they’re not. If you’re not, you’re already repulsed and doubting my sanity (and palate). I get it. Just move on to the next on the the list.  However, if you’re like me and believe that the more foul-smelling the blue cheese the better, you will adore this and wonder where it has been your whole life. If macarons travelled better and lasted longer, and if they hadn’t been a whopping 2.25 euro apiece (!!!!), I would’ve brought back a case. Pro tip: follow the gorgonzola macaron with the apricot peach for a bright punch of flavour and a perfect contrast to the savoury. I’m changing lives one over-priced but sublime cookie at a time.

Hello friend. I miss you.
Hello friend. I miss you. Blurred photo because I was trying to open the package while taking the photo. I have impulse control issues.

#3. Octopus & Potato Salad, Trattoria Billy, Manarola: I may lose all of you at this point since, like blue cheese, octopus isn’t everyone’s jam.  If you love it, read on. If you don’t, I’m sorry…but maybe also read on because you may not like it because you’ve been eating crappy octopus your whole life.  This salad was life-changing. You might be saying any coastal town should have fresh and fantastic octopus, so I should have expected perfection. I live in a coastal town with generally kick ass fresh seafood and I can tell you that at least 90% of the time the octopus is overdone, tough and chewy, and/or flavourless. It is hard to do well. This was perfection, so tender I can’t even put into words how tender it was, and so lightly seasoned that it tasted of nothing other than octopus, which is exactly what I wanted.

Simple. Perfect. I'm salivating just looking at it.
Simple. Perfect. I’m salivating just looking at it.

#2. Galette, La Terrasse, Tain l’Hermitage: Omg, these galettes. I admit when I first ordered one I was only 50% sure it was a crepe and thought it equally possible that I would get a stuffed pastry, as here in Canada galettes are most often open-faced pastries. I am so, so glad that I took a chance on this galette. It was so phenomenal that I went back two days in a row despite our commitment to not eating in the same place twice. These buckwheat crepes are heartier and nuttier than a traditional crepe and are stuffed with various savoury fillings before being topped by an egg whose yolk remains perfectly soft and runny. I am a sucker for a soft-cooked egg on its own let alone one combined with meats and cheeses.  This galette was heaven. I even downed one with rich mushroom gravy and cheese less than half an hour after devouring 11 chocolates. That is the sign of food item that cannot be resisted.

Dear Galette, I miss you and your runny egg perfection. Please move to Canada to be with me.
Dear Galette, I miss you and your runny egg perfection. Please move to Canada to be with me.

#1: The “Brick”, El Cochino, Brignole: This was by far the most random of my food finds. We stumbled upon this restaurant and my beloved Brick only because I was on the verge of hangry-ness while driving between Nice and Chateauneuf du Pape. We pulled into a random town (Brignole) and walked until we stumbled upon a charming square with several restaurants. I chose this restaurant simply because it had a pig on the menu. I am easy to please. At any rate, once we were seated I kept seeing plates of these amazing looking deep-fried tubular pastries going by and wanted to get my hands on one immediately. I saw nothing on the menu (all in French, of course) that looked like an obvious match, so I did some calculated deductive reasoning and somehow lucked out with this brick. I’ve seen learned through Google that stuffing Feuille de Brick (which translates to ‘sheet of pastry’) with egg and other fillings is common in France.  I don’t think it’s just because I was starving that this delightful, deep-fried wonder blew my mind.  Imagine thin, crispy sheets of pastry folded lovingly around the most velvety egg, cheese, ham and potato filling. Imagine the divine contrast of that crunchy outer shell with a soft yet still textured centre. I ate the whole damn thing and I’m certain that if I could start a food truck making these here, I would be a millionaire.  Highlight of the trip, all thanks to my need to eat immediately.  It is the first time my hangry-ness has done anyone any good.

Perfection on a plate. Also please note that my boyfriend is eating a salad while I chow down on a deep fried pastry roll stuffed with fat and cholesterol....and love.
Perfection on a plate. Also please note that my boyfriend is eating a salad while I chow down on a deep fried pastry roll stuffed with fat and cholesterol….and love.

There you have it, some of my most unexpectedly perfect food finds. Now please excuse me while I cry over the fact that I cannot locate a single establishment in Vancouver that makes these Bricks.

 

Training Tuesdays: Faults of BPM Training

Years ago, when I ran my first half marathon, I actually attempted to train properly with, I think, a Runner’s World pre-fab half-marathon training plan. You know the one. It’s that perfectly awful mix of long runs, easy runs, tempo runs and dreaded speed-work. FYI, to this day I hate speed work because of that plan.

At any rate, it was at that time that I became a devotee of beats per minute (or BPM) training. Essentially, you can match beats per minute in music to a desired running pace and the idea is that, if your foot strikes match the beat in the music, you’ll run that pace.  It was absolutely the only thing that got me through speed workouts. Quite likely, this was merely the running equivalent of a placebo effect, but the end result was a faster me so I don’t question the science.

Even though I haven’t trained for actual races in a while, I still rely on music to fuel my runs and gauge my pace.  I more consciously choose not just songs I like, but songs that I know will encourage me to run faster, which often means songs that I only use for running (perfect example: Nicki Minaj). Over time, it’s become a lot more intuitive. I don’t actually check the BPMs for songs like I used to, but I’m fairly accurate at estimating and that’s good enough when I’m not actually in training mode.

Lately, though, I’ve noticed a downfall with my beloved BPM methodology: you need to modify your playlists to adjust to significant changes in pace, whether up or down. Somehow, I forgot this critical fact so for the last six months, while I’ve been injured, I’ve been trying to run with playlists designed for a 4:30-5:00 min/km pace.  Let me just tell you, my pace is nowhere near that fast these days.  So there’s me, spurred on to run faster by catchy, upbeat bass lines trapped in a body no longer capable of such speeds.  The result? Frustration. Inability to breathe (read: wheezing).  Early muscle fatigue. In other words, it’s a mess.

My current goal is to re-envision my playlist for my new, slower self. I’m sort of excited because I secretly love me some good downer music, maybe some ultra sad Coldplay circa Rush of Blood to the Head or wallowing in any of The National’s plethora of melancholic jams. It’s a perfectly timed musical shake-up to match the bleak Vancouver grey skies and my generally moody Fall and Winter disposition.

So, in summary, because I fear that my actual point has been lost:

  • I highly recommend BPM training, particularly for speed work and if you’re someone who is highly motivated by his or her musical running accompaniments.
  • But adjust your playlists when your pace drastically changes. Otherwise, you’ll suffer some seriously discouraging running burnout (and you’ll probably develop some pretty negative associations with some songs you used to really love).
  • If you’re curious about how to start off with BPM training, there’s tons of apps and sites that have pre-made playlists for different paces or that will tell you BPM for all the songs in your iTunes library.  After a while, though, you’ll start to fairly accurately estimate BPMs all on your own.

Happy pacing!

Monday Musings: Progress or Trickery?

Every once in a while my body likes to throw me a curve ball, I presume for no other reason than to mess with me. Saturday was one such curve ball.  For the first time since I developed SI-related sciatica, I went for a run and did not suffer excruciating muscle pain in my right leg combined with increased tingling in my right foot. Small victory or anomaly? Only time will tell. But I have this nagging feeling that it’s just my body’s way of making me feel optimistic only to let me down.

So why do I think my body is just messing with me?

  • Well, I have gone for a run per week, with the exception of while I was on vacation, ever since my sciatic was aggravated. Every single run has resulted the same: tight muscles in right leg plus increased tingling and numbness. It makes no sense why that would stop suddenly when all other factors remained the same (distance, pace, pre/post warm ups and cool downs). Perplexing.
  • I was just told my trainer, yet again, that I shouldn’t be running since it seems to be about the only activity that dramatically exacerbates my injury.  Normally when I say a big “f you” by way of stubborn refusal to heed advice my body rebels with more pain and injury, as if to say “listen to sage advice when you hear it, you fool!”  This time, I was rewarded by the sense of hope and potential progress. Again, perplexing.
  • I spent the better part of Friday trying (but failing) to get a referral for an x-ray to get to the heart of weather there’s an actual spinal issue causing this injury to endlessly linger.  The quest for an x-ray referral was driven by hitting yet another breaking point with the state of my injury. Therefore, I find it amusing that the day after I took action to try to get more information on my injury my sciatica miraculously felt better, even after a run. Perhaps my body is trying to avoid an x-ray, or it’s my semi-latent fear of doctors and health care in general. Regardless, the timing is, you guessed it, perplexing.

I’m going to run with it, literally, though. Lately I’ve been going on one and only one run per week, but this week I’m going to test things out by throwing a second run into the mix. I have to get to the bottom of whether my body is maybe (finally?) actually improving or whether my body is just being a jerk and totally messing with me.

Wish me luck.

RWIR #34: Highs & Lows

Well, thankfully my body has felt  more capable this week (i.e. less like I was dragging it through quicksand). On the downside, my sciatic-related issues are really starting to irk me. I’ve grown accustomed to tingling toes and a steady aching in my right calf muscles.  Totally normally, right? Here’s what’s gone down this week:

Saturday
Activity: Grouse Grind
Relevant Stats: Hallelujah! Back under an hour!
Observations: I cannot explain the difference in strength and energy that I experienced between my previous workout and this workout. It was like night and day and, though completely unexpected, much appreciated nonetheless. I felt like I was back to my old self, and was even spurred on by some friendly competition (all in my own head of course) when I passed six fully uniformed and geared-up firefighters (they were stopped talking to someone) and I made it my mission not to let them catch up to me. I am proud to say I won that competition, never mind that they had full gear on. I mean, that’s clearly of no relevance.

Sunday
Activity: Abby Grind
Relevant Stats: muddy as all hell
Observations: This little 2 km (one way) jaunt turned out rather treacherous for the SI-impaired. The mud was hidden by layers of rotting leaves creating a delightful oil-slick-like condition on the steeper sections of the trail. Interestingly, uphill proved more dangerous, my foot often sliding back as I tried to push off. It’s a wonder I didn’t do more damage to myself. Still, I caught the one window of rain-free weather in like two weeks, so I won’t complain.

Monday
Activity: Run!
Relevant Stats: 6ish km, 35 minutes
Observations: Determined to avoid the Langley Steve Nash, I opted to give running a whirl. I consider it more of a slow and steady plodding than a legitimate run, but given that I haven’t run in over three weeks, I was excited to see what would happen. In the moment things felt fine, aside from the burning lungs and general lack of fitness, and I fooled myself into thinking I had avoided any post-running backlash. Wrong. My entire right leg was experiencing pins and needles and aching the rest of the day, which proceeded to worsen overnight. My sciatic, it seems, is trying to keep me from ever running again.

Tuesday
Activity: personal training session
Relevant Stats: frustration levels at an all time high
Observations: Relegated to the most basic of exercises yet again, and once again incapable of single-leg dead lifts, I was on the verge of tears throughout this training session. It’s moments like these when the frustration and anger at the constant ups and downs get to me. My trainer suggested running should be taken out of my routine and it was the last thing I wanted to hear in that moment. I still cannot get on board with the time it’s taking to work through these issues and the general lack of progress. Oh, and to my sciatica, you can just go to hell at this point.

Wednesday
Activity: Spin
Relevant Stats: 60 min (!!!)
Observations: This was the first time in ages that I felt like I had a good gym workout. I wasn’t bored. I didn’t feel horribly out of shape. I did, however, allow myself to use a couple tension levels lower than usual, but honestly I think it’s giving me just as good a workout these days. The alternative is using my “old” levels of tension and getting tired and frustrated 30 minutes into the workout.

Thursday
Activity: Stairs
Relevant Stats: 40 min. + physio routine
Observations: Oh stairs, I loathe you. I loathe you even more when I haven’t run stairs in months and am generally in far worse shape than this time last year. Last year, I ran stairs like a freaking gazelle and I could go forever. This year, I am like a lumbering, wheezing elephant. I barely made it to 4o minutes. Ugh. Even worse, there was an event going on at Rogers Arena and the entire time I was running stairs the aroma of mini donuts was wafting out of the arena doors. I don’t even like donuts but that smell makes me salivate.

Friday
Activity: feeling sorry for myself (aka unplanned rest day)
Relevant Stats: couch sitting: 8 hours straight, moodiness: all-time high
Observations: I wish being discouraged and unmotivated counted as an activity some days.  I kept pushing off my workout and then finally reached the time of day at which the workout was no longer possible. And I felt guilty but only because I know I won’t get in a good workout this weekend because of poorly timed events that interfere with my normal workout time.  Mostly, I just didn’t care and imagined a weekend where I do nothing but sit on my ass without guilt, knowing it’s impossible to actually do that, but wishing ever so much that I were capable of it.

All I can say about this week is one thing:

sciatica-sucks