I Run For Chocolate

Chocolate is my weakness. I don’t drink coffee or tea, I stay away from alcohol, and I don’t smoke. Being lactose-intolerant, I don’t even consider anything with milk or dairy unless it has chocolate – not cheap chocolate, but divine, delicious, pure chocolate. So, back in June, when I first heard about The Chocolate Race, a 21K run being held this weekend in Port Dalhousie, I knew it was for me.

There was only one small problem: my baseline. In June, my weekly mileage was 20K. With the summer off and a good running history, I figured that I could be ready for this run if all I wanted to do was finish. Being the competitive spirit that I am, though, I want to run well. I didn’t register.

But, all I could think about for the next few weeks was chocolate. Not only was it quickly becoming a food group in our house (“Yes, sweetie, you can have a chocolate cupcake for breakfast. Just let Mommy sleep for 30 more minutes.”), I thought about it, The Chocolate Race, whenever I ran. Could I be ready in time? In July, my mileage slowly increased and my speed was exactly where I wanted it to be. When I bought a chocolate-coloured running skirt (shopping for new gear is my other weakness), I knew I had to run this race.

At the beginning of August, I made the commitment; I registered, not the 21K course but the shorter, 14K route. The Chocolate Race was no longer the goal but a stepping stone towards The Niagara Half-Marathon in October. Today, I’m ready for the distance and the boys are set to help at a water station.

A few nights ago, while talking about the race, #1 asked what the forecast was for Sunday. At first, I thought he was worried that it would rain and he’d get wet. But, after hearing cooler weather is expected, his reply was “Good. I wouldn’t want it to be too hot (Ah, he’s worried about me, I thought) or all of that chocolate would melt.”

This is what we educators refer to as Apple Syndrome – in this case, chocolate-covered apples.

Sneaking Out for a Long Run

In June, I set my running goals for the fall. So far, I’ve been on track and I have the support from my family to thank for that. Daddy, who works nights and has come to hate getting up early in the morning, has been at every race with me, watching the boys, cheering me on and clenching his teeth when the finishes are seconds apart. My sons, aged 3 and 8, have been on most training runs with me, one in the jogger and one on his bike; the oldest has been dubbed “Mom’s support vehicle” as he keeps me company, carries water and my puffer (for my asthma – just in case) on my long runs.

This week, though, something happened and that support suddenly vanished. There was no warning, no words, no catalyst; it just disappeared. On Sunday, as I started to head out for my long run, #2 had a meltdown. He wanted to come; he didn’t want to stay home with Daddy. The feeling was mutual; Daddy had things to do and didn’t feel like hanging out with a 3 year old. Don’t get me wrong. The two of them are really close but, for whatever reason, the waterworks started. Off came my shoes. It was time to give back. “I’ll run tomorrow. It won’t make any difference.” Harmony.

On Monday afternoon, there was no meltdown; #2 was still napping when my support vehicle and I headed out for “our” 18K. Sick of running the same streets, I planned a different route, one with a tough hill to climb half-way through. We were both up for it – or so I thought. Four miles into the run, just as we were to head down the hill that we would have to climb to get back home, my support vehicle stopped. “Mom, I just don’t think I can handle it.” So, quick planning led to our running north instead, directly into the wind on a slow, gradual incline, back onto those same streets that I’ve been getting sick of.

With 5 miles left, #1 realized that we could make a quick turn and be home in 5 minutes. But, then, he realized (okay, I pointed it out) that the next part of the route was flat or downhill. I dropped him off at home with the other boys and finished the last mile and a bit on my own. Satisfaction.

That run was a reminder of the many things that running means to me. It’s about setting goals, about determination to finish what you start, and about family. Most days, they give to me. This week, they still did but on their terms. And this week, I gave back. Harmony.

Double Header – Race Two

Last Sunday morning was the second day of Mommy’s race weekend. Despite a fabulous race the day before and a day of play at an indoor waterpark with the boys, I was anything but tired; this running mama was pumped and ready to go.

The run was The Beast 10K (or 6.2 miles), a first year event at Kings Island, an amusement park in Mason, Ohio. I never really thought twice about the name, other than it having the 10K distance in it. I was simply out for a training run while on holiday. A training run I got – and more.

When I woke up on race morning, I looked at my three sleeping cheerleaders and decided not to wake them. Instead, I showered and walked to the start line, getting there at 6:30 for a 7:00 start. I did not expect to see a huge line-up – not for the porta-potties but for the 10K and the 5K which was to start 15 minutes later. The runners, it seemed, needed to get a handstamp so that they could enter the park. Well, the park didn’t open to the public until 10:00 and it’s pretty obvious by their gear, sweaty bodies and panting whether they’re a part of a race or not. Wouldn’t a wristband with the race kit make more sense? And, didn’t anyone tell them that ink runs when people sweat? This ended up delaying the start of the race by half an hour and I was miffed. By 7:15, it was well over 80 degrees, there was no water at the start line, I didn’t have my sunglasses and I wore a short-sleeved shirt rather than a sleeveless because we were suppose to be starting in the dark and cooler weather. Normally, I would have had all of these with me – just in case – but this race had no bag check and my support crew was still asleep. At that point, I knew this was going to be a memorable event.

Just before the race started, the MC warned runners to be careful going down the hills. “We don’t want anyone to fall.” There are hills? I questionned aloud as I looked around at what I thought was going to be a flat course. The guy beside me shook his head “I don’t know.” What about marshalling? Are there going to be marshalls? I did not have a good feeling about this one.

The race started and I placed myself behind the first of the fastest, trying to find my pace. The first mile was unevenful, leading us towards the park down the first hill. After several ups and downs, I came upon the first water station and the path diverged. Some runners went right and others went left. “Which way for the 10K?” I called out, and the marshall pointed left. One of the guys ahead of me yelled over, “You’ve got all sorts of guys going the wrong way!”

I followed these men and as the course wound more and more, I was determined not to let them out of my sight. The hills didn’t scare me – even “the beast”. Getting lost did. At one point I wondered if I was sent in the wrong direction and what that would mean to my time. But, as I ran past a turn-about and towards the 5 mile mark, I was getting thumbs-ups from all sorts of runners and a spectator yelled out, “You’re the leading lady!”

That couldn’t be right. I know I passed women on the course but I was sure there was still one ahead of me. I kept following the guy in the green shorts and the dude with the short hair and refused to slow down. I laughed when my American friends suddenly stopped at the 6 mile line and then started again. It’s 10K; that’s 6.2 miles, I thought. When we finished, in the same area as the 5K finishers, I was tempted to yell “Get out of my way!” as I forced myself past the tail end of the 5K runners.

I learned after that at least 7 runners ahead of me were misdirected – 2 of them female. They ran 4.8 miles. The officials decided to not have an awards ceremony “because they were already delayed by 30 minutes and had to make sure the park opened up on time.” They would post the results on the website. So, I left the park being asked by many, “Did you win?” My reply was a nonchalant “I don’t know, but if I did, it wasn’t a fair win.”

The next night, results were posted on the net and I placed first in my age group. Overall, I finished fourth. There is no Masters category, so I’m just fourth. Obviously, times were pro-rated and I was right about another female being ahead of me. That seemed fair given their much faster paces. But, three nights later, I checked the website again and discovered I had been bumped down to 5th female overall. Who was this runner chick and why is she in my spot? Something was not right and, for the first time ever, I am disputing results – not that it matters, but it’s principle.

The course was brutal and appropriately named for the hills. It has the potential to be a good event but there is definitely some tweaking to do for next year.

By the way, you know you’re really a mother when, while waiting at the end of a race, you get really excited when you see Diego and your kids are nowhere around. When I got back to my sleeping trio, the race details waited; it was all about seeing Diego.

Nature’s Call

This has been a terrible summer weather-wise, unless you’re a duck. For runners, and especially for running mom’s like me who make most runs a family affair, it has been really, really bad. It’s bad enough that Environment Canada is the home page on my computer, but I also have The Weather Network on my favorites and AccuWeather on my cell. Yup, I’m officially a weather junkie. (I guess it is no surprise that this is my absolute favorite unit in the entire elementary science curriculum).

There have been several days this summer when I’ve had to postpone a run because of all the rain. There are even more days when I have checked the computer dozens of times within hours to see if that impending storm is getting any closer. It’s one thing for me to get stuck on the road when I’m alone, but the last thing I want is to be out in the middle of “it” with my boys.

But I am a risk-taker at heart – especially if it means an adventure. So, while the threat of a storm is often there, I have once or twice grabbed my dynamic duo, put the youngest in the jogger, strapped a helmet on the other and run out the door. “Twenty-two minutes, guys. That’s all we need.” And, every time, we make it – sometimes by the treads of our running shoes.

But that all changed on Thursday. Frustrated from 2 days of non-running, followed by a quick 6K on Wednesday, I had that itch. “Severe thunderstorm watch in effect for Halton-Peel” was posted on every weather page. Yeah, yeah, I’ve seen that before, I thought. I checked for updates all afternoon and, like all other days when this warning has appeared, the message was the same and so were the skies.

At 6:30, when the sitter showed up (he gives me my weekly hour “therapy” session – a run without boys), I decided to go anyway. “I want to come too,” announced the oldest. “Be quick, we’ve got about half an hour – and I only needed 22 minutes.” We ran – no, we tore down the street – and our pilot/neighbour/sky-watching expert called out, “You’ve got about half an hour.” That’s all I needed.

But, 10 minutes into the run, without warning, the wind picked up. A van driver slowed down and asked if we wanted a ride. “I think we can make it,” I yelled. Stupid me. Less than a minute later, the skies opened. This wasn’t just any downpour. We ran to the corner, didn’t wait for the light to change and headed into our local vet for shelter. They were awesome: they gave us towels to dry off, offered to give us snacks and suggested that we sit in a back room on the couch. I have to find out if they take reservations for dinner too.

After hanging out at the vet’s for 20 minutes, watching wave and wave hit the streets and wondering if the lightning would ever stop, we called our power-walking neighbour, Superhero Carleen, hoping that she would drive us home.

As luck would have it, within 10 minutes, the rain slowed and by the time we got home, it had stopped and the sun started to peak through the clouds. The most frustrating part of this “run” was not that I had to abandon it, but that I paid a baby-sitter so that I could stand at the vet’s for 30 minutes while I watched it rain. On the other hand, though, it was a good thing that I had a sitter as my jogger child was safe at home, hoping that Mommy was running really fast.

Hours later, it hit me: I need to add my dog to my weather-watching strategies. He simply refused to go outside for his nature call before we left. Now, I know why.

First Massage

Today I had my first massage – ever. I’m not sure why I waited so long. My friends get massages – to relieve the stress of work, family and life – and I listen to their playbacks with envy. But, even with a decent benefit plan from work, I’ve never had any real desire to go myself.

I almost had a massage years ago, when little brother arranged for a masseuse to come to my home for a birthday present. Being the wise brother that he is, he gave me a heads-up a few days before and realized before the cancellation period was over that it was something that this sister really wouldn’t appreciate.

I suppose that a lot of my hesitation stems from the fact that I’m not a touchy-feely kind of gal (and, yes, I really do have two children, but that’s another story). But this year, despite my efforts, the aging process is kicking in; if I want to keep pushing myself physically, I better take better care of my muscles and joints.

So, today I went. Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous, probably because I matter-of-factly told myself a few weeks ago, using the same matter-of-fact tone that I do with my boys, that I better start taking advantage of massage therapy.

And did I feel relaxed when I left? No. But my legs felt rested and that tightness in the back of my shoulder seemed to have disappeared. Being a mom, I wasn’t about to go home after and do nothing for the rest of the night – but when I hit the pillow later, I’m sure I’ll drift off quickly.

Race Report: Double Header – Day One

When I race, there is only one thing I can really control: the distance. Despite the training and the mental preparation that goes into each race, there is always so much that is left to chance. This weekend, my double-header weekend, proved that to be the case.

The first run was Saturday morning – The Up, Up and Away 5K Run in Findlay, Ohio. Why Findlay? It’s just past Detroit where the boys watched the Emergency Vehicle Parade on Friday night and en route to Mason, Ohio where Daddy planned to watch tennis on Monday. This run was the first half of Mommy’s big weekend get-away with the boys. The thought behind this was “Let Mommy race on Saturday and Sunday, and we can have fun the rest of the time.” Basically, it was the first of two races to keep Mommy quiet. What the boys didn’t know at the time is the races ended up being the best part of the weekend.

I had 3 goals to meet in Findlay: finish top 10 in women (doable), finish under 22 minutes (doable), break the master women’s record (doable). But, then there was the unexpected.

Surprise #1: Dinner on Friday night. Being lactose intolerant, finding dairy-free foods is always a challenge when I’m away from home. We decided to go with the basics: steak and potatoes from the Outback. While this may not be typical pre-race nutrition, it was yummy and, more important, I did not get sick.

Surprise #2: The Heat. This has been a cool, rainy summer but, this weekend, temperatures soared into the 90’s. By 9:00 on Saturday morning, it was already hot and humid. In fact, it tired my trio of male spectators out more than it did me. Now, how did that happen?

Surprise #3: Knowing the Course. I studied the map before we left home and I was prepped for the route by another runner. But I still almost ran into that dang pole – the metre high pole that would render any male childless – on the way out.

Surprise #4: The competition. I had no idea who I was running against, nor did I have any idea how I placed for an hour after the race. For me, this is the most suspenseful part of racing: at the start line, I’m eyeing every female as a potential threat; at the end, I wonder how many of those who finished ahead of me are over 40. It’s not until results are posted that I really know who my competition was.

Once results were up, I realized that I had met all 3 goals: I finished 7th, in 21:36 and broke the course record by 29 seconds. The only problem was two other women broke it before I did. The other non-master women ahead of me, by the way, were under 25.

That morning, I did exactly what I wanted to do. Nothing else mattered for the rest of the day – at least not until I had to start planning for the next day’s race.

Double Header

About once a year, we get away as a family – my husband, the 2 boys and me. This always leaves me with the fear of not getting in the running that I want or need. Family history shows that this panic is not unfounded. Usually I just don’t end up running when travelling because, despite my good sense of direction, I worry about getting lost in the middle of nowhere. Let’s face it, being female, I don’t like being out of my comfort zone and not really knowing where I am. I wildly imagine CNN news headlines – Mother disappears while jogging – and, boy, do I get annoyed when my own imagination refers to me as a jogger. This year, though, I have plans to run and can stick to them as I am off on a mother’s dream vacation.

Oh yes, the trip begins with an emergency vehicle show, the highlight being a parade of police cars and fire trucks driven by retired (read heavy-set) officers. Ooooohhhhh. Now, if the participants were currently active, my enthusiasm would go unparalleled, but this group definitely has extra tires hanging around. There is no eye candy here.

The rest of the “holiday” will be packed with equally exciting boys’ stuff. Lucky for me, though, Daddy realizes that a running mom is a happy mom – and that’s all it is going to take to keep me happy. So, I’m registered for 2 races in one weekend.

Yes, two: a 5K on Saturday morning, followed by a 10K on Sunday. This way, I can get in two runs and tire myself out enough that I won’t worry about missing a long run. I can justify taking a day off running before and after. This seems simple enough; let me have my hour of running time and I’m happy.

In some bizarre way and for different reasons, everyone is excited about this little getaway. As I am gearing up, I realize how lucky I am to have the boys’ support. But a new sense of panic is starting to set in: what do I wear? Who knows? Maybe, on this dream holiday, I might manage to squeeze in a bit of shopping time too:)

Woman versus Nature

I can run in the heat, and I can run in the cold. But I absolutely despise running in the humidity. Other than leaving my normally straight hair with an awesome wavy curl, there is nothing good that comes with humid weather. My youngest drinks a ton of water and wakes up through the night, wet or needing help in the bathroom; the fans are constantly on which ironically makes it difficult for me to sleep and adds to our energy bill. Mostly, though, I hate the humidity because it interferes with my running.

I should probably mention that I’m asthmatic. When the temperatures soar, news stations caution the young, the old and people with breathing difficulties to stay indoors. I honestly don’t see myself fitting in any of these categories so I usually ignore the warnings. Then, half-way through a run on a hot, humid day, when I’m literally sucking air, I tell myself that it probably would have been a good idea to listen.

Typical of me, despite yesterday’s high humidity (bringing temperatures into the high 30’s), I stubbornly headed out to run 10 miles. “Mileage is important, not time,” I told myself. Yet, I started my timer as soon as I hit the roads – to make sure that I wasn’t going too fast. Three miles into the run, I was doing exactly what I wanted – running an 8 minute mile – but I quickly realized that going back mile 6 was going to be brutal. So, I bailed at 31 minutes and headed home.

Now I’m willing to postpone a long run by a day or even skip it if need be – but not this week. I must get my 10 miler in because I’m racing next weekend – which means no long run. Two weeks of skipping long runs is simply not on this runner’s agenda, not with a half-marathon coming up at the end of September.

My neighbour tried to help out today by offering to watch my youngest so that I could run but the humidity hadn’t changed. At 5:00 in the morning, the humidex meant it felt like 32, and it was only hotter and more humid after that. So, today was another day without running. GRRRR.

Tomorrow? It’s suppose to rain – thunderstorms, actually – throughout the day and that isn’t leaving me too optimistic. But who knows what Mother Nature really has planned? I’m not taking any chances and am going to do what I have to: the 4:00 a.m. run, something I haven’t done in years, not since life before kids. I am determined to get that 10 miles in before Tuesday and this will hopefully let it happen. The alarm is set and I’ve got my shorts with the reflective piping ready.

And, if it really does rain, then I’ll just roll over and breathe deeply – hopefully with a 3 year old in my arms.

The Photo Finish

“Smile for the camera at the finish.”

I can’t count the number of times that have I seen that phrase on a race application or heard those words at a race? Nor can I tell you the number of my finish line photos that I don’t even recognize as being mine. I clearly recall looking at one marathon photo wondering who the old lady was in the picture; I was 27 at the time. Now, thanks to modern technology, race pics can quickly be deleted with one click of the mouse – not forgotten, but moved to the recycle bin (and, as if I ever want to see them again in any size or format).

This year, my race pictures have been, well, words really can’t describe them. At the end of one 10K, my greying hair suddenly turned white. If any of my students saw the facial expression at the end of a recent 5K run, they would never return to class, fearing that I would become the real teacher from the black lagoon. No matter how I run, my finish line pictures are, without a doubt, horrible.

This spring, at a 5K race in Toronto, my 8 year old decided to try out his new camera and took pictures of me running. The 2 side views and 1 back are awesome. You can barely see my face (if at all), my stride is strong and my muscles are ripped. Why hasn’t any “real” photographer tried these angles? Number 1’s pics were so good that he is now my official race photographer and, of course, he is under direct orders to only take pictures from the side or the back.

So the question I have is how do the elites do it? How do they muster up that energy to smile at the finish line. Here, for example, is Lisa Bentley, Canada’s Iron woman champ. She swam, biked and ran and she still has the strength to raise her arms over her head to smile at the crowd and the cameras. Me? I can barely find the strength to crack a smile. And they say it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown.

Well, this month with 3 races lined up, I’m set to go – and this has nothing to do with my training. On Thursday, I had my teeth cleaned at the dentist; today, I had colour added to my hair; I’ve already decided what to wear at each event. All I need now is for someone to tell me to smile.