Category Archives: Half-Marathon

Sleep, stress, and injuries: is it all connected?

The last few months have been tough. Getting injured for the third time this year made me feel like a failure and it was difficult for me to get through. I do believe that everything happens for a reason, though, and this injury forced me to take a serious look at what was going on in my life and how it may have contributed to my injury.

A few major themes have been constantly coming up in my life over the last year and a half – constant stress, unrelenting eczema flare ups, and insomnia/disrupted sleep.

The lack of sleep and eczema flare ups stress me out, and stress, in turn affects my sleep and exacerbates my eczema. SUPER.

Stress is an ongoing theme in my life that I’ve got to learn to manage. In the meantime, I’m trying to tackle the smaller things and that is mainly my eczema and my sleep problems.

I’ve been seeing a naturopath to help me manage my eczema which I’ll probably write another post about in the future depending on how things go.

When Mike and I spent time in Switzerland last year, we unintentionally revolved our training schedule around sleep. If we had trouble sleeping the night before, we would sleep in and run whenever. Luckily it was during their winter as well, which meant that we didn’t have to worry about starting our run too late when it was the hottest part of the day. In fact, the later, the better as far as I was concerned.

Over the last year, I thought that it was unfortunate that I had trouble sleeping, but I never thought it could contribute to me getting a stress fracture. Trying to keep up with a certain level of training when I was barely sleeping was a pretty dumb thing for me to do. I should have known better.

So working on getting a better quality sleep is one of my top priorities right now. I feel like it will contribute to lowering my stress levels which will hopefully improve my ability to manage my eczema and stay uninjured. I really like this infographic below, from Casper, which is actually a mattress start up that I came across when I was doing usability research at work. A few customers I was interviewing for the company I work at actually cited Casper as having a very aesthetically pleasing website and a great business model.

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The top takeaways for me from their infographic were:

Average pro-athletes get 10-12 hours of sleep, and the average amount of sleep adults need is 7-9.
I was averaging 5-6 most days and the majority of that was broken up into chunks.

A sleep environment that promotes restorative sleep includes a dark room, supportive mattress, and a cool temperature.
My insomnia started when we moved here last June. We were in the middle of a heat wave and none of the apartments seemed to have air conditioning. Air conditioning is a given in the majority of the apartments in Toronto, so I took having the ability to control a room’s temperature for granted. We DID buy a portable A/C this year, but it was too small and it didn’t always reach our bedroom. I spent so many nights tossing and turning with my thoughts and lying in a pool of sweat.

Quick naps are important.
I’m always hesitant to take naps. They feel so luxurious in the moment, but I’m always afraid they’ll impact my ability to sleep later that night. But maybe it’s worth taking a few naps here and there, especially on weekends, when I’m eventually running longer again.

A few other things I’m doing now to help promote sleep:

Taking magnesium.
I started seeing a naturopath to help me with my skin, but she’s also helping me address my insomnia. Every night, I’m taking some magnesium to help me fall asleep and stay asleep. In all honesty, it’s not working as well as I had hoped and I’m still waking up in the middle of the night.

Working on my anxiety/stress.
I think one of the biggest things I need to address is the amount of anxiety and stress I carry around. I’m trying to meditate, take a few breaths every hour on the hour (that has also been difficult, but it’s a work in progress), and choosing more relaxing and energizing exercise like yoga over high intensity / high impact exercise like running.

Ever since I started taking magnesium and the weather has been cooling down for the fall, I’ve been having an easier time falling asleep. Staying asleep is still a work in progress, but one step at a time.

To 8-10 hours of sleep and staying injury free for 2017!

alison

 

Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon – race recap

The Scotiabank Vancouver Half-marathon last weekend was a race I should not have raced. It wasn’t even on my radar until Mike and I decided to move to Vancouver and I discovered that it coincided nicely with the time we’d be moving there. I’ve always been weary of summer races, but I thought with a 7:30am start and the promise of milder temperatures in Vancouver, it would be a good race to go for the sub 1:45 half marathon that I’ve been aiming for this year.
Unfortunately, the weather had other plans! As soon as I saw the forecast at 7am to be around 23-25C (73-77F), I knew it was going to be a tough race. But, did I still want to try to race it? Hell yes! Race registration fees aren’t cheap, and I never sign up for a race to do as a long run. If I wanted to run casually, I would just create my own route for free.

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Warming up at the start with Heather, who not only PB-d in this weather, but managed to come in 2nd in her (our) age group. She is one of the most positive, mentally strong people I have ever met.

But.

But, trying to race when I hadn’t yet acclimatized to the hot weather was asking for trouble. Trying to PB was suicide – at least for me since a few of my amazing friends actually pulled off PBs in that atrocious weather!

The race

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Lining up at the start.

Official race splits:
10.5km – 54:48 (5:13/km)
10.6km – 56:20 (5:19/km)
Official chip time: 1:51:08 (5:16/km)

I don’t have the km splits for this race because somewhere along the way, I accidentally paused my watch (I have no idea how I managed this since I never pause my watch during a race). In a way, I’m glad, because my splits would have shown me what I already know – I started off slower than planned and faded badly in the end.

The first 2-3kms are downhill which starts you off feeling strong, but then you end up running up a very long steady hill for about 4-6kms. It’s not very steep, but it feels like it goes on forever. After the 5km, I tried to will my legs to start moving faster when I saw that my pace was quite off from what I was intending to run… but they just felt like heavy bricks and refused to listen.

When we reached the steep downhill portion of this course, I finally started turning over my legs faster and tried to keep the momentum going once it evened out. But the rest of the course is either flat or rolling with hills. And with the sun fully out with no shade in sight, I just melted and my confidence / mental strength went with it.

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Running in the blazing sun really is the worst. Worse than hills. Worse than wind.

I don’t know. I just didn’t really want to try anymore. I knew I was so off pace that a PB was completely out of the question. Also, my left toe box was numb for most of the race, which I tried to ignore but I broke down to a walk about 12kms in and considered DNFing the entire thing. Mike was with me at the time and as soon as we agreed to quit, I knew I would be more devastated afterwards if I used a non serious injury to give up. So I got back on the course and said I would try running on it for another km and re-assess.

Shortly after, I realized my shoelace had come undone. Mike jumped to help me tie it and in my cranky state, I yelled “not too tight!!!!” at him, followed by, “FAAASTER!”. NOT one of my shining moments. The poor man puts up with a lot of me in my cranky, overheated racing state.

The final hill was up Burrard Bridge which, on any given day is not a challenge to run up, but at the 18km of the course, it felt like I was slowly climbing to my death. I knew at this point that I was going to finish the race, but I also knew it wasn’t going to be pretty. I stopped and walked several times in the second half (but I did manage to run up the bridge without stopping – a small victory).

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Not even striding to the finish. Just cruising. Just trying to get to the end so I could stop running.

I crossed the finish line just happy to be able to stop running and that was it. Nothing spectacular, and another dig at my self-confidence when it comes to where my fitness is at.

Post-race thoughts

  • I shouldn’t have tried racing this one. I should have treated it like a tempo or long run from the start and enjoyed the scenery. Why does every race have to be a RACE, anyway?
  • I think my “heat adjusted” paces need to be much lower than what my coach and I were planning for. He gave me a range of 5-10 seconds for the most part… but judging by how much I’ve fallen apart in other really hot races (Chicago’s 5:08 marathon, anyone?), it’s clear that I do not handle the heat well at all. In fact, I completely collapse.
  • I have a lot of work to do on building up my mental strength again. I finally made some great progress at the end of last year which led to a great start at marathon training earlier this year. But I’ve regressed and I need to accept that, move on, and start building it up again.
  • I’ve lost some fitness. It’s time to accept that and move on. Fitness comes and goes, and even if my speed is lacking a little, I can continue to build my endurance and be patient that training  (/slogging) through the summer will eventually pay off in the Fall.
  • I don’t know what this means for my Fall goal races. Originally, I thought this would be a nice way to kick off marathon training for the Fall. I was going to make my first BQ attempt. But now, I feel so far from where I need to be that I’m wondering if I should wait until the Spring before I attempt to race another marathon.
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Post race selfie with Mike. PS. This it the fourth race that I wore my ipod “just in case” and never used it. Maybe it’s a sign that I really don’t need it…

Not every race will be a PB, and I know that. I’m frustrated because I know I had a better race in me, but the conditions are what they are and while I WISH I could have been tough enough to run hard anyway and give it my all – I wasn’t. I didn’t, and my time reflected my lack of effort.

I don’t have any more summer races planned at the moment. First of all, I’m not exactly up for another kick at my confidence and secondly, I’m more in the mood for a few months of relatively uninterrupted training. We’ll see!

alison

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