Filed under: Fitness Swellness

Fitness Swellness: I’m running 1,000 kilometres in the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee

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So…I’ve set a major running goal for summer 2020: I’m going to run 1,000 kilometres in the next four months.

But let’s backtrack a bit so you can get some context. On April 30th, I reached a distance goal of 200k I’d set for myself for the month of April. I’ve run more than that distance before in one month, but always when training for a marathon. For me, 200 kilometres without a marathon goal race in the calendar is a lot. I’m not the kind of runner who loves doing anything much longer than 10k unless I need to for training. And my preference is to run three days a week, four if I’m feeling ambitious. In April, I ended up running 24 days. They were mostly run at a comfortable pace; given the higher overall mileage and greater frequency, my focus was just getting the distance completed. My legs were tired and my pace never really improved, but I was fine with that. It wasn’t about speed. These runs in April became some much needed almost daily stress relief and nice outing in the fresh air while living in quarantine.

How did I come around to making my goal to run 1,000k this summer?

On the last day of April, here is my series of texts to a running friend:

4:06 p.m.: I completed my 200k goal for April and reached 14,000 km on Nike Run Club. My legs are tired, though. I’ll scale back my distance in May.

8:16 p.m.: In crazy runner fashion, now I’m thinking maybe my May goal should be 250 km.

11:40 p.m.: (upon coming across an article on Facebook about the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee 1000k) Oh, and look what just popped up in my feed! That would be 250k a month!

What’s the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee 1000k? The GVRAT is a summer-long race from the creator of the extremely vigorous Barkley Marathons, Lazarus Lake. The distance from the southeastern corner of the state of Tennessee to the northwestern corner is approximately 1,000 kilometres (or 621 miles). The race started on May 1st and goes until August 31st, which means participants have four months to run 1,000k. I was already considering 250k for May… so why not making it four months straight?

(N.B. The distance across Tennessee is actually 1,022 kilometres…and tbh, I’m not clear if it’s 1,000k or 1,022k I have to complete–as it stands, I will complete 1,022 to ensure I complete this virtual race!)

I hemmed and hawed about registering and I had some mixed feedback from friends about whether I should register or not. One reason I was compelled to register? Completing the 1,000k in the virtual race would also coincide with reaching Volt status on Nike Run Club (NRC), so it’d be kind of epic to complete both at the same time.

However, a reason I was iffy about registering (besides the daunting distance through the heat of the summer) was that if I had to prioritize, I’d rather run a marathon in the fall. My plan is to run Detroit Marathon again since I had such a great race last year there. But with the pandemic, who knows if marathons will actually be held this fall. If I were to register for GVRAT, and fall marathons do indeed take place, I’d have to figure out how to manage my training. While I would complete about 250k in a four-week period roughly a month before the marathon, to be completing 250k each month while hoping to run a great marathon is asking a lot of me, mentally and physically. And in training for a marathon, I’d be focused on improving speed and doing hill training, rather than simply completing distance. So juggling the two goals would be a challenge.

I waffled a bit, but I decided it would help to have a goal like the GVRAT to focus on and help me manage  the stress of the pandemic. I can’t control many aspects of life right now, but I can manage my running workouts. It will be a good distraction, and having a running schedule would add some structure to my calendar. Also, normally, I often have to juggle marathon training around traveling for work; now, it will likely be a long time til travel picks up again, so I have plenty of time while at home in Toronto and I can invest that time towards this running goal.

And so I registered for the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee and joined the 16,000+ runners worldwide taking part as well. You can also register your dog, and Billie Jean will likely run most of the 1,000k with me, but I can’t be sure of that (sometimes I may run home from an errand when she’s not with me, plus I can’t have her run with me very long on the days it is unbearably hot and humid), and so I haven’t officially registered her in the dog category of the race.

How I will structure my 1,000 kilometres

Currently, my plan is to switch up the distances. If running daily, 1,000k works out to approximately 8.5k daily. I prefer to have some rest days so I plan to change it up from week to week with some longer runs so that I can take a rest day. That said, I don’t really enjoy running more than 20k when not in training for a marathon. Right now, I’m thinking a decent week might be to run four 15k runs, plus a short recovery run. Also, I predict many of Billie Jean’s quick pee breaks will likely become short, slow and easy runs. I’m going to play around with the schedule and see what works best for me mentally and physically. The race rules allow you to walk (but it has to be a walk with the purpose of walking/hiking, not simply the tally of your day to day steps).

Here I go! Virtually traveling on foot across Tennessee!

A few days into it and it’s nice to have this distraction. GVRAT team is working hard on getting the online tracking system up and running. The site has fun stats including where you are in the standings, projected finish date, and shows you approximately where you are on the course. Today, I finally reached Memphis!

Who else is doing the race? By the way, registration is still open… anyone else want to register? The more the merrier, we can cheer one another on! In any case, you can follow my progress across Tennessee on my social media (follow me on Instagram and Twitter!) and here on the blog!

Leave a Comment May 4, 2020

Fitness Swellness: Dead Sea Half-Marathon race recap

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When given five weeks notice and you’ve got zero base fitness, do you snap up the opportunity to run the Dead Sea Marathon?

The answer is YES.

When the idea of me running the Dead Sea Marathon came  up with iRun, it was December and I immediately told my editor I would run the marathon. The race was in February, and that would give me two months to train. It would by no means be pretty, but my only goal would be to finish the 42.2 kilometres.

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Then I actually looked at the calendar and realized we were already the third week of December and that the Dead Sea Marathon takes place at the beginning of February, which only gave me six weeks to prepare, and by the time the trip was confirmed, I had five weeks to prepare, and so I decided to run the half-marathon instead. Even 21.1k was not going to be easy given I had taken a long break from running (I took three weeks off after the Istanbul Marathon, and then I did one or two short runs and then with little notice I went to Thailand unexpectedly for two weeks).

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So, at that point, five weeks to build a base to run the Dead Sea Half-Marathon didn’t sound like too awful an idea…

And then I caught a cold.

The cold took me out for two weeks. Which meant I then had three weeks of building base fitness to run the half-marathon. I jumped into it and completed about three to four runs each week and I immediately started my long runs at the 16k distance.

By the time it came time to fly to Tel Aviv, I didn’t feel ready for the run but my plan was to just run it for fun, to take photos, and enjoy the experience.

Jet lagged and unprepared

I landed in Tel Aviv after about 24 hours of flying around midday on February 5th (two days before the race). I just rested when I got to the hotel, then stepped out to watch the sunset on the beach. Then next day, we did some sightseeing in Jaffa until lunch, and then we made the two-hour drive to the Dead Sea, during which I took the opportunity to catch up on some sleep.

When I was already on my flight to Israel, the race director had emailed saying the weather was colder than than anticipated and he recommended some layers for the 15k run planned for 6 a.m. the day after the race (this run was news to me…and I wasn’t clear as to why a run was planned before sunrise the day after racing, but that’s another story). I realized I didn’t have many layers, nor had I packed a running cap for the race. I’d purposely not brought trail shoes (which the race director had recommended a week or so before the race), since I figured it was wiser for me to run in shoes that I’m used to running in.

That evening, we went to pick up race kits and there was a bit of confusion in the process but we ended up being sent off to go eat an early dinner at the hotel (even though I’d understood we were to eat at the race’s pasta dinner, but again this again some miscommunication with regards to our itinerary). The buffet had a lot of options but I tried to stick to more of the plain items (even though I don’t typically have stomach issues before a race, I figure it was smarter to play it safe).

In bed earlier than I ever am before I race, I did end up staying awake til midnight, before I finally forced myself to turn off the TV to get some zzz’s since my alarm was set for 5:30 a.m. (remember, too, that I was also managing a seven-hour time difference with my hometown of Toronto).

Race day morning

I got up, got dressed, and went down to eat. In the lobby there was a pretty meager set up for breakfast for runners. There was bread, but literally nothing to put on the bread nor a toaster to toast it. I drank some juice and ate a slice of whole wheat bread and then went back upstairs to finish prepping. The weather forecast called for overcast skies and 18 Celsius. Warmer than I’d like, and I’d normally have run in just a sports bra and shorts for that type of weather, but one of the fellow runners thought she had read that this wasn’t permitted. My plan was to run with a tank top on top, which I’d take it off if I got too hot. As for a running cap, I didn’t end up buying one as there was one in the race kit.

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It was about a 15-minute walk from our hotel to the race start, so we headed on over, visited the portapotty for a pre-race bathroom break and then got into the starting chute.

And it’s go-time!

The race started a couple of minutes late, just after 7 a.m. I set out and was uncomfortably warm quite quickly. I also, for some reason, couldn’t get my Google Play Music to work. I couldn’t seem to find the free playlists so after several tries, I gave up and resigned myself to running without music. Which for a big race like Chicago or Philly isn’t a big deal, but in a race like the Dead Sea where there would be no spectators based on the route into the Dead Sea (a factor I hadn’t considered until fellow runner Ashley pointed out to me the day before the race), not having music is a big deal, but what could I do? My music app wasn’t cooperating, and what actually started playing on my earbud is the audio recordings of interviews I’d conducted for articles. I turned down the volume and tried to focus instead on the scenery and people around me.

Another mishap that morning? Tracking the run on Nike’s NRC app. I went into autopilot when the race was starting and tapped my NRC app on my Apple watch to track the race. I only realized a few kilometres in that for the past few months I’ve been using the NRC app on my phone to track runs since I am unable to upload my watch data to the app (long story). So at that point I started my phone app to track the run, but that meant that all the my run insights were off.

But as I said, I chose to focus on the experience and everything around me. And what scenery it was! The start of the race is a road that leads into a demilitarization zone with Jordan. The Dead Sea was on either side of the road, and up ahead was Jordan. The Dead Sea is quite blue and I had to remind myself the white formations in the water and underneath my feet was in fact salt and not snow. The salt proved hard to run on. I spent much of this portion and later on in the race trying to find the most hard-packed ground (so I wove around the course a bit) so that I would have to work less on stabilization.

The route eventually become more of a gravel road, and then packed dirt. We turned to the right and went out and back, and the terrain was much more difficult than I’d anticipated since I’m a road runner. Perhaps I should’ve worn trail runners after all.

There were water stations but as I was carrying water I didn’t stop. it was disappointing to see that plastic water bottles were what were used (something that I noted in the Istanbul Marathon as well). From what I saw, there was no electrolyte drinks offered on the course.

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The route eventually (around the 15k mark) turned to go back towards land, and this is when I spotted the significant ramp we had to run up before turning left to go back towards where we had started…

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What the–?! I’d been told the route was flat. Since I wasn’t running for time, I walked a portion of the hill, and pretty much whenever I felt like I wanted a break. I took photos, and just soaked up the scenery around me, because it was so much more surreal than I’d expected it to be. It felt like I was running on another planet between the fantastical blue sea and salt and the dry, golden sand surrounding me.

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I was tired and hot and so grateful that I was running 21.1k instead of the marathon. “Running a half with three weeks of running is not a good idea. Don’t let me do this again,” I remember telling myself. The sun was hot and making me sweat a lot the first 16 kilometres or so, but then a cool breeze picked up and I welcomed the chill in the air.

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After  turning off of the ramp, there was a significantly rocky half a kilometre of trail where I found myself wishing for trail shoes, which lead us to the paved promenade along the sea for the rest of the race. I felt like there were fewer runners around me for this section, so really had to push myself mentally to keep going. In the last couple of kilometres, there were  a few spectators cheering and I was grateful for their smiling faces.

Finally (finally!) before I realized it, the finish line was in front of me. I forced myself to spring the last few metres and finished just behind the man who ran balancing a pineapple on his head (yes, he ran a half balancing a pineapple and was faster than me!). See my fist pumping to the right!

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I took me ages to get my race time (I was having trouble navigating the results on the site), but the race director emailed me that my time was 2:08:10 (not sure if that’s chip or gun time) and I finished 71st in my category and 136th out of all the women (I don’t know how many total ran the race, though since I can’t navigate the results). I’m perfectly happy with my time given I was running it with three weeks of getting back into running and I took it easy for the experience.

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I grabbed some snacks (pita, hummus, some incredible oranges, and halva) and grabbed a seat on a chaise longue on the beach. It was breezy but I had no idea where bag check was nor if my bag was there (one of the contacts hosting us had taken my bag…and it turns out she brought it back to the hotel, which was of no help given I was chilly after the race). I took a few photos, ran into another one of the women from our media group and we walked back to the hotel together to have breakfast at the buffet.

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That afternoon, I went to explore the beach (the salty shores are magical) and took a dip in the water. A quick dip since it wasn’t hot out, but I wanted to experience this healing water that makes you so incredibly buoyant. Did it help with recovery, I’m not sure, and I’m not sure if running at 430 metres below sea level helped improve my performance, but I definitely noticed the salty air as I had a nice thin layer of salt all over me after the race.

I wrote about the race for iRun, you can check out my piece here. I knew the Dead Sea Half-Marathon would be a special race, but I didn’t realize how surreal and how incredible it would be until I completed it. It’s definitely one I would add to your bucket list if destination races are your thing, with the huge plus that you can also visit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem after the race; Tel Aviv has secured a spot as one of the best cities I’ve ever visited (some of the best food I’ve had, plus beaches and culture and markets!).

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Leave a Comment March 27, 2020

Fitness Swellness: Istanbul Marathon 2019 race recap

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Fresh from running my 13th marathon in Detroit, in which you cross the US-Canada border (which is one of 10 reasons you should run the Detroit Marathon), I couldn’t pass up the invite to run the Istanbul Marathon, even though it was just two weeks later.

With tips from Nike trainers on how to prepare for two marathons two weeks apart, I set off for Istanbul with Turkish Airlines, who blessed me with a seat in Business Class. Which is reason to rejoice on its own, but with Istanbul being my first marathon overseas, I was nervous about the jet lag. But thanks to being in Business Class for the flight there and back helped to ensure I got the comfortable rest I needed. The lie-flat seats, noise-cancelling headphones, gourmet meals, Versace toiletry kit, and cozy slippers, all add up to creating the most luxurious way to travel for nine hours to Istanbul. Did we mention the flight attendants make up your lie-flat seat so you can snooze? Any nerves I had about traveling to my first European marathon were soothed as I sunk into this Business Class life.

The days leading up to the Istanbul Marathon

On Friday before the race (the race was on November 3, 2019), we spent the day sightseeing, so we were on our feet more than we should’ve been, but it was what it was. We picked up our race kits that evening, and it was a nice expo, with great vendor booths and fun photo opps like this oversized medal.

On Saturday, the only thing on our itinerary was a hammam appointment at the spa hotel. I slept in, and spent a quiet morning just going to grab coffee and a bite. The hammam appointment was very relaxing and I forced myself to not go out and explore (even though I wanted to!) and just stayed close to the hotel exploring the shopping. I don’t know why, perhaps I was too distracted by being in Istanbul, but I completely forgot to do a shakeout run. I’d normally have done a 3k run Saturday morning, but I only remembered late in the day and I didn’t think doing it at that point was going to make or break my race.

My marathon plan

With my strong Detroit Marathon, I planned to run Istanbul for fun. As the race approached, though, I figured I’d run based on feel. Maybe I could run a strong race. Or maybe not. I was leaning towards it being a slow race given the forecast for race day being quite warm.

Marathon morning

There was some confusion as to how we were getting transported to the race start (which is on the Asian side of Istanbul), but we ended up hopping out of our car to walk a block to Taksim to catch the race shuttle buses, which turned out to be a smart decision. It took us about half an hour to get the race start area. The sun was rising and we looked for our bag check buses, visited the portapotty (which were the most dirty portapotties I’ve ever experienced at a race).

The weather forecast was for a high of 20 or so, but as we waited for the race to start, it was only 9 degrees. As I’d forgotten to pack a garbage bag or a top to throw away, I’d taken the laundry bag from the hotel room and tucked my arms into it as I waited for the 9 a.m. marathon start. As for my marathon outfit, leading up to the race, with the high of about 20C, I had wondered if it’d be acceptable to run in Istanbul with just my sportsbra on top. With having to don a scarf visiting mosques (and I saw at one mosque people in leggings and shorts being given an item so their legs would be covered), I wasn’t sure if running in a sportsbra would be offensive or shocking. I decided to play it by ear and the race morning, I only saw one woman in a sports bra and tights. Since the temp wasn’t as warm as I had expected, I decided to run with a tank top on over top (which I was prepared to take off if the temp felt very warm).

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The race start is busy. The 15k starts after the marathon and has many more participants, and we’re basically all milling around the same area. There are a lot more men running the marathon, based on just who I found myself surrounded by at the start area and along on the route.

Marathon go time

As I said, my plan was to run by feel. And I started off feeling pretty good. Although very early on (even before I’d reached 10k) I could tell my legs felt tired, which I knew didn’t bode well for the race. I decided to run as comfortably as I could make the race and didn’t allow myself to stop and take a walk break until I’d reached the halfway point.

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I loved that this race starts in Asia and you run across the Bosphorus Bridge to Europe. The only thing that’d have made it better would be for it to start at sunrise. But regardless, it’s kind of epic making that trek across the bridge!

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My legs were feeling very exhausted and I watched my pace slow more and more. After about the 25k mark, I swear I felt like I was moving so incredibly slowly that to me, it felt like I was running a pace twice as slow as my easy pace. It wasn’t even close to being that slow, but with every kilometre marker taking FOREVER to appear, it felt like I was moving at a glacial pace. It was misery. And as I ran I remembered the last time I did two marathons (that time within a month of each other) the second race was also miserable. How had I forgotten this!

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I saw at least six of the street dogs running along the route. I was sort of hoping I could convince one to run alongside me for the race, but they all have their own agendas for the day. The dogs were nice to see since there is little crowd support along the route and little entertainment (so most of the last half of the race was a bit monotonous, given the lack of good scenery, and only some frustrating hills to look forward to). I think it was local runners, but the men running the race are a bit aggressive. I was elbowed a few times as they would pass me and they did not even glance (never mind apologize). I get that sometimes you might accidentally brush by someone when you pass them, but I always apologize.

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In the last kilometre or so, there was a steep incline to enter a park and I was straight up angry about it. The park itself was pretty, with trees and grass. Then we emerged from the park and there was an old archway to run through and I thought, “finally, the finish line is just through the arch!” BUT NO. I emerged on the other side of the arch and there a steep and long hill to the finish. This section was on a street lined with shops on either side and there were lots of locals and tourists just going about their day on either side of the course…not sure if any of them noticed me cursing whoever designed this marathon route. 

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Finally (finally!) I reached the finish line! I felt much relief and was immediately interviewed by a sweet older man from the race organizers (I think he liked that I was from Canada here to run the marathon). It took awhile for the volunteer to remove the timing chip from my shoelaces (yes, it’s an old-school chip you attach to your laces versus being on the back of your bib); i was ever so grateful that they knelt to take it off of my shoe rather than me having to kneel down with my very tired legs.

There was little in terms of celebration in the post-marathon area, so I grabbed the snacks (a banana, a protein bar, an electrolyte drink) and parked myself in the park in the sunshine as I waited for my friend. The 15k finished in another area where there were food trucks and a band playing, so there is definitely more of a focus on the 15k race.

My time? My slowest marathon ever, 4:29:30. (I don’t know my place amongst the 3,000 or so women who ran the marathon as the results are in a confusing chart without breakdowns by category.) I’m not thrilled with running my slowest marathon ever, but I’m not beating up myself about it. Two marathons two weeks apart is a lot. And I ran a great race in Detroit. By the way if you’re looking for more about the Istanbul Marathon, I’ve written up 11 Reasons To Run the Istanbul Marathon for iRun.

I’ve now taken three weeks off. I’ve worked out a fair but no running. But went for my first run since Istanbul today and it felt good to get out in the crisp air. 

What’s up next? I’m thinking for 2020, I’ll run a spring and a fall marathon, and a few shorter races. Maybe some trail running (it terrifies me but it might be nice to try something new).

Oh, and I’ll be doing a few travel articles on Istanbul so stay tuned for those. It’s one of my favourite cities! If you don’t follow me on Instagram, you can check my photos from this trip with the hashtag #istanbulswellness!

1 Comment November 24, 2019

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