Following the Stars

Over the weekend, several messages about a weekend run were flying between a friend and me and, then, they stopped.  Silence.  Our run didn’t happen.  And a few hours after that run that should have happened, I got another message: “Body still isn’t working and kids are being disasters….Maybe it was just not meant to be this morning.”  To that, I replied, “Yup, sometimes you just have to wait for the stars to line up.”

That’s the message that I have had to tell myself for the past week.  This summer, I have been building mileage towards a fall marathon.  My initial goal to run Quebec City fell apart because of my son’s soccer schedule so I quickly planned other options.  I really wanted to marathon in Victoria, B.C. for several reasons.   I use to live in Vancouver, and I have been itching to go back.  The timing worked because it was over Thanksgiving Weekend so I would have an extra travel day.   Finally, one of my training partners, Kelly-Lynne, is aiming to run the half in Victoria.  All signs were pointing to the west coast.

Then, last week happened.  I had been waiting for a few weeks to hear back from my employer about whether I could take an extra day, and I needed to confirmation before the end of the month so that I could book my flight.  Well, I am still waiting and the seat sale is over.  Secondly, while my two boys really want to take an early school break, my husband isn’t thrilled about making a long distance trip (3400 kilometres, or 2200 miles) for just a few days.  Lastly, my feet are starting to hurt.  For the past few long runs (22+ kilometres), I have been getting achy feet.  Like most runners, this always happens to me during marathon training, but this time the pain is different; it’s sharper, and it lasts a lot longer.  It’s the kind of pain that makes me think that I am setting myself up for injury, and I don’t want that to happen – especially if I do decide to run Boston in the spring.   And, I certainly do not want to make the long and expensive trip to run in Victoria if I am not feeling 100 percent.

All summer, my training has been going well; it has been great.  My mileage has increased the way I wanted it to, and I’m feeling power in my legs that I haven’t had in a while.  But the stars weren’t in line for my flying to Victoria in October, and I need to follow the stars.

Did this upset me?  Yes, of course.  But there is always another marathon.  Whatever the reason, this one was just not meant to be.  noneedtospeed Meanwhile,  I’ve slowed down a little and had an easy 10 days of training to rest and think about some different goals for the fall – maybe a little track, a bit of trail racing, cross-country, some road racing, or some pot-pourri of all. And who knows?  Maybe the stars will realign themselves and I will find that other marathon.

“This is Not a Race” Report: Run for the Toad Training Run

My husband, Dave,  has volunteered with the Run for the Toad 25k/50K trail race for a few years.  It’s one of the biggest trail races in Ontario, and several runners from other parts of Canada and the USA fly in to participate.  Dave has been wanting me to run it but the race always seems to conflict with my other running goals.

A few weeks ago, Dave asked me to participate in the training run weekend.  Basically, the event organizers organize a day of running on the trail loop (12.5K) so that their volunteers can practise for race day in October.  I ran the training event two years ago so running it again to measure where I am in my training made good sense.  But this time, I decided that I wanted to cover 25K and use it as part of my marathon training.

“Are you crazy?” Dave asked.  “It’s a tough course.  It’s like running 30K on the roads.”
“I’ll be fine,” I told him. “I ran 22K last week and the week before.  I have water stations and company to run with here.  I’ll be okay.”

Toad - KellyLynne and meOne of my training partners, Kelly-Lynne who eats trails for breakfast, decided to join me.  She knows the course well as her cross-country team trained on it when she was at Western University.  Her plan was to run 12.5K and, if she felt good, she would run more.

The run started at 9:00 and temperatures were going to climb to the mid-30’s.  I am fine running in heat but not when the sun is high.  We knew that we needed to slow the pace down, to run something comfortably so that we would finish and feel good.  My marathon pace is around 5 minutes/kilometre we thought 5:00 to 5:30 on this course was reasonable.  Like any other trail, though, you can’t really pace yourself other than by the “what feels right” pace.  So that ended up being the plan: run, talk, run and have some fun.

The hills: they were the challenge.  Within the first 3 kilometres, I told Kelly-Lynne that I didn’t remember the course being as hilly the last time that I ran it.  Ture to the nature of hills, though,  every hill that went up also went down.  Some of them seemed to climb forever and others seemed to go up at a 90 degree angle (especially Skeleton Hill, towards the end, which was  a complete calf-buster).  But the hills were doable as they were hiding under a canopy of trees.

For me, the toughest part of the course was dealing with the sun.  I was able to deal with the heat but when we came from out of the trails into the open, under the hot sun with no cloud coverage, I started to feel nauseous.  As soon as we got back into the shade, though, the sickness went away.

Toad - done!
Done!

Kelly-Lynne ended up running the entire 25K with me.  We realized at the end how well we actually covered the course as our second loop was only 3 minutes slower than our first – not bad with the change in temperature.  Also, quite a few runners around us dropped out during the second lap.  I think that running an easier pace played a big factor in our finishing, and the smart pacing was confirmed when, in the last kilometre, we passed a few runners who were way ahead of us earlier in the run.

 

Even though it wasn’t a race, I often had to remind myself of that.  I often wanted to pick up the pace but I kept turning the dial the other way, making sure that I slowed down and respected the heat.  It worked.

And now I have one more thing to consider as part of my fall racing.  After the weekend, I realize that I really do want to race this course one day.  Which year?  Only time will tell.

Soccer vs Marathon

Mom - soccer coachWhen I decided to coach my son’s soccer team, I looked at the dates carefully as coaching is a 14 week commitment and it’s twice a week.  I knew that the spring would be difficult as I had other things going on; from June through the rest of the summer, I have more flexibility with my time.  My only real need in terms of coaching was making sure that my obligations to the team were over before I would be running the Quebec City Marathon, my marathon of choice for the fall.  I diligently counted the weeks of soccer from start to finish and – perfect!  Soccer ends the week before Quebec.

I don’t need to marathon in the fall.  I BQ’d in Chicago last October and I plan to run Boston.  My goals in and out of a fall marathon are to build a stronger mileage base and improve my BQ time.  Running in August makes perfect sense as I won’t have to deal with high mileage during the craziness of back to school and registration for Boston is at the beginning of September.  The Quebec City Marathon, which has been on my bucket list for years and years, is August 28th.

Hubby and I started to plan a mini-holiday to Quebec City and the province with the boys, possibly travelling into the maritimes.  We looked into accommodations.  Training was going well.  Then, one evening, when going over the snack schedule for soccer, I thought twice.

“Um….why is Festival Day on the 27th?” I wondered. soccer named balls Looking again, I saw that we are scheduled to play on the week before Quebec City.  How is that possible?  I went back to the calendar and counted 14 weeks again.  “The last week ends on the 20th!  I don’t get it!”   I looked at the calendar again, carefully.  The players have a week off at the beginning of August!  Why didn’t I realize that?  Ugh!  There is no way that I can coach on the 27th and get to Quebec City on time to pick up my race kit.  Even if we play the first game and I fly, timing would be dicey.

I contemplated not going to the last two games of the season, our weekly game and the Festival Day event.   But I always teach my boys that when you make a commitment to do something, you follow through with it to the end. Volunteer work is no different.  I made a commitment to my team and the soccer club that I would coach the boys for the season.  Had the marathon date been in the middle of the season, I might take off a game.  But at the end of the season, it’s a different story.  It would look like I quit or gave up on the team.  How can I not coach for almost 4 months and, then, not be at their final game?  Even if some of the boys don’t see it that way, what kind of message am I sending them?  Is it okay for a  coach to miss the final game and your trophy day?  Not really.  So, I am not going to run Quebec City.  As I often tell other running friends when they have their own race conflicts, there is always another marathon.

Mom - team running skirts
Toughing it out in the heat during Marathon Training. Note the soccer field behind me.

So now the hunt for a fall marathon begins and there are only two conditions; it has to be in Canada, and it needs to be before the end of October.  I’ve narrowed it down to Run Victoria (B.C.), Scotiabank Toronto, and Prince Edward Island.  Before the end of July, I hope to have worked through the logistics and will register.  Meanwhile, my training continues as I work towards building my base and bettering my BQ time.

 

 

Race Report: Canada Day 5K

Canada Day 5KMy last minute registration for the vrPro Canada Day 5K sums up my whole year: busy!  I forced myself to take a break from running over the winter, which ended up being 8 weeks instead of two, and re-building my mileage has gone slower than I expected.  Throw in a hectic work schedule and life with boys, and it has been difficult to find time to train the way I want, let alone race.  I have spent the past 5 weeks looking forward to increasing my training to the next level, writing about my running thoughts that are percolating, and start racing.  Last week, after receiving the umpteenth email reminding me that online registration closes on Wednesday at 6:00, I looked at my watch and said, “It’s 5:40.  I still have time.”  Yes, the time was right so I registered.  Easy as that.

I needed to throw myself back into the racing scene without putting much pressure on myself.   The Canada Day 5K fit the bill.  It was a low-key event on a quiet holiday, close to home and I have a history of running well there.  Then, on Thursday night, I learned that there were 600 runners registered; suddenly it wasn’t a small event anymore.

On Friday morning, the oldest dude played “the good son card” and dragged his almost 16 year old behind out of bed to cheer me on at the race.  (And, yes, he earned big brownie points as Hubs and the 10 yo were still sound asleep when we left.)  I was nervous; my stomach was a mess and I wasn’t sure how I should pace myself, other than as fast as I can.  I was glad to have my son’s calm presence, even if it was tired calm presence.  We got to Burlington before 7:30, I got my bib and shirt, and ran into my friend, Beth, who is a significantly stronger runner.

Canada Day 5K winnersBy the time we were toeing the line, I realized that there were many other fast runners and a very competitive Masters group.  In fact, I noticed more greying masters at the front of the line than I did sub-masters.  I started to play with numbers. “Sub-22,” I told myself. “Go out at 4:20, you can do this.”  I had my eye on Beth, who would run sub-20, two other women who were in my time range, and a handful of men whom I could pace off of.

The out and back course had everything from concrete, to stone and to sand.  Within the first 5 minutes, the clouds opened and that meant we were running through wet sand between 2k and 3k.  I don’t know how much it slowed me down, but it definitely did.  Beth was out of sight before I hit 2K, I passed the women I was worried about by the 2K mark, and I’m not sure what happened to the men that I was following for a while; suddenly, they were – poof! – out of sight.  In the last 2K, I chased two kids – around 12 years old, I think.  After I passed one, I kept encouraging the second so that he wouldn’t slow down and I had someone to follow. Canada Day 5K finish In the last 200 metres, I was quickly reminded that kids are able to turn into the extra gear much more easily than I can; he jumped forward and finished about 15 seconds ahead of me.

Canada Day 5K prizingBut I was happy with my time.  I was the 7th female (and Beth was first female!) and 1st in my age group (50-54).  I wanted sub 22 and I got it – 21:24.  And I won a sportswatch, which I was ready to give to my son until I saw it was pink.  Sorry, kiddo!

I’m glad that I got this race out of the way.  I got an accurate test of my fitness level, finished ahead of a few women whom I was sure would beat me, and a time that was exactly where I wanted to be.  This has given me the confidence boost that I need and has already made it easier to set some running goals for the summer and move me into the fall.

Running from Asthma

puffer picOne day, while having a conversation with a gentleman, he questioned, “You run in the winter?  Don’t your lungs freeze?”

I shook my head and explained that it is okay to run in the winter.  “You just dress for it, that’s all.”  I left out what I wanted to tell him – that I have asthma.

For years, I wasn’t able to run in the winter because of my asthma.  I’d go out and, within 20 minutes, my chest would start to tighten.  Every time I stopped (because, living in the city, you have no choice but to stop at a traffic light), my chest would tighten and I’d start to cough.  Often, I’d be wheezing.  Yes, it was a struggle.  I hated it.  And I started to hate winter running.  So for a few months each year, I would turn to cross-training indoors (but not the dreaded treadmill).

Fast forward to life after pregnancy.  Both of my boys were born in the late fall and, like many new mamas, there were days when I just needed to get out.  We lived in Toronto, where I could escape to the gym and park my babe at its child care for an hour.  When we moved to Oakville,  I became a home workout warrior; all of my fitness started and ended in my basement.  This was fine until after I delivered my second child.  I needed to physically leave the house.  However, it was winter – and I couldn’t run in the winter.  My lungs wouldn’t let me – until I woke up one morning and said, “That’s it.  I’m going for a run.”

run over obstacles“Are you sure?” my husband asked.

“Yes!  I have my puffer.  I’ll take my time.  I’ll only be gone for 20 minutes.”  I pulled on my winter running gear that had been sitting in the closet for years and headed out the door.  “I can do this,” I told myself.  “I’ll be fine.”

And I was.  My run was slower but I didn’t care.  I was outside and running.  I got back home feeling exhilarated and powerful.  “I can do this!  It’s time to take asthma by its horns and show it who’s in charge!”

For that and the next winter, I taught myself to run with asthma.  I had to run a slower and longer warm up – to open up my lungs – in the same way that I have to warm up before a race.  I learned to use my inhaler properly: one puff while getting dressed and another (about 10 minutes later) before I head out the door.  68b71-p1290294Thanks to Running Skirts sub-zero skirts, I could comfortably carry my puffer in my side pocket (puffers in tights’ pockets just don’t work) in case I “got into trouble”.  My running partners got use to my heavier winter breathing, the constant running nose and snot-covered gloves.  Over those years, I built my winter running distance from 20 minutes to 30K.  I was the boss of my asthma.

Last winter, due to my fall and broken jaw, I was forced off all exercise for weeks.  This meant I escaped the woes of winter running and all of the laundry that came with it.  I thought I was lucky but I was dreading the shock of readjusting to cold weather running.  This past week was the first week of truly cold temperatures that southern Ontario runners have had to deal with this winter and I knew it was going to be a shock to my system.  For the past few days, friends have posted pictures of themselves running with frozen beards, frozen eyelashes and steam circling their heads.  Me?  I wasn’t ready to face that kind of running yet and stayed on my windtrainer in the comfort of my warm basement.  I was wimping out.

Until yesterday.  Temperatures were climbing and now closer to -20C.  I was ready.  On came my layers and out I went.  Within 10 minutes, I was quickly reminded that I have asthma.  Yes, I used my puffer and, yes, I took my time warming up.  But I could feel my chest tightening, resulting in that same feeling that I had many, many winters ago.  “Wow, the air really is a lot thicker when it’s cold like this,”   I thought.  And I remembered that conversation many years ago. “You run in the winter?  Don’t your lungs freeze?”

Cold 2016
Yesterday, after 5K in -20C.  Feeling great.

No, my lungs don’t freeze.  But I have to be careful.  I have to dress for it, that’s all.  I have to use my puffer and I have to do a long warm-up before I run the way I want to.  Yesterday, that is exactly what I did and guess what.  I got home feeling exhilarated.  Once again, I took asthma by its horns.

 

Wacky Wednesday: Toilet Tales

Toilet Tale 1
I don’t know whether I should laugh or cry.

On Friday morning, one of my co-workers told me, “Cynthia, you are the most accident-prone person I know.”

 

Actually, I’m not accident prone at all.  But when I do have one, I go all out.  Either it is going to be huge (like last January when I broke my jaw in four places) or I am going to end up with a great story to tell.   On Thursday, I walked away with a great story.

One of the greatest challenges of being a teacher is being able to get to the bathroom at the right time.  We can’t exactly walk out of class when the need arises; we have to plan ahead.  This means that many of us are often lined up at the beginning and end of a lunch break, or we rush in and out of the bathroom at the end of a preparation (or planning) time.

Last Thursday, I looked at the clock at the end of my prep time.  “Geez!  It’s 2:40!  I have to be back in class in 5 minutes!”  So I darted for the bathroom.  When I finished, I got up quickly from the toilet, turned to wash my hands and, somehow, managed to bang my head on the bottom of the medicine cabinet.  I fell back into the wall and cried, “Oww!”  Something didn’t feel right.

A co-worker checked my head.  “No, it’s obviously bumped, but there is no blood.”

Toilet tale 2
A bump, blood or a hole?  You decide.

As I returned back to class, I was feeling “off”.  I headed back downstairs to the main office and begged, “Please, don’t laugh at me.”

 

Needless to say, there were giggles.  Then, after my head was checked, I heard, “Oh my! You’re bleeding.”  Within minutes, my class was covered and I was told to sit down.  A concussion was the concern and, since it happened in the work place, my incident had to be taken seriously.

While waiting for my husband to pick me up (since I couldn’t drive if I had a concussion), I had to complete typical paperwork.   In my case, the questions led to more giggles: How did the incident happen?  Were there any witnesses?  I can only imagine the reaction of the case worker who will be reading this later.  When my administer had to answer “What treatment and precautions were taken?”, I asked her not to make me go through toilet re-training; she wrote that I was told to slow down.

Forty-five minutes later, my husband arrived and we headed to the doctor who determined that it was not a concussion but told me to watch for symptoms overnight.  I was relieved as I really did not want to miss school the next day.

The next morning, a co-worker asked if I was okay.  “What happened?” asked another.  “You know Cynthia!  She sprinted from the toilet!”

Yup, that’s exactly what I did  – and it’s a sprint that I am pretty sure I won’t be doing again.

Becoming Better Than You Were Before

1185522_10153924651370383_588473469_n

During the past week, I have had time to reflect on my past year – the good and the bad – and think about running goals for the spring of 2016.  I am not setting a resolution as I have never been a big fan of them.  But chasing a dream, setting a goal to achieve it, and becoming better for it: I am all about that.

But, like many others, I go through periods when sticking with those goals is tough.  Family life can take over; work might get busy; I might be side-lined with illness or some type of ache/pain.  So I have a couple of tricks to help myself stay motivated and work towards becoming better.

a.  Make a Commitment to Others:  For almost a year, I needed two of my training partners – Kelly-Lynne and Monica – to lyoga picure me to the Yoga Studio.  Don’t get me wrong; I like yoga, but I don’t love it.  I do it because it is good for me.  Between the three of us, the texts would fly during the week to figure out who could go to Friday night’s class and who couldn’t, who had to work late and who didn’t.   Nine times out of ten, if neither of them could make it, I would find something else to do.  But the more I went with one or both of the girls, the more comfortable I became to the point where I now make the effort to go to yoga on my own.  And, by the way, my fitness goal for the winter is to strengthen my core so I will definitely be frequenting more often.

b.  Put Your Goal in Writing:  This works for me and the more people who see it, the better off I am.  Write your goal down and post it in a spot where you will see it again and again: on the fridge door, on the bathroom mirror, at the top of your desk at work.   The more you see your goal, the more likely it will become a part of you.

c. Register for a Race:  If you are a runner and want to run a 10K in the spring, find one now and register for it.  By doing that, you have made a formal commitment to yourself and you have put it in writing.  My husband talked about running at The Eggnog Jog when I race many, many times until I finally asked him, “Do you want me to register you for it?”  Once I did, the talk stopped and the training started.  Registering gave him the little bit of motivation that he needed to start running again.

Eggnog Jog 2015 -Dave
Dave finishing the Eggnog Jog.  photo credit: Sue Sitki Photography

 

d. Involve Your Family:  I cannot stress how important this is – especially if you have young children.  When my boys were little, planning the week on Sunday nights also meant writing out the days that I would run and the type of workout that I planned.   Then, when I got home from work, they already knew whether or not I was going for a run.  That reduced the meltdowns at home and it led to my sons’ encouragement and support in my own fitness goals.

e. Join a Club or a Group:  This ties in with making a commitment to a training partner.   The advantage of running or working out with a club or a group is that it will always be there and ready for you – even if your friends can’t – and you are likely to make some new friends with the same goals as you.  I love training with Lions Valley AthleticsLVA uniform circle Even though I am the slow one in the group, I am always  supported and encouraged by the others in the group, and I have made some great friends.  This is a few of us at a training run back in August.  And, in case you are wondering, I made some great friends – including my yoga buddies above – through my former club, Toronto Olympic Club, and through Lions Valley Athletics.

2016As I mentioned above, my goal for 2016 is to build a stronger core.  Rather than focussing on it once or twice a week, I am changing my game plan: 20 in 16.  In other words, I am going to do 20 minute core workouts over 16 days in the month.  I have started a Facebook group – 20 for 16 – which people can join, set their own goal (e.g. 20 minutes of cardio, abs, strengthening, walking….), and we can all support each other on FB or Instagram.   You can check out more details on Cynsspace .  If you want in, leave a comment below.

Being better than you used to be: that is what resolutions are really about.

 

 

 

 

Race Report: Eggnog Jog 10.8K

Eggnog Jog 2015- with Dave
Pre-race at the Eggnog Jog, photo credit: Sue Sitki Photography

The Eggnog Jog is a popular race which runs out of the Terra Cotta Conservation Area, just north west of Toronto.  It is 10.8K, is unusual distance but the country roads in the area make  a 10K route difficult unless it is an out and back course. Regardless, the race draws over 600 participants; every year, it sells out so my husband and I registered early for it. This was my first race after the Chicago Marathon and the mid-December date gave me enough time to recover and work on regaining my speed.

Since the beginning of November, I spent my Saturday mornings focusing on speed work.  Knowing that the course has a challenging elevation, I incorporated hill training, mile repeats, and shorter intervals in those workouts as I could do them in daylight.  On the other running days of the week, I tempoed, did a long run (with my longest run at 17K) and just ran for the love of it.  I headed back to the yoga studio on Friday nights (and, by the way, yoga on Friday followed by speedwork on Saturday  makes for tired abs on Sunday morning).  Everything felt right.  I was ready and, hopefully, going to race a sub-50 minute race.

Dave likes this race because of the later start (10:30 a.m.).  I like it for the challenge.  The elevation drops about 100 metres over the first 2K and then climbs over 120 metres for the next 5-6K; the finish is a fast 400 metre downhill.

One of the biggest challenges that morning was deciding what to wear.  I had my LVA singlet, Saucony Sayonaras, and Sweaty band – but did I need one layer or two; tights, capris or a running skirt?  It poured in the morning and temperatures were hovering over 0 degrees at the start, so I opted for a t-shirt with my Running Skirt long sleeve and my tights.  I was worried about being over-dressed but, as it turned out, my gear was perfect for the day.

Despite the training I had done, when I started the race, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I had 3 goals: to run as fast as I could, watch my pacing and try not to let any women pass me.  I took the first 2K conservatively as I knew that I had to start an evil climb right after.   In those first kilometres, I heard a woman talking to a man – something about keeping up – and picked up my pace enough to open a bit of a gap.  From that point on, I didn’t hear her again.

Once I got to 3K, I started to play cat and mouse with a few men.  They would run ahead of me, I would pass them, they would work to pass me again….It became a vicious cycle.  At 7K, another male runner caught up to us and, then, another at 8K.  I tried to stay with them but they were both stronger than I was – and finished less than a minute of me.  Once I got to 9K, I turned on what power I had left and gave myself another boost at 10K.

Eggnog Jog 2015
Racing the last 400m of the Eggnog Jog.  photo credit: Sue Sitki Photography

 

As I made the last turn towards the 400 metre finish, I focussed on stretching out my legs, which was tough to do when my quads were still burning from the rolling hills.   I saw the clock read 48:something and gave it everything I had to finish in 49:12.  About 20 seconds later, another woman ran in and called me a “powerhouse.”  Never in my entire life have I been called a powerhouse; it felt great.

 

I had no idea where I was in the final standings.  I felt that I was close to the top but, as I didn’t see any women ahead of me, I didn’t know if I was chasing 2 or 3 or more.  I was thrilled when I found out that I finished Third Overall.  It was a great way to end the season.Eggnog Jog 2015 - awards

 

This course was tough and I promised my husband that I would do my cooldown by running back out so that I could cheer him in.  I tried to convince a few other runners who finished ahead of me to jog with me and they looked at me as though I had horns coming out or my head.  So off I went on my own; the things we do for love.   I found Dave around the 9K mark and ran with him until we neared the finish line, when I let him close his race alone.

Both Dave and I got what we wanted out of the Eggnog Jog.  Dave wanted a goal race, a chance to push himself to run the 10.8K distance regardless of the time it took.  Me, I wanted a goal of running a sub-50 and I got that.  Best of all, though, was the chance we had to race together.

Now for Something a Little Different: Remembering.

Did you run today?  I didn’t.  In fact, I didn’t even wear running shoes to work, and I am always in my running shoes.  Today, I traded them in for my dress shoes – shocking, I know – and my “big girl” clothes.

Remembrance Day - meThere are so many days that I find myself reminding the boys and girls in my classes about how lucky we are to live in Canada.   Either they have moved to Canada, or their parents did, or their grandparents, or….In my eyes, Canada and the United States are still new nations and all of our families immigrated recently (relative to the time frame of World History).   When I read and listen to today’s current events in Syria and the Middle East, I am so grateful that I live in Canada and I am raising my children in a free nation.  It is hard to explain this to children.   I don’t want to scare them but I do want to make them understand.

So I make a big deal about Remembrance Day.  We have a lovely assembly at school and I make a point of getting dressed up for it.  My students notice.  It makes them think about the day and realize “Yes, we need to remember.”

This morning at breakfast, my 9 year old complained about missing gym class because of his school’s Remembrance Day Assembly.  “Do you understand why you have that assembly?” I asked, and I got a quick reply about having to remember the people who fought in the war.  “I want to show you something.  Wait here.”

Remembrance Day - uncles
Brothers in Arms

Minutes later, I was sitting beside him with pictures from my father’s family.  My dad, who passed away in April, was from Newfoundland and two of his brothers went to Europe during World War II.  I told the Littlest Dude that Newfoundland wasn’t even a part of Canada at that time (Newfoundland was its own dominion until 1949, when it became the 10th province of Canada) but Europe was in such trouble that when Canada went to fight with Britain, Newfoundland joined.  I reminded him of the day his granddad proudly told him about his one brother, who was a navigator of a plane called Sierra Sue, and his other who was a medic.  My dude was entranced by these pictures, accompanied by a newspaper article about them in their town’s local paper.  He turned the page and saw photos of their medals.  On the next page, he started to read a letter.  I almost took it away – almost.

“That’s the letter they sent your grandparents to tell them that your uncle died.”

Eyes focused on the typewriter text.  No expression.  He was so blank that I thought he might start to cry.  “Are you still reading?”  I asked.  He replied with a simple “yes”.

Finally, he looked up.  “Wow.  That would be an awful job – having to write all of these letters.  They would have written thousands.  I mean….” The Littlest Dude turned back a page to look at the picture of the medals and announced, “I’m going to go to school today and I’m going to tell my friends about my grand-uncles.  That’s who they are, right?”

A picture says a thousand words but these said so much more.  They gave my son a understanding that no book or assembly could have done.  This morning, World War II became real.

Because of my uncles and thousands of other men and women around the world who have fought and continue to stand for peace, I live in a free country.  For that, I am grateful.  I am thankful for the things that I have, for being able to dream about goals, and run.  And that is why, today, I traded in my running shoes for my dress shoes.

Race Recap: The Chicago Marathon

One of my greatest fears is sleeping through the alarm on the morning of a race.  The night before Chicago, I requested a wake-up call at the Hilton, set my alarm on my phone to go off at two different times, and set my watch alarm as the last call.  On Saturday night, my head hit the pillow by 10:30 and I slept until I heard the first ring at 4:30.

As I stared out the window into the darkness, I was glad that I had woken up earlier and earlier each Saturday morning for my long runs.   I was now use to pushing myself through the wee hours of the morning;  I was ready for this marathon.  Chicago - pre-marathon My headache from the day before was gone, but I felt flat, empty.   Something seemed to be missing.   I ate anyway, had a quick shower, got dressed and left Dave and the boys sleeping away as I headed towards the start line.

By 6:15, I had found myself a spot to relax before I had to get into the corral.  Aside from my running gear, I only wore a sweater that the oldest dude had outgrown.  Since I was going to toss it into a charity bin, I didn’t need to worry about the bag check.   All I had to do was keep warm, stay loose, and visit the porta-potty every now and then to make sure I was as empty as possible.

The first corral went out at 7:30 and mine (Corral B) started to move just minutes later.  From the moment I crossed the start line, I was amazed by the screaming crowds.  I expected that they would die down at some points but that never happened.  Block after block, mile after mile, the support was incredible.  Between the feeling of being pushed from behind and the sidelines cheering us on, I knew I would be able to finish the marathon.  All I needed to do was run those 8 minute miles, all 26.2 of them.

And I did – faster than that at first.  I glanced at my watch at every mile marker and realized that my pace was too fast and I tried to pull it back.  But the runners behind me kept pushing me forward.  And I felt good.  No, I felt great.   Mentally, this was going to be a tough race.  “Stay focused,” I told myself.  “Eight minute miles, eight minute miles…. Oh no!  How did I end up ahead of the 3:30 pace bunny?”

By  Mile 8, I felt my hamstrings start to tighten up on me.  The car ride from Oakville had caught up with me.  I tried to ignore it and looked for Dave, who was going to meet me around Mile 9.  He was nowhere to be seen.

By the end of the first hour, the skies were blue.  In fact, there was hardly any shade so I started to feel the slowly increasing heat.   At  Mile 10, I was starting to feel nauseous again.  “Focus.  Pull back a bit.  You’re doing fine but watch the pace.  Eight minute miles, eight minute miles….”

At Mile 12, I saw Marcia from Marcia’s Healthy Slice and her crew wildly cheer me along.  It was just the pick-me-up I needed.  Thanks to the superb water and Gatorade tables (2 city blocks long, on both sides of the road), I had more fuel in the tank.  My pacing was back to where I needed it to be and I was looking at a 1:45 half.

Dave finally appeared around 16k and again at 19K, where he ran with me for a few (2?) blocks.  “How are you feeling?” he asked, to which I replied, “My feet hurt and I need a bathroom.”  This was a marathon in which something always seemed to be bothering me.  But even though I felt sick, my feet hurt, and my legs were getting tighter and tighter, I looked around at the crowds of volunteers and spectators and thought “I want to come back next year.”

From that point, my marathon was a bit of a disaster.  It was hot.  Apparently, it was windy too, but I didn’t notice it because I was too busy noticing the aches and pains throughout my body.   I basically walked-ran the last 8 miles of the course and watched the 3:35 pace bunny run by, followed by the 3:40 and 3:45 pace bunnies.   By then, I was in the last 5 kilometres.  I was going to finish this marathon no matter what but, please, let’s get to the finish line with at least a BQ.

And I did.  I crossed the finish line in 3:51, which gives me a 9 minute window for Boston 2017.  That window can be opened a bit more and it has already has me thinking about winter and spring training and racing.

Chicago - Windy CityAfter finishing, I headed back to the hotel to meet Dave and the boys.   We packed our bags, checked out and did what every runner needs to do after a marathon – eat a huge bowl of fruit and spend hours walking around the city.  By evening, my legs felt great and were ready for the trip back home.

Even though I didn’t have a time goal, I was disappointed with my finish time and I realize now that I need to train for my next marathon with one in mind.  However, my goals in Chicago were met.  I made it to the start line and I crossed the finish line.  That’s all I set out to do.  Qualifying for Boston was a bonus and I am proud of that.   Despite the aches and pains, running Chicago was a fabulous experience and I want to go back next year.  I have left some unfinished business to take care of.