Tag: marathon

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

Travel Swellness: How to make a destination race less stressful

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Running a marathon is a stressful endeavour. As a first timer, you’re stressed about evening being able to complete the distance. As a regular marathoner, you may be focused on trying to run a personal best and there are so many factors you can fret about (getting enough sleep, fueling properly, whether you put in the training that’ll get you that PB, etc.).

And when it’s a destination race you’re running, a whole slew of other factors come into play. You’re not sleeping in your own bed, the travel may have tired you out, you’re eating foods in a different city—there are simply a lot more unknowns to contend with.

My most recent destination race, the Detroit Marathon (where I ran a great race and tried to BQ—check out my race recap) I incorporated a lot of factors to help make the trip less stressful (and learned a few new things that’ll be sure to keep in mind for future destination races):

1. Drive a comfortable, safe car for your road trip. Bonus if it’s sleek and luxurious, too. General Motors Canada let me test drive the Buick Enclave Avenir to Detroit for the race. I’ve driven the Enclave before but not the Encave Avenir. It had so many features that made the drive so much more comfortable and stress-free (more on that later) but the car was so spacious and luxurious (the leather interior is sleek and the seats were so comfortable for our five-hour drive to Motor City). The temp dipped in the evenings, so the heated steering wheel was much appreciated, too. I’ve been on a few road trips where we’ve run into car trouble and you do not need the stress of that when you’re heading to another city to run 42.2k!

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2. Have a GPS you can count on. I have zero sense of direction (anyone who’s traveled with me can attest to how horrible my sense of direction is!), and I know I’d be so much more stressed driving without a GPS. And they’re not created equal. When I drove from Calgary to Jasper, the GPS in the car rental often couldn’t find the destination I was looking for (and if I had a signal, I had to resort to using my Google Maps on my phone). The one in the Buick Enclave Avenir is reliable and gives plenty of advance notice of when you need to make your next turn (I’ve had ones that would only notify you when you are right at the intersection, which meant we always drove right by our turn). The Enclave was also equipped with OnStar, which we didn’t end up having to use, but I always feel safer in a vehicle that is equipped with it.

3. Feel confident about your safety as you drive. When I got my driver’s license when I was 18, cars were very different. Test driving this Buick Enclave Avenir, I appreciated the modern features that allow you to feel really safe. I’d say in general, I find driving to be a bit stressful, but with features like blind-spot assist and the safety-alert seat, the vehicle is helping you to drive more safely, and more safely translates to less stress. Also, not only was the Buick Enclave Avenir equipped with WiFi, it also features wireless charging, and as I count on my phone way too much (that’s another story for another time), nothing stresses me out more than my phone being low on battery and wireless charging is so convenient!

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4. Have great playlists for your road trip. Music plays such a big role in setting the mood. For the first time ever, I created a playlist for my race (mostly a mix of Backstreet Boys, NKOTB, a few 80s hits, 90s hip hop and R n B) and in the Enclave, we had Sirius XM, which for most of the time in the car we had on hip hop but the day before the race, I just needed to chill so switched to a station with low key indie music. I don’t need thumping beats to go with my pre-race jitters! I need to do whatever little rituals I have to do to quiet those nerves about the race, and the SirusXM in the Enclave helped to do that.

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5. Stay in a cozy hotel room filled with natural light. I know some people thrive on being surrounded by runners and the excitement for the marathon, but I prefer an environment that’s relaxed and serene. We were hosted at the Element and it was an ideal place to call home for race weekend. Other runners were also staying here, but not huge groups of runners (or not that we saw anyhow) so I didn’t have the nervous energy of other marathoners to make me feel more anxious about the race. Our corner suite was so spacious, and had so many windows it was filled with natural light and we were able to wake up to the sunrise (well, except for race morning when we got up at 5 a.m.!). With a full kitchen, it would’ve been an ideal spot to prepare a simple pasta dish for dinner before the race rather than wait way too long at the Italian restaurant we went to (which doesn’t take reservations, hence the crazy long wait). I also loved that there’s a Drought juice spot just a few steps from the hotel, and you can stash those cold-pressed juices in the kitchen’s fridge (we indulged in this beet juice post-race, delish!). The Element is a Westin hotel, so it features that Heavenly bed that is so comfortable (we had no problems falling asleep!). The hotel is also nice and quiet; it’s peaceful and serene, but if you’re in need of some white noise, the room also is equipped with a white-noise machine. Oh, and parking the Enclave? It’s simple as a guest at the Element with the valet parking. Parking is not my strength (I will park blocks away rather than parallel park) so I was more than happy to pull up to the Element and hand over the keys!

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I could just as well have gone in a regular car, stayed at an budget-friendly Airbnb and probably could’ve run just as good a race, but having this sophisticated car and a great place to call home while in town for the race made this marathon weekend so much simpler and stress-free.

Thank you to both General Motors Canada and the Element for helping make this Detroit Marathon weekend (and my first visit to Motor City!) an incredible one.

 

Leave a Comment October 29, 2019

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