I am a 50+ mother of two boys, a wife, a dog owner, and teacher. Mixed in between, I train to stay competitive as a Masters Runner in the Canadian racing scene. This is my story "Cyn's Space" - the good, the bad and anything else that comes to mind.
Last year, I wrote about my then 10 year old son, who exploded when I started to head to a yoga class wearing these shorts. He threw out all sorts of comments from “Mom, your shorts need to be longer!” to “You’re too old to wear shorts like that!” Since then, like a 16 year old, I have had to sneak out of the house when I plan to wear my short shorts.
This week, I was able to use his uber-conservative, overprotective side to my advantage when he went to meet some friends at the park. About 30 minutes later, I asked my husband whether he rode his bike. “Yup,” he answered. “Well, his helmet is sitting right here,” I complained.
So I did what any good mother would do. I walked the dog down to the park to make sure that he got there safely. But I also wore shorts, not my shorty shorts that he hates, but my slightly too large shorts that hang on my hips. And I also wore a top that was just slightly too short so there just might have been a teeny bit of mid-riff showing. I was barely in eyesight when the kid bolted in my direction.
“Hi, Mom!” he called as he approached me. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m walking Zeda. Where’s your helmet?”
“Oh….it’s home. Can you walk the other way?”
“Well, I walked here to make sure that you got here safely.”
“And if you ever leave home again without your helmet, I will walk to meet you again. And each time, I will wear less and less because seeing my skin is nothing compared to seeing your brains all over the sidewalk.”
“Okay, I get it,” he laughed. “Now can you walk the other way?”
The Canada Day 5K in Burlington, Ontario has always been one of my favorite races. It’s a smaller, local event, which is well-organized by VrPro, on a flat course and, for me, it’s the first race of my summer break.
This year, though, the numbers of runners jumped. Last year, there were around 500 participants but this year, I heard at the start, there were almost 1000 runners. Between the constant media and retail reminders that July 1st marked Canada’s 150th and the daily email reminders and facebook posts leading up to the event from VrPro, a lot of people registered at the last minute, resulting in a race that grew too fast too soon.
Now don’t get me wrong, the race director, Kelly Arnott, is quite respected in the Ontario running community. She puts on the Chilly Half-Marathon in March, which attracts a few thousand runners, and many other races. Kelly also puts a lot of money from the races back into the community, especially Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington. Kelly has been directing races for years and she knows what she is doing. But on Saturday morning, there were problems from the get-go.
First, the volunteers weren’t ready for the crowds at the bib pick-up. I don’t know how many collected their race kits on the day before, but Monica and I found ourselves at the end of a very long line an hour before the race. We were told that the race was going to be delayed so that everyone would have time to get their bibs and timing chips. I felt my anxiety climb as I was worried about having enough time to get back to the car, change into my running shoes (always a good thing at a race) and warm-up. We inched our way forward, collected our bibs and – what? No t-shirts?
When I registered for the race, on Monday night, I was able to request a t-shirt and size (adult medium). Monica registered a few days later and only had an adult XL as an option, so she ordered that. We really had no idea what kind of shirts we were going to get, but we were expecting them. If the fabric was technical, I could wear it while working out; if it was cotton, I could hand it over to my son; if neither of us wanted it, I could use it as a prize at school. By the time we got to the bib pick-up table, they only had youth medium sizing left. I was given one; Monica wasn’t. I couldn’t understand the point in requesting a size or a shirt, only not to get it. In all honesty, not getting a shirt is not a big deal and I gave mine to Monica. It just irks me that this happened.
After we got our bibs and token flyers, we were directed to a second line to pick up our timing chips. We assumed that the chip line was for people who got their bibs the night before. If we had realized that we had to line up twice, we would have split up. Fortunately, this line moved faster. By the time we got back to the car, I had just enough time to change my shoes and do a quick warm-up before the race start.
I always like this course, even with the bit of sand that we have to run through; I don’t even mind the “out and back” route that so many don’t like. As we expected, the start was packed. I positioned myself close to the start line, but I still found myself weaving through far too many people for the first mile. The marshalling and water stations were just fine, but a few of us commented that we didn’t see any medics along the course. They could have been there, but we did not notice them.
About 20 minutes after finishing and talking with some friends, I noticed that they were wearing medals. “You got a medal?” I asked. “Why didn’t I get a medal?” Somehow, between cutting the timing chip off my shoe and handing me a bottle of water, nobody gave me a medal. I borrowed a friend’s to take the “medal” picture as that was really all that I needed. Again, I think the race grew too fast (in a week) and the volunteers weren’t ready for the numbers of people coming through the finish line. I heard later that they did run out of medals and the race director is ordering more for those who want one. Will I ask? No, but for the first timers or people who don’t race often, I know that getting the medal will be a big deal for them.
Will I run this race again? Absolutely. As I mentioned above, I like the course and I like VrPro’s races. This year’s event simply had a few hiccups which can easily be corrected for the next one.
Several years ago, I raced the Acura Ten Miler in Toronto on a particularly hot summer day. With 1-2 miles left, I noticed a female runner about 400 metres ahead of me, who was weaving in and out from a group of people. She looked drunk. As I caught up to her, I asked if she was okay, to which she slurred back that she was fine and to leave her alone. I realized that she was dehydrated and didn’t realize it so I did leave her, but I stopped at the next intersection where there was a police officer, told him about her, waited until she was close enough that I could point her out, and he immediately called for an ambulance. I ran off, wondered how many people passed me, and how much time I lost, but I knew I did the right thing. Looking back, I don’t remember my time (I think it was 78 minutes) and it matter any more. What I do remember is every detail of helping that lady.
This Saturday, I raced the Canada Day 5K in Burlington. I’ve raced the course many times; it’s close to home and it’s a great race to kick off my summer holiday. My friend, Monica, and I went together with goals to run competitively; I wanted to finish faster than I did at the Moon in June, where my 5K time was 21:57. This was a flat course, and with my feeling stronger than I did a few weeks ago and pumped up about a few weeks off work, I felt that beating that time was realistic.
When the horn sounded, I went out fast – a little too fast with my first mile in 6:53. I got my pace back under control and found my spot in the pack, and I happened to end up running shoulder to shoulder with my friend’s 14 year old daughter. We spent some time jostling for position until I pulled ahead just after the turn around.
Shortly after, though, I knew something was wrong. My mother senses kicked in when I thought I heard “Somebody please help me” come from behind. My friend’s daughter has a peanut allergy and is asthmatic. She is very athletic, but she is also just learning to run faster with her asthma. Knowing that she had trouble at the Waterfront 10K, I came to a full stop – dead in my tracks – and turned around. “Are you okay?” I called back. She shook her head. “Come on, I’ll run you in.”
So we finished the last 2K together. I wondered if she actually did verbalize “help” or if I imagined it, and I thought about all of those people who just ran past her. It bothered me when the winner of my age group passed me, and I hated having to stop – twice – to walk with her for a bit. But in the end, my time didn’t matter. Doing the right thing was more important. Making sure that she was okay was most important. So I talked her through the rest of the race, we finished together and we cheered for her mom as she crossed the finish line. At that point, I handed her off; she was okay.
In the end, my time was a bit slower than I wanted but I’m okay with that. If I base my time on my age group’s winning time, I would have met my goal time (assuming that I held my pace). Monica later gently reminded me that I chose to stop and she was right. I made the decision to help this girl get to the finish line safely. For me, that was what mattered on Saturday morning. There will always be another race.
Months ago, when the Ontario Masters Association announced that the Toronto 10K was going to be its 10K championship race, I knew that I wanted to do it. Even if my recovery from Boston was slow, I knew that I could be ready to race a 10K more than 8 weeks later. However, I waited too long to register; by the time I sat down to enter, the race had sold out – 10,000 runners were all set to go and I wasn’t one of them. Never did I imagine that the race would sell out so quickly. But I really wasn’t all that surprised; Lululemon had come on board to sponsor this Canadian Running Series (CRS) race and, when Lululemon is involved with any race, it sells out quickly.
I took this as a sign. First, maybe I did need more rest (and as time progressed further into the spring, it was obvious that I did) and not getting into the race simply forced me to take more time. Secondly, it gave me a chance to volunteer with my club, Toronto Olympic Club, which always sends marshals to the CRS events.
One of the lessons that I learned from my father was the importance of volunteerism. As a teacher, I luckily see it at my school on a regular basis; teachers volunteer their time to coach clubs/teams outside of school hours; parents come into the school to help in the classroom, with lunches, fundraising….But I also see a huge lack of volunteers in other areas of my life and it is often the same people who give their time again and again and again. So when I have the time to give back, I like to do just that.
Honestly, though, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about waking up early on Saturday morning. Since the race started at 7:30 a.m, I had to be out of the house by 5:45 at the latest. After many days and late nights of testing kids, marking, and writing reports, waking up before 5:00 a.m. on a Saturday was the last thing that I wanted to do. But I had committed to helping so I set three alarms before falling asleep. At 5:30, I was out the door and on my way to meet Monica, who was one of the lucky ones, and her boyfriend so that we could head into Toronto together.
After dropping me off, I walked to my post – about 3.5K into the race and just past the first water station. On the way there, I realized that my bag of cowbells and noise makers was still at home, sitting by the door so I wouldn’t forget them. Hmmmm….. Fortunately, I did have my teacher voice with me and was all set to put it to work on its own. By 7:00, the volunteers at the water station were almost finished the task of pre-filling hundreds of cups of water. It was going to be a hot morning (it was already close to 23C) so the runners were going to need it.
I headed to the intersection where I was stationed with another TOC marshal, Chris. He was organized enough to bring cowbells and, while I hesitated to borrow one, I found myself ringing a “Bell” bell within 15 minutes of the start of the race.
The Waterfront 10K had a variety of participants. The wheelchair athletes started at 7:30 and they whizzed by on their machines. They were followed by 6 waves, beginning with the elite athletes and ending with the walkers. For Chris and me, there seemed to be a never-ending stream of runners. We watched the tags on the bibs change from red to green to yellow and so on, each colour representing a different wave. When we saw the first orange bibs come through, we knew that we were close to the end.
While marshalling, we noticed that all runners, no matter how fast or how slow, were giving their best. We cheered the typical encouraging phrases such as good job, way to go, and you’ve got this. But knowing that there were designated cheering sections after us, with groups like the Argos cheerleaders, a Jamaican band and a spin bike club, I decided to turn my cheering up a notch: “Good morning, runners! Let’s wake up Toronto!” and “Let’s rock this town!” We were simply the opening act for the entertainment to follow; we had to set the cheer standard. Of course, our bells were ringing loudly and I was told later that they could be heard two blocks away; I’m surprised that I didn’t go home with a blister on my finger. Every now and then, someone smiled back at us and we knew that our cheering, while a bit crazy, was appreciated.
When we were done our shift, I walked to the finish line at Ontario Place and was able to catch the spin bikes as they were wrapping up. Ontario Place was busy – after all, thousands of runners and families were going through there – so we left as soon as I found Monica and Stefan. She ran a speedy 40ish minutes, making her one of the top finishers in a huge race.
While the early start was a bit of a pain, I loved that we were back on the road by 9:30 and heading home. Looking towards next year, I’m not sure if I do want to race this event. There was a lot of positive feedback from those who did, but I think the flat course in downtown Toronto may not be what I want in a 10K. Maybe I’ll return to volunteer again instead. I have loads of time to decide – well, at least until they open registration for next year’s event.
Last Sunday was the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington. I have run and raced this several times and had planned to race it this year, aiming for a sub 1:37. This winter has been great for runners; my mileage was good and I was getting the speedwork done. As luck would have it, though, I was diagnosed with a sinus infection the week before the race. The extra effort that I seemed to be putting into my running suddenly made sense; I couldn’t breathe – simple. So I quickly accepted the meds that I was prescribed, took one day off training, and kept moving forward. By the race weekend, I was confident that I would be able to run the Chilly Half; racing it was still questionnable.
The morning of the race, I was up at 5:30 to drive my oldest son to the GO station so that he could catch a bus to Toronto and it was cold. By the time I got home to run my shake-out, the sun was coming up but there was a face-biting cold wind. At 8:30, when I arrived in Burlington for the race, it was much warmer and I was glad to have a 10:00 start, but the wind was still noticeable.
I went out with 2 plans. I wanted to run a 4:40/km pace, which would have me finishing around 1:38. My back-up was to go out slightly faster than marathon pace, which is 5:00/km. I realized very quickly that the getting over a sinus infection/wind off the lake combination was not a good one and, by 5 km, accepted that I was not going to run 4:40 that day. I was totally okay with that, though, as the last thing I wanted to do was blow Boston because of what should be an easy prep race.
So this race became a chance for me to practise. Not worrying about speed meant that I could relax a little bit and try to enjoy the course. The Chilly is known for it’s pancake flat terrain, but it was cold and very windy. I was really looking forward to turning around at 14K and getting out of the wind, but I swear the wind changed direction at the very moment that I did. Except for the 200 metres at the end, I felt like I was running into the wind the entire time.
I am particularly proud of my porta-potty pb at the Chilly. I felt my gut start to tighten up around 16/17K and decided to duck into a porta-potty shortly after. It was a false alarm – only gas – and I was in and out in just over a minute. With winter layers to contend with, I was pretty pleased with that time. You know you’re a runner when you claim a personal porta-potty best!
So what is the nitty-gritty? I finished in 1:42, 5th in my age group (50-54). This was also a Provincial Championship race for the 21.1k distance and I earned my age group’s silver medal for that, which makes me happy. So while I didn’t leave with the time that I wanted, I walked away with a reminder that you need to be in top condition to race well. And even though I wasn’t in peak condition, I still ran well.
In the past ten days, I can feel myself being stronger and healthier. Around the Bay is next and that will be a strong indicator of my fitness for Boston. I can not wait!
Boston is just 5 weeks away and I have reached the moment of a 1000 questions: How much more mileage can I push myself into? Why am I so slow today? Is this a real ache or is it a figment of my imagination? Is this cold really gone? How much longer? The list is truly endless.
If there is one item that is more important in my training than any other, it’s the long run. Now this may not be true for everyone, but for me it is. I need the psychological confidence that I can handle long distance week after week. Two weeks ago, when I found myself on meds for a sinus infection that I seemed to have been fighting for weeks, I refused to skip my long run. Instead, I took one day off while waiting for meds to kick in, then plowed through 15 miles after work the next day. Last week, I worked 2-3 miles around the Chilly Half-marathon. Week by week, like all marathon trainees, I keep adding a bit more to my long run.
Despite this, I found the thought of running 16 miles yesterday overwhelming. For whatever reason, the first milestone past 15 miles was becoming a mental obstacle. I was also completely on my own, again, and the temperatures dropped a lot in the past week. But I knew that I had to, absolutely had to, get it done.
So I headed out at 8:00 a.m. in my New Balance 1080’s. Four miles later, I stopped by the house, as planned, and changed into my new 1080’s, my marathon shoes which I am just breaking in. Six miles later, I decided to continue to run further away from home before turning around so that I wouldn’t have to run past my house to reach the 16 miles that I was aiming for.
And it worked. By the time I got home, I logged 16.2 miles. The best part of this was my last four miles were 15 seconds/mile faster – planned – and I wasn’t feeling exhausted. Even this morning, 24 hours later, I found the dreaded recovery run fairly easy to do.
I wasn’t confident when I left my house, but I got back feeling great – mentally and physically strong. Yesterday told me that I am where I need to be with my training and I will be ready for Boston 2017.
This summer, after being dogless for almost five years, my family decided we were ready to adopt another. We hemmed and hawed over the gender, the breed, the age…but the one thing we all agreed on was we wanted a rescue dog, an active dog and one who could keep me company running. On Thanksgiving Monday, we brought home Zeda.
Zeda is a year and a half and a ball of energy. I walk her in the morning, she gets at least an hour of play with her new doggie friends every afternoon, my son walks her at night and, on days when she still doesn’t seem to get enough exercise, I will run 5K with her.
This is the first dog that I have had to run with. I honestly knew nothing about training a dog to run with its owner so it has been weeks of trial and error. I quickly learned that morning runs are slower, only because she likes to spend more time sniffing the ground presumably covered in morning-fresh dog pee, and that I need to constantly be on the lookout for squirrels or any other four-legged creature worth chasing.
Since early November, we’ve been running together once or twice a week for 5k to 8k. Zeda’s 5K time is anywhere between 26 and 29 minutes, with only two or three breaks to relieve herself. Since my only goal when running with her is to tire her out while adding some easy miles to my log, that pace is great. And Zeda gets what she wants: a chance to run.
I am so happy to have a new running partner. Rain, snow, warm or cold, Zeda is always keen to leash up and keep me company. And who knows? Maybe I’ll be able to get her to toe (or claw) a line.
Last night, I was reminded by a close friend that I have been spending the past several months stepping out of my comfort zone in my running world. Somehow running stagnated for me. I was still running and enjoying it, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. With the exception of a few close friends, I was running alone and my times were becoming stale. I was racing relatively well, but I wanted to do better – and I needed to push myself more. I needed to get out of my comfort zone.
The first real change I made was race the Canadian 5K Championships in the fall. This is an elite event with many Canada’s fastest distance runners. Toeing that line scared me and, as much as I wanted to be a part of that event, I was afraid to enter. As a masters runner, I just didn’t think I was good enough to be a part of it. After eyeing the race for a few years, I finally swallowed my fear and applied for a bib, gulped when I was accepted and nervously pulled myself to the start line in September. After finishing, I was so glad that I made that effort as I realized that it was one of the most prestigious races that I would ever do as I got the chance to race with 200 of Canada’s best runners.
Next, I did something that frightened me; I entered the Boston Marathon. Five years ago, in 2012, my family and I drove to Boston, the year that temperatures were insanely hot. Between the heat, worrying about being able to finish feeling well enough to drive back to Ontario to work the next day, and being pushed so hard by another runner that I ended up on all fours with gravel stuck in my palms, I decided to dnf – never an easy decision and especially at Boston. Over the past five years, this race has became a bit of a monkey on my back and I had to get rid of it; I have to finish that race. In September, I applied to run Boston 2017 and was accepted. In eleven weeks, I will be back, ready for anything that can be thrown my way.
Third, I decided to try something new: this blog. Many know that I have been blogging for years but, like my running, my blog was stagnating. To put things in perspective, I lost the time that I use to be able to put into blogging as my boys are now older (and busier) and my teaching assignment has changed (also resulting in busier days). But writing about running is something that I really enjoy and, if someone is reading about it, then writing becomes even better. Somehow, I needed to make time to record my thoughts and I needed a fresh start. So I bought my own domain and am still working at rebuilding my blog, but I am slowing finding more time to write and am loving it.
And, suddenly, I am excited about running again – truly excited and, like a junkie who just can’t get enough, I needed more. I wanted one more change to light another spark. So last week, I returned to my former club, Toronto Olympic Club, to train under its guidance. I think it takes real courage to go back to something that you once walked away from and my return to TOC is no exception. I left the club two years ago, on good terms, because it was simply too difficult for me to get to practices when I lived in a different city. That distance still exists but I realize how important it is for me to have the coaching and encouragement to physically challenge myself. For now, my coaching is primarily remote, but my heart still skips a beat every time I open my training log to double check my plan for the day, when I lace up, and when I sit down to record my run. And, on Sunday, I was thrilled when I got to wear the club colours at the Robbie Burns race.
Last night, my friend helped me to see that these changes are not just helping me come out of my comfort zone, but they are helping me to believe in myself. The two go hand and hand, and as one gets stronger, so will the other. It’s 2017 and I am strong, I am focused and I believe in myself. It’s going to be an amazing year.
A few weeks ago, I read an article in Runner’s World about planking twice a day at work. The author, Leah Wynalek, made the effort to do just that for 90 seconds each time. Within a month, she said, she noticed the benefits.
I was hooked. Finding 90 seconds in my work day is totally doable. What I wasn’t sure about was whether I could actually hold a plank for more than a minute. I could last year, but I’ve been slacking off in the core department all fall. I felt I could probably hold a plank for 60 seconds; 90 seconds would be a challenge, and that is exactly what I needed: a challenge.
To hold myself more accountable, I enlisted the help of some FB friends. “Who wants to join me?” I asked. Surprisingly, I have many who did, and many of those friends work at my school. Two of them are Amanda, who works two doors down the hall, and Christina who teaches in the classroom next to mine.
We’re all at different levels in our planking, but we are all committed to the challenge. Christina planked for the first time ever last Monday morning and, while she isn’t holding one for 90 seconds, each plank is a little longer than the one before. Amanda is focussed on her health in general so the Plank90x2 Challenge is just one more way for her to improve her overall fitness. Me, I’m hoping to keep up with this until June when school lets out for the summer, and I have challenged myself to do a 5 minute plank by then. So every day, we try to connect for a few minutes so that we can plank together or time each other. And if we end up being alone, we seek and find someone else who can watch and time us so that we can say “I did it” and not feel guilty for missing out at the end of the day.
Throughout the week, I have had other friends post their plank pictures on IG, message me that they are happily planking and send me plank-related articles and posters. If you want to join the fun, use #plank90x2 so that we can find you.
Surprisingly, I am already feeling a difference. My abs feel tight – or maybe they’re just sore – from the planking I did last week. Whatever it is, though, it’s good and it has me dropping back down into a plank for more.
One of the things I love about living in Canada is being able to truly experience all four seasons – until we get into the coldest days of the winter. Then, life as a runner isn’t all that great. Some days it means sliding, not running, along sloppy snow/slush-covered roads; others entail running straight into a biting wind that hurts your face; and, then, there are the days that it is so cold that you don’t just see your breath, but your lungs can also feel the thickness of the air while you run. Fortunately, we haven’t had too many of these days but, when we do, everyone complains.
Over the years, I’ve learned how to layer for the different types of winter weather that we can get; what we can’t double or triple, though, are our socks. It is so important to wear the perfect pair. Like summer socks, I want something that is comfortable, blister-free and, if possible, a more anatomical fit. In the winter, I want all of the above and warmth. This season, I finally found the perfect sock.
During the break, I went to the Running Room to replace what has been my go-to winter sock: double-layered and blister-free. I pulled them off the rack, only to put them back. They didn’t feel right. The quality wasn’t there any more. Clearly, it was time to make a change.
I scanned the walls and noticed Feetures brand, a product that I have seen quite a bit in sporting goods stores. I hadn’t heard anything about their socks, but I was pulled towards the packaging. “No blisters” and “merino” on the winter running socks had my immediate attention; “lifetime guarantee” kept it. These weren’t cheap, though. In fact, they were about $10 over my budget. But these socks wooed me. They were a soft wool, had a L/R foot anatomical fit, and made promises that most long distance runners would succumb to. These seemed to be the right socks. Lured by their cushioning, warmth and promise to keep me blister-free, I bought them. All I needed was another cold snap so that I could try them out.
Within days, Mother Nature dropped the temperatures for us. Since purchasing my Feetures, I have worn them three times and they have not disappointed my feet. The fit is great and my toes have not felt cold at all, which is unusual for me. Yesterday, I ran in them for 21K in a windchill that gave us -20C temperatures and the Feetures winter running socks did everything they claimed they would and more; they made me want another pair.
***These opinions are solely my own. This blog post is not endorsed or sponsored by Feetures.