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.

Surviving the first month?

I thought I had made it through the first month of the school year. Two boys and two different schools means for a hectic drop off and rushed end of the day. Every morning had tears when Number 2 said good-bye; suddenly, without rhyme or reason, those tears stopped last Thursday. Success. Number 1 had settled into his morning and afternoon routine, made it through a change of teachers half-way through the month, and was happily participating in extra-curriculars. Another success. Me, I had found balance between work and family and still made time to run. I even finished a half-marathon at the end of September with a very respectable time. Dad has also had to make adjustments: morning drop-offs and pick-ups on his off-days; planning time with the boys so that I could do my long runs. A huge success. So, when October 8th arrived, the official start to the second month of school, I thought I would be writing about how well we made the adjustment to a new school year. And, in many respects we did. But, on October 7th, that all changed.

That was the day I took my school cross-country team to our first meet. I wasn’t feeling great as I had been fighting a cold but, typical me, I felt well enough to go. This meet is a big event and I really needed to be there – for the 150 kids, for the school and for me. Our team ran well, bringing home several ribbons and two pennants. However, as the day progressed, I started coughing more and more; as soon as I got back to school, I booked a doctor’s appointment and a supply teacher for the following day. That night, the coughing subsided but I still felt like a bag of dog dirt.

So, the first month of school was a success. The boys are happy, I ran well, and my cross-country team had a fabulous meet. But, yesterday, I was diagnosed with silent pneumonia. This makes no sense to me as I just ran a strong 10K on Sunday night. Now, I can barely make it up the stairs. And, there is nothing silent about my cough.

This means my plans for October have completely changed. I’m no longer running a half – the race I’ve been training for since June – at the end of the month; instead I’m gearing up for recovery. I’m starting at the bottom of the hill and climbing it is bound to be so, so frustrating because I’ve had to abandon my goals. I know I have a long way to go but, once I get to the top, things will be easier. There is always another race; it just may take a while to get there.

Run for the Grapes: Race Report

For the past year that I’ve been back into the road-racing scene, I’ve consistently been behind Margaret. Whenever we run the same event, she is always one spot – seconds – ahead of me. But, even more frustrating than that is we are in the same age group so she always beats me in the age group awards too.

Three weeks ago, we both ran in Oakville; I ran the 10K and she ran the half-marathon. When I saw that she finished in 1:41, I was relieved that I only ran the 10K, believing that I would have been minutes, not seconds, behind her.
Two weeks ago, we both ran a 5K in Burlington. Somehow, I passed her in the last kilometre; that was a first.
When I saw that she was also registered for the Run for the Grapes, a half-marathon in St. Catherine’s, I was nervous. The data shows that Margaret is a better runner than I, but that one race – that short 5K – gave me hope; perhaps I could outrun her in this half.

Last Sunday morning, I scanned the hundreds of runners at the start line to see where she positioned herself: close to the front. “Good,” I thought to myself. “Now I can see her, and I can pace myself against her. I want to stay back until the time is definitely right, probably at the end.” And I followed this strategy for the first 8K. But, somehow, somewhere between 8K and 9K, I caught up to her.

“Good job,” she commented.
“Thanks. You too.” After a few breaths, I continued, “You’re Margaret, right?” She answered yes. “I’m trying to stay behind you (oh no, I was giving away my secrets) but I can’t.” So, we ran together and chatted for a few kilometres; sometimes I let her pull ahead, worried that I was pushing myself too much and too soon, but I always caught up again. We counted the women ahead of us at the turnaround. “That makes us 14 and 15,” I said. And, then, it happened. I pulled ahead of Margaret at the 14K mark.

I kept waiting for her to catch up and pass me. At 17K, I heard lighter footsteps – a female’s – but it wasn’t Margaret. At 18K, I heard tired breathing but her habitual grunt wasn’t in it. By 19K, I felt that if I could just hold my pace for those last two kilometres, I could do it – I could outrun her.
When I crossed the finish line at 1:41, I looked back but she was no where in sight. Neither was my cheering squad; Dave and the boys had gone out for a bike ride in this quaint rural town and had obviously lost track of time – my time. So, I ran back out. “Go, Margaret!” I cried. She ended up a few minutes behind me, finishing in 1:45. As far as standings go, I finished as 13th female, 2nd master and took home our age group award- Bart Yasso’s autographed book, a running cap, and a medal; Margaret was one spot behind me in our division.

When we walked back to our cars, I learned that she is not only in my age group but is also my age. That means that one of us will never jump into the next age group waiting for the other; we will always be chasing each other to the finish line.

Still in shock that I beat her, I asked Margaret if she was injured.
“No, I’ve just had a really rough week. I’ve been getting my kids settled at school.”
“Me too.”
“Oh, did you kids just start university too?”
“Um, no, kindergarten.”
Same mindset, different stages in our lives. We are moms and we are runners; for both of us, motherhood and running are delicately intertwined, making us who and what we are.

Our next big race together will be the half-marathon in Niagara Falls. There, anything can happen.

Running After Our Goals

In the spring, I planned to run a fall marathon. However, one Saturday night in June, when I considered my husband’s work schedule and the needs of my boys, as well as my own desire to run well, I was compelled to reevaluate my goals. As a family, we planned on a fall half-marathon – although the date and place were undecided. Then, I set 3 realistic goals: (1) a 1:42 half-marathon; (2) increasing mileage over the summer, gearing towards a spring marathon; (3) keeping everyone happy. For me, each goal was equally important and finding that special balance to achieve each became a weekly challenge.

Almost every run was done with a child in tow, one on his bike and one in the baby jogger. Even though he is almost 4, #2 was always happy to jump into the baby jogger – staying at home and being excluded was simply not an option for him (and CAS frowns upon 4 year olds being left alone). My older son is a mini-CEO, a planner, a visionary; knowing that I had goals to meet was all that was needed to motivate him to ride along, no matter what the distance. He saw himself as providing an essential service; he was a pace bunny, a water boy, and fantastic company.

Between the support of my boys and delicately planning long runs and races around my husband’s work schedule, I was able to boost my mileage and decrease my run times. Getting up for early races became easier for everyone as they saw the improvement in my running. Daddy measured this by time, #1 looked at my rankings, and #2 started counting the medals hanging above my desk.

As I started racing more and more, each one became a goal towards running a 1:42 half; I figured that to run a strong half-marathon, I needed to be able to run a good 10K. It wasn’t long before I discovered that each 10K race prepared me for the next; I learned how to pace myself at the start, how to find my spot in the first few kilometres, how to pick up my pace once I found my groove, and how to fight for the finish. As each 10K race became easier than the one before, it became obvious that I needed to practise running a half-marathon in order to meet my primary goal – a 1:42 half. The next rung on my ladder, then, became The Run for the Grapes, held in St. Catherine’s.

Coming up: Race Report: Run for the Grapes