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?

The Birthing Ball

Running in the summer is easy: throw on a shirt, a pair of shorts and running shoes and you’re set to go. Even taking the boys with me is not a difficult task; they are both always keen to come with me and will jump onto their own means of transportation (a bike and baby jogger) quickly. But in the winter, running brings a whole new set of challenges.

The harshness that winter carries is my first dilemma. The chilling temperatures are not good for my asthma and, often, running or not, bronchitis for me is inevitable. Ice is a second challenge – especially when running in darker weather. And, then, there is the pile of laundry that the layers of winter running build.

Winter, then, brings a lot more indoor training for me – not on a treadmill, but on my road bike sitting on a windtrainer. This gives me flexibility of running at any hour no matter what it is doing outside. And, I don’t have to worry about the boys.

In fact, the boys tell me that I need to ride because they love coming down to the basement with me. Now, if you saw our basement, you would think that the big attraction would be the main room full of toys. But, it’s the adjacent room, where I try to ride alone, that draws them downstairs. The “bike room” also has the birthing ball.

I bought the birthing ball over nine years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. Yes, this big blue ball does have a more fitness-oriented name, but this is what I called it when I first bought it – to keep my leg muscles strong and work on isometric conditioning – and this is the name that will always stick with me. But, now, ten years later, it is a favorite “toy” for my boys.

Without fail, less that ten minutes into my ride, one of them walked in and grabbed it. The other followed, they climbed on, bounced on it, supported each other…. As I watched them a few nights ago, I realized that this is not just a toy but a fitness ball; by using it, they are getting some exercise and building trust in each other. The fact that they can find a way to “play” on this for almost 40 minutes amazes me. But kids will be kids and they can be creative in ways that we big people forget.

Whenever I ride and watch them play, I bite my tongue from telling them to stop in fear that they might get hurt; instead, I tell myself that it is absolutely the best piece of fitness equipment that I ever invested in. After all, it lets me get in a 45 minute ride.

The boys playing while I ride.

A First

Just when you think you have things under control, life can twist into a knot and wrap you right in the middle.

Things have been going well: I’m running again, I’m feeling strong; I’m rested. But, I’ve also been fighting a cough – nothing serious but enough for me to err on the side of caution. So, yesterday morning, in the sub-zero temperatures, I headed out for a 6K run instead of the 10K that I planned. Last night, my cough was sitting on top of my lungs, threatening to dive down deeper. Being someone who has at least one good bout of bronchitis every year, I knew this was not good.

When I got up this morning, I decided to be proactive and see my doctor. And, as luck would have it, I learned his office is closed for another week. Now I knew a week would be too long, so I headed to a walk-in clinic.

I filled the doctor in on my symptoms, my history of bronchitis (and recent history of pneumonia) and concern that this might brew into something stronger if I didn’t do something.

“Are you a smoker?” she asked.

A smoker?! I’ve been called many things and referred to in many different ways (after all, I am a teacher), but I have never, ever been thought of as a smoker. “No,” I wanted to answer, “I sound like this because I’m sick.” Or perhaps I should have told her that I was developing a sexy bar voice for New Year’s Eve. Instead, I quietly shook my head no. But if looks could kill, they would have.

That did, though, get me riled up enough that I was successfully able to convince her that I needed an antibiotic. “What do you usually take?” she asked. Now I was beginning to think that she doubted that I have ever been sick. I prescribed myself biaxcin and headed out.

One dose later, I’m already starting to feel better. In fact, I got on the bike tonight for 40 minutes of fairly strong cycling. If it warms up, I might even feel like running tomorrow.

The message of this story: If I didn’t have running goals for the next few months, I probably would have ignored the coughs and discomfort and continued on. But as a runner, I train my body for a task and, over time (and don’t ask how long), I have learned to listen to it. I just knew that if I did nothing, I would be sick, sick, sick in the next two weeks – and that would interfere with my plans. I didn’t want that; I wanted control.

Tough Love

The tears started at 8:15 this morning.

“Please, Mom, I want to come with you.”
“No, it’s cold and it looks like it could be icy. You need to stay home. We’ll go out together tomorrow when it’s warmer.”

After a fall of on and off-running (thanks to pneumonia in October and a brief calf injury in November), I vowed to get some base mileage back under my belt during December. But I forgot how hectic December can be for the family. #1 sings in a well-respected children’s choir and has several rehearsals and performances during the first half of the month. The boys are both very involved with things going on at Church at this time of year. And, being the first year that #2 is at school, we have, not 1, but 2 school concerts to attend! During the first half of the month, I got in a few runs, but that was far better than I had been doing previously.

The Christmas Break was what I was really looking forward to so that I could get back on track. I’ve run 4 times in the past 10 days. I have registered for a half-marathon in the beginning of March (and am still miffed that the 8K I wanted to do in January is sold out). And, last weekend, I bought a hat (complete with the ponytail hole) to wear during my winter runs.

Now, my current mileage is nothing to get excited about but I’m being slow and careful. I figure that I’ll also really have to work at cross-training on a stationary bike to support my cardio. #1 is determined to be there with me for all of my training – quite doable unless there is ice on the roads. So, when I told him this morning that he needed to stay home, he was terribly disappointed. I was glad that I played the role of “tough Mom” though; with the wind chill, it was 10 below and he just couldn’t have handled it, and that would have made us both miserable.

Tomorrow is another cold day; Wednesday will be warmer. Who knows? Maybe, we’ll even pull out the baby jogger for #2 (and a really warm blanket).

The Supers

Monday is my longest day of the week. I’m up early (and early means by 5:30) with two energetic kids who are well-rested from the weekend and just won’t allow “Five more minutes”. After a full day at work, I spend the evening erranding since it is the only night that Daddy is home with the boys. So, by the time I can even think about going for a run, it’s usually past 8:00.

Last Monday, Runner’s Twitch grew worse with each passing hour so I could not wait to get out. Between the clear skies and unseasonably warm weather – warm enough to still be in shorts – I really wanted to get in a strong training run, especially with a race less than two weeks away. And, I was especially antsy as I had missed running the Sunday afternoon before.

So, at 8:15 I headed out the door with #1. Having company was something I really hadn’t planned on but I have a hard time telling my almost 9 year that he can’t spend some quality time with me, 45 minutes without the interruption of the phone, distraction of the computer or the needs of the little brother. Nor am I able to insist that he can’t get some exercise. My friends were initially critical of this parenting decision until they learned that he has LED’s on the front and back of his bike and a reflective jacket. Between his and my own reflective gear, we were visible.

And often, it’s being visible on my runs that motivates me to push harder; the last thing I want is for someone to see me when I’m slacking. As the two of us climbed “the hill”, a group of power-walkers waved and cheered. I wasn’t sure who the support was for: the 9 year old exuding confidence and power, or Mom driving herself uphill. Either way, it was all good.

After crossing the last traffic light, I decided to pick up the pace and drive myself to the finish. I zoned out, imagined the finish line of a race, and pushed myself harder and harder to get there. I heard #1 comment on the sound of sirens, but I had no idea what he was really saying. I tore down the final stretch, jumping onto the road to pass the older gentleman walking his pint-sized dog on an invisible leash – the kind that I always fear will get wrapped around my ankles. I crossed the last intersection victoriously and I stopped. I did it.

Then, turning around to walk back home, I stopped dead in my tracks; at the corner were two police cars with lights flashing. They were obviously looking for someone; I figured that there was a robbery at a nearby gas station or 24 hour supermarket. Now, I realized that my son heard police sirens but, like me, he was tuned out to everything except what lay ahead at the end of our run. Walking home, we chatted about how ironically safe we were with the police so close.

The older gentleman we passed was eyeing us, probably shocked that my son was not in bed like he should have been, I reasoned. As we neared him, he turned around and said, “I thought the police were after you, you were running so fast.”

I felt sorry for this man as he probably really did think that I was “the bad guy”. After all, he only saw a person wearing a baseball cap and androgenous clothing, a person running hard towards him and being followed by police cars. This wasn’t exactly the way I wanted to be noticed but, in an odd way, it made my run. I thought of my youngest’s passion for Superman, Mr. Incredible and other Superheroes, and I ranked myself right next to them. That one comment gave me an undescribable feeling of power. I feel ready to race again.

The Balancing Act

I spent the past 6 months achieving balance in my life. Somehow, I magically discovered how to juggle work and family and find time to run. This is mostly due to setting goals, making a conscience effort to achieve them, and having the support of my family and friends. Last month, though, when I somehow came down with pneumonia (and I still can’t figure out how that happened when I was running well just days before), I dropped one of the balls; running and racing was out of the picture.

Almost as quickly as I went down, though, I bounced back. I headed back to work a week later and felt ready to run, but I resisted. I waited for another week, but life got in the way and that one week became two. And, then, panic set in.

The rule of thumb for recovering from an illness or an injury is that it will take half the time to get back to where you were when you stopped. So how long, I worried, would it take me to get back to the 13 mile distance again? How much slower had I become? Can I be ready for an 11 mile race on Boxing Day? What about the marathon I want to run this spring? These questions made me realize that I was definitely ready to run.

All I needed now was time. Between busy days at work, #1’s homework and activities outside of school, and #2 often falling asleep before 6:00, weekday runs were beginning to feel impossible to achieve. But there are 24 hours in a day; I just had to find 6 hours out of 168 (in a week). The will was there and, with a bit of creativity, I found a way.

Run #1: Evening run, when Daddy is home, #2 is asleep and I can escape without tears – 10K
Run #2: Lunch run at work – 6K to 8K (and, if I get my run in at lunch, nothing can go wrong for the rest of the day).
Run #3: Lunch run at work or after school – 6K to 8K (we’re still trying to get that second lunch run in)
Run #4: Weekend run – building mileage

As of last night, I am feeling back. I’ve had a few recent strong runs and am ready to push again; I’ve planned my race schedule for the rest of the fall. I really know I’m back, though, because those same little things that drove me crazy a few weeks ago just don’t matter anymore. Running has let me escape from them; I have found balance again.

The Creepy Mile

Weeks ago, I planned to race the Trek or Treat Run in Oakville. It’s a popular and unique event (runners can choose between the 5K, 10k and Creepy Mile) which is held in Oakville; the run goes through the trails and around a cemetery at night, making headlights on runners mandatory. It is a terrific event for both runners and Halloween enthusiasts.

My recent bout of pneumonia put an end to my plans for this run. My boys, though, almost 4 and 9, both were looking forward to the Creepy Mile. How could Mommy say, “No”? So, we planned to reverse roles; this time, the boys would run and I would be the support crew – unless I thought I could keep up and run with them. We teamed up with friends (Daron, son and daughter) who are also of Irish descent and dubbed ourselves The Irish Pacesetters.

However, we hit another obstacle when a party invitation for Number 2 came home; times, of course, coincided with the boys’ run. The solution was easy: Plan A was to take him to the party, leave at 6:30 if he wasn’t happy (it was his first birthday party so anything could have happened) and go to the race together; Plan B was to drop off #2 at the party, drop off #1 at Friend’s house, pick up #2 at 7:30 and head to the race for the after-party. Either way, we would get to the race.

Even though I wasn’t running, I did end up doing a lot of running around as we ended up following Plan B. By the time, #2 and I arrived at the event, the 5K and 10K races were just getting started. Adults and kids alike were dressed in costume or in running gear. There was a incredible amount of excitement in the cool night air, a high level of energy that surpassed that of any other race that I’ve run.

My son and his friends had finished their run, claimed their unique black and orange ribbons and were busy feasting on pizza and candy. Once done, the four kids put their headlights back on and headed outside to the field – the totally dark field – to run around. Daron and I couldn’t help but laugh as we watched them run across the grass, headlights bobbing up and down, resembling excited little space creatures which arrived on Earth for the first time. The four of them ran, laughed, and turned off their lights so that they could sneak up and scare us in the dark; then, they laughed some more and ran away, headlights on.

I saw the first runners of the 5K cross the finish line but didn’t notice their times; watching my own boys laugh and play was much more exciting. For them, running was not about time or place but about being with friends and having fun.

These sub-9 year olds reminded me that running meets so many of our needs: the physical one, through the act of running; the emotional one by achieving goals, whatever they may be; the social one, by being with friends and others who share that same spirit and enthusiasm for being active. At different stages in our lives, one need becomes more important than the others but, every now and then, the scale tips, the balance shifts and another need becomes greater. For my boys, the need to run this race was primarily social. For me, attending it as a spectator fulfilled an emotional need. The physical need? That’s on the back-burner for now. But, I have a feeling it won’t be long before that need becomes dominant again.