August 9, 2014

Running: My Meditation on the Move. ~ Leah Podollan

Suzanne Sagmeister Photography

I am humbled by a message written to me earlier this week.

A friend of mine has been following my running posts this spring and has decided to register for a half marathon. She is an active and proud mama of a toddler as well as a doting wife and she’s committed to run her first half marathon in November.

In recent weeks I’ve also been asked about my new love affair with running—mostly questions like, “What are you doing different?” and, “Why are you running?”

I am a rookie runner, not a running expert at all. In fact, knowing what I know now, I’m aware that I have put in a lot of junk miles over the last three years. And with those junk miles I’ve racked up physio, acupuncture and massage bills that have made each running season an expensive endeavour.

Each year I try to crack a 2:00:00 half marathon. Last year I ran five half marathons with a personal best of 2:01:01.

But this spring I decided to make a significant change to my quest.

I hired a personal trainer, Leah Goldstein, who has introduced me to a dramatically different approach to running. She brings to the trails wisdom of an extremely experienced, seasoned and accomplished ultra endurance athlete. Equally important, she does not give me any princess treatment (I can put on a huge pout or convincing whine when pushed extremely far outside my comfort zone); she’s understanding yet firm (even though at times I know I have made labouring sounds far greater & worse than when actually in labour giving birth to my 10.5 lb son!).

Her training has been educational as well.

She’s taught me about heart rate and how to optimize my fitness results by calculating (and training within) the range of my heart rate training zone. She tracks all of my stats and strategizes my training schedule. Our training together has been on a treadmill, trails and pavement; we’ve had hill sessions and puke sessions (defined as speed interval training at the local track).

Through it all I’ve learned and accomplished so much in a short period of time. In three months I can confidently say that thanks to my trainer because, at 42, I am in the best physical shape of my life.

After working with her, I felt compelled to share what I have learned and implemented in my own training.

What you put into it is what you get out of it.

Even if you are having a bad day/bad run, keep running—push through it. Alternatively, if you’re on fire, then let the adrenaline catapult you to a new personal best.

Be consistent no matter what comes up in life.

If you’ve made the commitment to run, then run. That means everything else and everyone else can wait (with the exception of emergencies, of course). Running every second day works best for me—it gives my muscles (and my heart and lungs) the recovery time they need.

Don’t stop!

If you’ve committed to run 1km, them run it—even at a turtle’s pace. Keep the running stride. The brain does awful things if it thinks it is allowed to walk every time the going gets a little tough. Run it out instead.

Make friends with wind, rain and hills and run on trails as much as possible.

My trainer had me write a mantra that I repeat: “I love running up hills! I always think I’m going to crush them! Conquer them! They are my greatest ally on the running trails. I was born to run hills!” It is all three of those perceived obstacles that make me a better runner. Also, I’ve done 75 percent of my training on trails rather than pavement this year; possibly the reason why I’ve been injury free.

Don’t be afraid to cry.

It’s going to be hard and you are going to want to cry. Do it if you need to but sooner or later you will realize that it’s a lot harder to cry and run at the same time—and since you can’t stop running, it’s hard to juggle breathing and crying and running all at once. Save crying for later and you’ll see that they are happy tears rather than frustrated tears—and those taste sweeter.

Run with a Garmin Forerunner 310XT.

It talks to your computer wirelessly and has all sorts of groovy data charts, so when you walk in the door, your report card is being automatically produced, allowing you to track progress. I’ve had several other Garmins, but if they get wet or accidentally tapped, the screen jumps to another screen and it can be frustrating. This one is slightly bigger and uber simple.

If you have an adversity to caffeine, get over it.

Caffeine is like what I imagine crack would be like—it gives you a jolt. On the days you run without at least one cup of it, you’ll regret it. (Note: I do most of my runs in the morning before I hit the trails, so it is easy to incorporate into my routine). When you start running longer distances, you’ll feel the 40mg of caffeine when it’s needed, like your rocket boosters just lit up—you’ll be good to go for another seven to 10km.

leahpodollan_500x500b (2)

Epsom salt baths are your evening’s new sanctuary.

On the evening of my run, I pour one cup of Epsom salts into a hot bath. While the bath is running I brush my teeth and get two large glasses of water (one to be enjoyed during my bath and one for my bedside table). I soak for at least 20 minutes. Toward the end of my bath I do my yoga that consists of a series of legs stretches. From the bath I go straight to bed.

Hydrate, nourish, compress and sleep.

Hydrate: On a run longer than 5km, I take a clip-on water bottle; more than 10km I add electrolytes to my water bottle; more than 15km I also take caffeinated gel packs (one per every 7km).

Nourish: On run days I have to eat 45 minutes before my run. Typically, it’s a cup of coffee, a banana and bowl of porridge with two heaping teaspoons of brown sugar and drizzled with coconut milk. Over the past few months as my output has increased, my appetite and diet variety has increased substantially. I eat when and what my body wants. I eat nothing carbonated nor deep fried, minimal dairy, gluten free brown basmati rice is my preferred grain, organic fruits and vegetables, 60 percent meat/40 percent fish, loads of garlic and at least one green salad a day.

Compression: I am prone to ankle/Achilles and knee twerks and quirks. This year I have worn compression tubes for every single run—I have not had one injury. They have made all of the difference.

Sleep: Your body will dictate your requirements. You will feel shitty during and a lot stiffer after running if you had a late night or lack of sufficient sleep. You will need a cat nap on days you run more than 15km.

Celebrate your victories!

Chocolate cake is my reward and I eat as much as I want—guiltlessly.


I learned this one from my daughter who is a former National Team athlete. Think happy, positive thoughts and make friends with hills—or whatever your obstacle may be. Saying you hate hills is self sabotage—your brain listens and does not filter. You need to filter the funk! I had someone take a picture of me running up a hill on a day that I felt like a rocket. I made it my screensaver. Simple things like that help you create your own running bliss.

My first half marathon of the year is in a week. I feel I’ve trained much more efficiently this season. I hope to realize my sub two hour goal—no, I will run it in under two hours! I am loving every step of the way.

And for those who ask what I am running from, the answer is nothing. I am taking the leap and running toward a better me.


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