What Moms and Runners Have in Common

Bathrooms and laundry: they can’t be avoided in the world of running and mothering. Today, my 4 year old made me realize that.

Recently, he has been getting into a tiny bit of trouble – the 4 year old kind of trouble – at school. Today, he called a friend a “poopie-head”. On the way home, I reminded him that poop, pee, bum – they are all pottie-talk words and we only use them in the bathroom. “Ma-um,” he replied, “you forgot about diarrhea.”

Then, once he got home from school, he rushed upstairs to change into his playclothes. This was a first! He came down, quite proud of himself, in pants and a matching t-shirt.

“You look great!” I commented. “Where did you find those?”

In my laundry basket,” he answered, “but don’t worry. I put the rest of my clothes back in the basket.”

Somedays, I just have to pick my battles.

Reasons for Running on the Road

I run on the road. Yes, all of you drivers who complain about those of us who take over the streets can now point fingers at me. I am one of “them”. But I have good reasons for being a road runner.

First, let’s make something perfectly clear. I am not a road warrior; nor am I a road hog. I do stop at intersections and traffic lights, and I give cars the right of way. Really, why wouldn’t I want to? Just look at the difference in size and weight.

Secondly, I do not run on the roads all of the time – only when I feel it is safer for me to do so. My best guess is that I take to the streets for 90% of my runs (races excluded, of course).

So, why do I run on the road?

1. Ice – From December until March, there is always one part of my run that is covered in ice. So, rather than risk slipping and fracturing something, I take to the streets. Sometimes this is just for a block or two; after a snowfall, when sidewalks are covered, I might run on the road most of the way.

2. Dark – My town has many, many trails. At night, I tend to run on the roads when I’m closer to pathways leading to them because I feel safer. I’m sure this annoys drivers, especially in one area where there is also a crosswalk from one trail entrance to another, but I simply don’t care. My safety is far more important than the 5 seconds of time that a driver might lose while slowing down.

3. Water – It never ceases to amaze me how many home-owners water the sidewalks next to their manicured lawns. When I have the boys on my run, this is most annoying as one ends up crying from getting wet (or wakes up by the sprinkle of water) and I worry about the other slipping on wet tires. So, all three of us take to the road.

4. “Ditches” – Have you ever noticed the 1 to 2 inch gap between some lawns and the sidewalks. There are some houses in my hood that have beautifully manicured lawns and the “ditch” to go with it. Between the baby jogger and #1’s bike, they are a nightmare. The road is a much better option for us as we weave around these homes.

5. Shin splints – I don’t know if there is any truth to this, but someone once told me that it is better to run on the road because the pavement has more give than the cement on the sidewalks. Basically, it is easier on the shins. I can’t see how this would make any difference in the winter as cold is cold so both roads and sidewalks are solid, but in the summer? Yes, I suppose it might.

6. Power – Running on the road gives me power. I have presence. I am noticed. I am a machine.

So, yes, dear drivers, I do apologize for taking up part of your space. But, now, perhaps you understand why I am doing so.

It’s Not Always the Race that Matters

On Sunday, the boys and I headed to Burlington for the Sweetheart’s 5K. When I initially registered, I hoped to be competitive; after hurting my back, I just wanted to run it. On race day, though, the competitive edge kicked in and, even though I had only run once in two weeks, I was prepared to push and try to place.

When we arrived at the venue, #1 and I headed in to pick up my race kit while Daddy stayed in the car with #2, who was having a precious but cantankerous moment. He was at a race, he reasoned, so he should be allowed to wear just a t-shirt with his pants – despite the 10 below temperatures. Seeing the elite men in their capri-style tights was not helping to convince him otherwise.

Meanwhile, #1 stood in the gym with me, eyeing the big waterslide.

“Let’s get Daddy to take you boys home to get towels and swimsuits,” I suggested, and I bravely told him where to find mine.

By the time I finished the race, the boys were back – and #2 was now upset that he didn’t get a chance to run. So, off the two of us went, down the hill and back up to the finish so that he could also get his race in.

Despite an overall 7th place (and 2nd Master) finish, I didn’t want my cheerleaders to hang around for the awards; it made much more sense for them to be playing in the water. So, after eating their 2 slices of pizza (okay, it was really my pizza, but I’m lactose intolerant and they needed to eat), they headed to the pool. I joined them after, but I headed straight for the whirlpool.

As soon as #2 spotted me, he headed towards the whirlpool and sat down, feet in the water. Shortly after, three of the top male runners joined us, to be followed by 2 girlfriends. Listening to them talk about their times (a 15:15-5K) and going to the World’s, which I learned were right after the Nationals, I realized that I was sitting with very elite runners. Yes, I sat with 20 something year old men on the National team – with my 4 year old right beside me and my husband and other son in eyeshot.

Once the lifeguard returned, my two boys and I headed up the waterslide. The laughter and squeals of delight from them were an open invitation for the leads to join us. After a few trips back up the slide, I heard, “Man, he’s fast. That was 8’30”. I’m just hoping to break 10 seconds.” Yes, these guys were truly competitive. Not only are they racing for first place finishes on the road, but they are also vying to be the fastest down the water slide.

The event was a fabulous outing for the family. I got to race (as did #2), the boys ate pizza, we played in the pool and on the waterslide, and I got to sit in the whirlpool with a few National Team runners. Some days, life is really good.

Finding the Right Partner

Next month, I plan to run a half-marathon. This is a bold move – not because of the distance, but because I am not a strong winter runner. For many, many years, the combination of asthma and cold weather have forced me to cross-train indoors. This year, though, I have been determined to not let the cold take over and I have been running – fairly well.

As part of my prep for this run, I decided that I needed to find a race as I simply haven’t done one in months. I needed to remind myself of that adrenalin rush and of what the crowded starts can be like, and I needed to figure out what to wear (in terms of layering and headgear). Burlington was hosting the event I needed: a 5K for couples and singles.

A couples’ run really appealed to me. It was different; it gave me a chance to compete on a “team”. But I also had podium hopes – and realistic ones – so I had to find the right running partner. I searched among male friends, and I endured the teasing by Facebook friends about being a cougar when I tried to find a running bud through that network. Despite my attempts, I had no luck. And, then, my husband, who I met many, many years ago at a half-marathon, piped up.

“How far is it?” Oh no, I knew it was coming. Dave and I met running, but his real athletic passions are cycling, tennis and hockey. Out of the blue, he will pull on his old running gear so that he can go out, but then he sets it aside for a few more weeks or months (after washing it, of course).

“5K,” I quietly replied.

“That’s doable.”

“No, I want to do well. I want to place.”

“Thanks,” and he walked away.

Oops, that was not my best moment. But after reminding him that he doesn’t ask me to play tennis with him for the same reason, he got it, and we didn’t discuss being “partners” again.

I never did find a running pal for the race and ended up registering as an individual. Perhaps this was a sign that Hubby is destined to be my running partner for life – especially at “Sweetheart Runs”. As it turned out, I was glad that I didn’t find “the right man” as I would have felt that I really let him down when I injured my back. And, when I saw that all couples at the race had their wrists tied together with a red ribbon, I was really glad that I was on my own.

Where, you may wonder, was my sweetheart? At the sidelines with the boys, all of them cheering me on. On a cold Sunday morning? Yup, I found the right partner.

The Pains of Motherhood

As a runner, I am often asked annoying questions, my least favorite being, “Have you ever had problems with your knees or your back?” I pride myself on the fact that I have been relatively injury-free. This year, though, I feel as though I have been plagued by injuries, not running-related ones, but child-related.

In November, my calf muscle tightened on me. At first, I thought it was a running injury, but I was puzzled as I had never had anything similar. So, I attributed it to more driving this year to schools and after-school activities, on top of all the other driving that comes with the title of Mother. I spent weeks self-massaging and stretching, but nothing seemed to help. Stupidly, I continued to run and in a late-season 10K race, my calf completely locked on me at the 8K marker, forcing me to abandon the race and a few more weeks of running.

I started back again over the Christmas holidays. One day, Number 2 climbed on my lap as I worked at the computer and I suddenly felt that same tightness in my calf. Then, it dawned on me: the tightness came from lifting my heel to support my forty pounder. Now, I have a stool under the computer desk for my feet – for those times when #2 wants to hop on and watch.

Since then, I have been building mileage and been quite proud of how my running through the winter has been going. Last week, though, I faced another setback. On Tuesday night, #2 and I drove to pick up his big brother at choir practice and, sure enough, #2 feel asleep in the car. When we arrived at rehearsal 10 minutes early in the 10 degrees below cold, I had two choices: to sit in the car with the engine running or freeze. Neither of these appealed to me at all so I carried my 40 pound Teddy Bear into the Church to wait for his brother. All chairs were taken – one by dry-cleaning. By the time I was finally able to sit down, I realized that my back was sore. The damage was done. Then, to top it off, #2 woke up on the way back to the car which led to a battle to strap him into his carseat, also resulting in more wear and tear on me. Two days later, I was off to the chiropractor. (Fortunately, this does have a happy ending as I was finally able to lace up my running shoes 9 days and 3 chiropractic visits later.)

All of this has made me realize that being a mother is physically hard work. Forget about the sleepless nights, the house-cleaning, the groceries,and the chores that seemingly go on forever. Ironically, it is the physical need to hold my child and cuddle with him that has caused my grief. He is now a big boy and I must be more careful of those times when he simply can’t keep his eyes open anymore.

This same child, though, who has caused me physical pain (and emotional agony of revising my running goals), has helped the recovery. One day after school, he said to me, “Mommy, at school today, I prayed for your back to get better.” My heart melted – and that didn’t need a cure.

I’m Being Chased By an Elephant!

A few chilly Sunday mornings ago, as I walked from our church to our car with the boys, the wind bit my face. I knew I’d be miserable during that afternoon’s run if I didn’t find some armour.

Now, years ago, when I was much younger and probably more foolish, I wouldn’t have reacted this same way to Mother Nature. But, being older, wiser and with much more delicate skin, I knew I was going to need a balaclava to get me through the winter. I don’t mean the criminal style with just the eyes and nose showing (although I have recently been called “criminal fast”) but an open-faced balaclava. So, that afternoon, off to the Running Room I went.

That night, my black balaclava was the last thing I pulled on before I headed out into the cold wind. “Mom!” cried #1, “You look like a criminal!” I started laughing and replied, “Let’s just hope I don’t hear any sirens.”

Heading into the first stretch of my run, I knew that I was going to love my balaclava; what, I wondered, took me so long to invest in one. Soon after, I noticed the stomping.

“Is that me?” I thought. “Man, am I making a lot of noise tonight!” The pounding of my feet reverberated around me, annoyed me and made me grateful that I didn’t weigh any more than I did. After a few more blocks of irritating footsteps, I realized this was a result of my new balaclava; it was capturing the sound around my head, making it that much louder. I focused on my run, doing my best to block the noise and finished 45 minutes later.

I’ve donned my “criminal gear” for many other runs during the past month but it wasn’t until this past week that the pounding of pavement rattled me again. As my mind wandered in my attempts to mask the noise, I started to think about RS, this little guy at school who is hearing impaired. RS wears a hearing aid in each ear. When people walk, he senses the vibration; in gym class, bouncing balls reverberate for him; if he sits in an assembly, applause, music and cheering kids can cause him grief. He deals with this every minute, every day. My surrounding noise, the shaking of the ground beneath my feet, would only last 45 minutes.

I thought about little RS as I ran, and the elephants went away.

Look at What the Wind Brought

There are days when, no matter which way I go, I seem to be running into the wind, my greatest foe. One running buddy once said, “Gee, I’d thought you’d run like a hot knife through butter when it was windy like this.” Really though, when there is a little of me and a lot of wind, it’s more like trying to run through a brick wall.

Last week, the winds changed and I loved it. Instead of those cold sub-zero temperatures and icy roads that we Ontario runners have to contend with in January, I was facing warmer temperatures hovering just over 0, no more snow and no more ice. While our southern counterparts in Florida complained about the freeze they were feeling, I felt sorry for them but, deep down, I was delighted that they were getting our cold. Until Thursday night….

I should have realized that a rapid change in temperatures usually means windy runs. After the vegetable battle with the boys, I headed out for a 10K run, completely oblivious to my direction and that of Mother Nature’s. As I turned along the golf course, I realized that the last 4K were going to be brutal as I was heading North and, then, West – both apparently straight into the wind. By the time I got home, I was wiped.

Usually I don’t tire quite so easily but that night I certainly did. By 10:00, I was falling asleep while finishing work; the next morning, I woke up 1.5 hours late; I did not hesitate to get a plate-sized cookie at Starbuck’s later in the day.

And, every bite was worth the effort of running into the wind.

Me First!

One of the hardest things about running in the winter – well, for me – is just getting outside. There are days when I just keep putting off venturing out into the cold until it only makes sense to wait until the next day when it is warmer – relatively speaking, of course.

Yesterday was one of those days. I woke up to a crisp ten below (in celcius) – 2o below if you factor in the windchill. So, despite my good intentions, running at 7:00 or 8:00 a.m. just didn’t interest me in the least. For the rest of the morning, I was tied up with chauffering duties and, in the mid-afternoon, #2 was in such a clingy mood that falling asleep with him when he went down for a nap was inevitable. By 5:30, after a day of catering to the boys’ needs, I resigned myself to running the next day.

While I was being the good mom who was making dinner for her family, Daddy announced that he didn’t want to eat much because he was playing hockey in a few hours.

“What?” I cried. “When did you decide this?”

“It’s long overdue.”

“You haven’t played hockey since this time last year and, suddenly, you’re going out tonight? What time? I want to run first.”

“Okay, when do you want to head out?”

In my moment of insanity, I had completely forgotten about both the time and the cold. But I was not about to give in. I was being given complete freedom to leave the boys for 45 minutes of peace and solitude. Who, in any frame of mind, would refuse that? But, the negotiations continued.

“Let me finish cooking dinner. And you need to bathe #2 when I’m out – including his hair.”

“Fine,” he agreed.

At that point, I was ready to call 911 and report that my husband’s body had been invaded by extra-terrestrials but I held back. Instead, I quickly finished cooking and headed out into the cold.

When I returned, #2 had had his bath (with hair washed) and Dave didn’t waste any time in heading out the door.

But, it didn’t matter. After all, I went first.

Running on Ice

It doesn’t matter whether or not you are a runner; ice is dangerous. Every year, I come across someone who has slipped on ice and ended up with a broken bone, usually a wrist from trying to break the fall. So, when it comes to winter running, I slow down, worried that I might lose my footing. Ice is my greatest fear.

So, I can’t believe that it has taken me almost two weeks to knock at the house around the corner from us. One Monday morning, as I went bolting out the door for a quick run, I turned the corner and, “Whoa! Where did that come from?” In a perfectly dry neighbourhood, where there has been no rain or snow, were 3 or 4 sidewalk slabs covered in ice. “Kids,” I reasoned. I knew that two boys lived there. “They must have done a lousy job of washing the car.”

The next run, I forgot about the ice. After all, we still had only had cold but dry weather. So I bellowed the same, “Whoa!” when I turned the corner but, this time, I added a few choice words to it. Since then, I have been more than cautious heading out, wondering when they were going to take the time to salt. And, after a few more runs, I realized that the ice was the overflow from flooding a skating rink in their backyard.

Today, we had our first real snowfall of the winter. I ran past the snow-covered icewalk and complained to myself about it once again, but when I ran past on the way home, I stopped, turned around and knocked on the door (careful to remove my balaclava first so that they wouldn’t mistaken me for some criminal-type out on a frosty winter night).

“Hi, I live around the corner,” I started. Suddenly, I was starting to feel a bit like a door-to-door salesperson. “I’m not sure if you know, but you have quite a bit of ice at the side of your house. I guess it came from the skating rink.”

“Yes, I know!” the owner barked. “Three other people have come to tell me that today.”

“Well, you can’t see it now, and it is dangerous. Someone can get hurt.”

And the rant began. “Everyone is so concerned about someone else getting hurt but no one is concerned enough to come and salt it. I’m a single mom with three kids. I have to drive my oldest back to university tonight. Is anyone going to be walking their dog out in a blizzard? No. I won’t be home until midnight and I certainly don’t think I’ll be salting then. One guy told me he even had the time to call the town to complain but does he have the time to put down salt?”

I now realized why I waited so long to knock on her door. I interjected here, reminding her that it is her house and that we are busy looking after our own houses, and she continued to remind me that she is a single mom with 3 kids (and, I know the youngest is in or near the teen years) and very busy and….

I started to walk away and said, “We’re all busy, but it’s been like that for almost 2 weeks.”

She stared at me in absolute disbelief and claimed that couldn’t be true because it hasn’t snowed or rained.

“I know because I’ve been avoiding that stretch when I run.” And, I started to leave. But before I did, she said it: Whatever. And she raised the “stop” hand.

Oh my. Well, I did my civic duty and what I could for self-preservation and, apparently, so have others. And, I’m willing to bet that a few more will follow and talk to the hand. Sadly, until there is an accident, nothing will likely change.

And people wonder why runners take to the roads.

Brrr, it’s cold out there.

I do not like cold weather at all – and I especially do not like it today. I woke up this morning to find temperatures dipped to 17 below (plus windchill) and decided to wait until mid-afternoon to run.

Even the dog didn’t want to go out today. Chase headed out the door right after breakfast, stood in the backyard and started barking, loudly enough to wake the neighbours who had the luxury of sleeping in. I rushed to grab him, worried that he might have a raccoon or other critter trapped. But, no. There he stood in the middle of the yard, barking away at Mother Nature. Chase came inside quickly when I called him, and this atypical behaviour convinced me that it was definitely cold out there. But, he insisted on going out again shortly after. On the third try, he finally stopped barking and found the courage to lift his back leg; nothing froze.

So, if my dog is complaining about the cold, what hope is there for us humans? Well, we can layer our clothes and hope that our mittens really are warm enough for the harsher temperatures. But, when I’m outside, I most certainly will not be standing around; I’ll be running as fast as my lungs can push me.

Like Chase, I’ll likely have a word or two to say to Mother Nature but I’ll save it for when I get home. Does anyone have her e-mail?