Training Tuesdays: Upping my Mental Game

I continue to underestimate the mental fortitude required while recovering from an injury.  It is hard to keep working at building physical strength when the results are not instant and miraculous. No matter how often I try to remind myself that the speed and endurance will come if I keep working hard, when I have a bad workout or play the comparison game it’s hard not to want to throw in the towel.

This weekend, I hiked Saturday and Sunday on actual trails, which I’ve not done since my initial injury. Sunday was eye opening for me.  On that second consecutive day of hiking, I was brutally reminded of just how far I still have to go.  As I dragged my sorry and tired butt up what used to be my “I’m-feeling-beyond-lazy-and-want-the-illusion-of-hiking-without-actually-hiking” trail–a 9 km return with only 450 m of elevation gain–I couldn’t help but feel discouraged.

It is a tough pill to swallow.  I’ve been making great gains lately with hiking and running.  Instead of feeling proud of my progress to date, I beat myself up over and over as my tracking app announced my per kilometre hiking times and the times only continued to get bigger and bigger.I told myself to move faster.  I told myself I used to hike this trail at least 2 minutest per kilometre faster. I told myself that I’m strong enough that I should be able to push through the discomfort.  No matter what I told myself, my legs remained at the same slow, steady pace.

This time last year,  I was rocking multiple days of consecutive hiking on 25+ km trails with at least 1000 m of elevation gain. And it felt easy. It’s hard to constantly be reminded I’m nowhere near where I used to be in terms of fitness and endurance.  It was a lot easier to be kind to myself when I was still suffering from injury pain but, now that the pain is pretty much gone, I have little patience for needing to build up endurance and fitness.

Comparison is a dangerous game, even when it’s comparison with former versions of yourself. I’m not yet sure how to keep things in perspective, how to keep my eye on the progress prize, nor how to dig deeper when I want to give up, but I do know that I need to work on my mental game just as much as my physical game. If I have any hope of running this ultra, my mental game will be everything.



Monday Musings: Relaxation is Hard

Last week, I ventured to Galiano Island for a mid-week girls’ getaway.  Over the course of two days, I was constantly reminded of my inability to just chill and relax. This is not a big surprise for me. Though I overwhelm myself easily, I am somehow more at ease when running from thing to thing and feeling as if there will never be enough time to do it all than I am when I am just sitting around supposedly ‘relaxing’.

Whatever this setting is...I'm missing it.
Whatever this setting is…I’m missing it.

I have decided that conventional relaxation is hard.  Moreover, I’m not sure it’s for me. I cannot just sit and “be”. My father is the exact same way. The man has to be doing something. Every. Single. Minute. Unless he is sleeping or eating, he is always on the move.  Clearly it runs in the family.

As I was thinking about it, though, I realized that perhaps we all just relax in different ways. For some, relaxation requires being physically at rest.  But my body doesn’t need to relax. It likes being on the go.  What I need to relax is my mind, which is always in full gear and an endless sea of chatter.   There are exactly two ways for me to relax my over-active mind: distract it with physical activity or occupy it with productive mental activity.

I’m sure it sounds contradictory to say I can relax my mind with mental activity, but hear me out.  My mind (and arguably most people’s minds) can either be full of productive thoughts or unproductive thoughts. I can have a tendency to get trapped in a hamster wheel of unhelpful (read: anxious or self-critical) chatter. I overanalyze things and rehash situations over and over again. If I can read or write or engage in meaningful dialogue, I can quiet all that chatter.  On the physical distraction spectrum, running or walking or hiking, or even cleaning or doing laundry or washing dishes, all help me feel infinitely more relaxed because they quiet the worst parts of my over-active mind.

It occurs to me that, for some, balance isn’t just about the balance between rest and play.  For some—clearly, including me—balance is more of a mental state in which I keep myself from getting sucked into unhelpful thought patterns. Staying on the go, whether physically or intellectually, keeps all of this at bay.

So I’m going to relax in my own way, with movement and focused intellectual activity.  And next time someone tells me to relax when I’m in the midst of running from thing to thing, I’m going to tell them “thank you, I actually am.”

RWIR #19: Still Optimistic

I’m still optimistic. I say that lightly because, at heart, I’m a bit of a glass-half-empty kind of person. Things have continued to progress injury and pain free over the last week. Though a part of me is still waiting for the other shoe to drop, I am enjoying the ability to do what I want when I want without the frustrating regression. Here’s hoping this is truly the lasting upswing.

Activity: Bike/”Hike” + Walk
Relevant Stats: 15-20k bike, 6ish km hiking, 14ish km walking
Observations: I played tour guide but with a guest who was keen to be active. We lazily biked a fair portion of the city, followed it up with not-really-hiking-but-sort-of-hiking in a variety of tourist destinations. Also there was the waffle. And two Miyazaki #2s from Minami, which is the cocktail equivalent of my beloved pecan mudslide.

Activity: Hike
Relevant Stats:3 km, 850 m elevation gain
Observations: My guest asked to be taken to the Grouse Grind…in the early afternoon…on a summer weekend. This was pretty much my worst nightmare. However, a good tour guide must do as their guest asks. And so we went. I tried to warn her of its awfulness but she failed to listen. I left her at the ¼ mark, at her request, to suffer in solitude without my (often annoying) attempts to be a cheerleader.

Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: Peanut butter cups consumed—1 (which, I think we can all agree, is the epitome of willpower)
Observations: I was supposed to have this entire week off to frolic in local mountains but, thanks to some emergent stuff at work, I had to go in for a series of meetings and lost out on Monday Funday. I was bitter and cranky about it, but thankfully my boyfriend had the foresight to have a bottle of chilled Rose waiting for me and to cook me dinner. Once again, he proves he deserves a medal for putting up with me.

Activity: Personal training session
Relevant Stats: 60 minutes of hell
Observations: I believe my trainer is trying to keep my glutes in a perpetual state of tenderness and pain. And she is succeeding. The entire hour was non-stop glute work. My legs barely functioned at the end of the hour. I tried to run back to the office and felt like a lumbering oaf.

Activity: Hike
Relevant Stats: 6ish km (I think…), elevation unknown
Observations: Me and the girls headed to Galiano for a couple of days of relaxation. Naturally I had to climb Mount Galiano, the highest of the islands mountains, which is amusing as it’s 311 m above sea level. What I learned on this expedition is that the Galiano trail system is both poorly marked and designed to keep its visitors clueless to distance and elevation gain. The internet failed to provide data on either. Instead, I was offered infuriating time estimates, which mean nothing in the world of hiking. I got lost twice but finally found the summit and some pretty stunning views so I can’t complain.

Activity: Run!!!!!!
Relevant Stats: 8.5 km
Observations: Longest run in three months!!!!!! Aside from stopping for a few pictures en route, this was uninterrupted running. It was slow. My lungs were burning. It was hot as hell and I was sweating buckets. Still, it felt fantastic.

Activity: Strength
Relevant Stats: 40 minutes
Observations: Today was what I like to call an express workout. I took a ferry back from Galiano this morning, went straight to work, and need to leave for the States right after work. Had I planned my life better I probably could have fit in a more quality workout, but…sometimes weekends in the campground trump workouts!

This week gets a bit shiny:

Happy weekend y’all!

Throwback Thursday: Grouse Mountain’s Many Victims

For some reason, I have been the cause of many of my friend’s first attempts of the dreaded Grouse Grind or BCMC trail.  Sometimes it’s been at my encouragement, and other times (like this weekend) responsibility lies fully on the other party.  For most, it turns out to be a one-time event.  I can’t say I blame them.

For those outside of the Vancouver area, the Grouse Grind is a local “hike” that is essentially a 3 km trail up the side of Grouse Mountain, built in such a way that it closely resembles a rock staircase. There are all sorts of races and competitions here, and locals wear their PRs as a badge of honour.

Despite its popularity and local fame, I assure you it is one of the most unpleasant trails you can imagine. It is crowded. It is relentless (and psychologically crippling) in its climbing. It has no views until the top.  No sane person enjoys it.  But it is one hell of a workout, which is why so many of us–myself included–keep going back week after week.

So this weekend I took yet another friend, at her request, to hike the Grind. It came as no surprise that she did not enjoy the experience.  It got me thinking about the various things people have said to me before trying the Grouse Grind that were quickly proven wrong and the extent to which my warnings tend to be ignored.

I present to you my favourite list of comments/observations before and during Grouse Grind events:

  • “It can’t be that bad.” No matter how much you tell people it sucks and will make you hate your life, they cannot conceive of how it can possibly be that bad…until they do it. Then, and only then, do they understand.
  • “I’m in good shape. I’ll go slow and I should be ok.” I firmly believe fitness plays a relatively small role in Grouse Grind success.  It’s a mental game.  Further, on the fitness front, the only thing that really prepares you for the Grind, is doing the Grind (or running stairs…or hiking steep trails on the regular).
  • [Before starting] “Maybe we should start doing this weekly!”  This early enthusiasm never gets my hopes up as, inevitably, at the end of the trail the first words of out most people’s mouths are “OMG, I’m never doing this again!”.  To date, only two people have continued on to multiple Grouse or BCMC excursions.
  • “This isn’t so bad so far.” These are what I like to call famous last words.  Usually, the words are accompanied by an increase in pace. I warn people to go slowly at first even if they feel like they can go faster. It is a marathon, not a sprint.  No one ever listens. And then they suffer.
  • I try to prepare people for the fact that the 1/4 mark sign is the most psychologically damaging point on the trail.  Most people roll their eyes at me or give me that ‘sure, sure’ kind of look. Again, no warnings can prepare people for the experience of seeing that 1/4 mark sign after climbing for what already feels like an eternity. It is the epitome of demoralizing.
  • “I’m just going to stop for a second. Why don’t you keep on going?” I now know this as the beginning of the end. Admittedly, I almost always take people up on their offers, not because I’m an insensitive ass (though sometimes I am) but rather because I fear their hellish experience may cause them to seek immediate and shocking retaliation against me for bringing them there. If I’m out of reach, they cannot exact their revenge.

If you learn nothing else from this blog, which is highly probable given its generally uninformative nature, learn from the heaps of friends and colleagues who have suffered at the hands of the Grouse Grind.  It is not for the faint of heart and is never enjoyed. It is merely tolerated by those crazy fools, such as myself, who enjoy punishing their minds and bodies on the regular.



Mid-Week Refueling Tip: Savory Waffle

Sometimes you discover a post-workout refueling option so perfect  you absolutely must share it.  Today is that day. You are all welcome for the tip I am about to share with you.*

This weekend, after a three hour bike ride (though not a very strenuous one), my friend and I realized we needed to refuel before our afternoon hike.  As two people with extreme decision-making challenges, we wandered aimlessly for a good 20 minutes, finding nothing that appealed to our raging appetites.  I had just resigned myself to a lunch of bubble tea or Dairy Queen ice cream when we noticed the perfect alternative: waffles.

I am a big fan of waffles in general–who isn’t?–but I haven’t delved often into savory waffles given I have a sweet tooth the size of Everest. This all changed the moment I met this beauty:

Have you ever seen a more perfect specimen?
Have you ever seen a more perfect specimen?

Let me tell you why this is the perfect pre- or post-workout refueling option:

  • Protein? Check.
  • Greens? Check.
  • Fruit? Check.
  • Carbs? Check.
  • Omegas? Check.
  • Healthy fats (care of a little olive oil drizzle)? Check.
  • Deliciousness? Triple check.

That right there is balanced nutrition and deliciousness to boot.  It also kept me full for an entire 6 hours, which is almost unheard of for me. So next time you’re in the market for energy and staying power remember the savory waffle.

*Obviously I am not suggesting this as a nutritionally sound post-workout snack.  But damn it tasted good.

Training Tuesdays: My Personal War Against Push-Ups

I want to wage a war against push ups. I want them to be discredited as a viable strength-building activity.  I want to erase the term entirely from fitness vernacular. In short, I want them to burst into flames.

I may not be a t-rex, but I am with him (or her) on this sentiment.
I may not be a T-rex, but I am with him (or her) on this sentiment.

On some level, I really do understand that they are good for me, but this recognition is layers and layers beneath the surface of my rational consciousness.  My rational thought cannot move past the hate.  I’m sure some of you who are reading this are all like ‘What’s the big deal? Push ups aren’t THAT hard!’.  I used to think so, too. Then I learned I was doing them all wrong, letting all the right muscles off the hook by overcompensating with all the wrong muscles. And that is when I saw push up’s true colours, and vowed to make them my mortal enemies.

When it comes to push ups, I am a hot mess.  I have been working with my trainer for 2.5 months and I am still hard-pressed to get through a full three sets without completely losing form (and my will to live). The more she integrates new (and painful) variations, the worse I perform.  My arms and shoulders have given up the desire to get stronger, which causes my back to give a valiant effort to overcompensate.

What infuriates me most, and why I feel so committed to this campaign against them, is that they never seem to get any easier. They are like the groundhog day of exercises.  Every day I wake up thinking they will feel different, that suddenly my muscles will start to respond to the repetition, but every day I am disappointed as my upper body lets me down.  This is counter to how muscles and strength should function, which leads me to believe that push ups are nothing but evil incarnate.  I do not know how to eradicate them, but I am confident that if we all put our heads together we can come up with a plan of attack and live unimaginably beautiful push up free lives.

Who’s with me?

Monday Musings: Time Heals all Wounds

Don’t you just hate it when overused cliches turn out to be true?

I’ve been going through these ups and downs and backs and forths with my injury for three months. The entire time, my trainer and physiotherapist have been telling me “it sometimes just takes time”. I am predisposed to believe that I should be able to defy such logic through sheer will, and so I pushed too hard at times and ignored advice and continued to roll my eyes at what I presumed to be a glib prescription for my injury.

Could it be that this is all it takes?
Could it be that this is all it takes?

It seems I should add this injury experience to my ever-growing list of scenarios in which I am wrong.

As of last week, I experienced what I consider to be a sudden and drastic improvement with my injury.  I went from constantly being afraid of re-injury to feeling confident enough to try running, to following up a run with a hike, and to bypassing a planned rest day in favour of an active weekend with out of town guests.  I have emerged from all of this without any sign of stiffness or pain.

It is difficult to understand how I could go from “every little weird movement causes a setback” to “nothing seems to aggravate it”. The only logical conclusion that I can draw from this is that time truly does heal all wounds…and, maybe, that health care professionals actually know what they’re talking about.  I’m reminded of that famous quote from The Sun Also Rises, when a character is asked how he went broke and he responds “gradually and then suddenly”. This is my recovery in a nutshell: incredibly (and infuriatingly) gradually and then very suddenly.

I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself as I still haven’t attempted a long run nor a long/challenging hike.  I’m optimistic though and, based on what I’ve observed in the last week, actually willing to take my time on building up intensity and distance.  How’s that for changing my tune?