Keeping Up With the Boys

CR - ClimbIn December 2014, I took my sons to Climbers Rock in Burlington to try some indoor climbing.  The oldest dude had done some at school, earned his certificate to belay and was keen to keep at it.  My youngest was a natural; watching him go up and down the walls reminded me of Batman scaling city towers and, then, jumping down.  Me: I’m afraid of heights so I spent countless hours watching the two of them climb together.  But the more I sat there and the more I saw others harness in and reach for the top, the more I realized that I should be able to as well.

We stopped climbing when I broke my jaw, started again when I was cleared to resume activities, then stopped again when my parents died.  For whatever reason, we never went back.  The three of us never discussed why we weren’t going, but I often found myself thinking about it.

Fast forward to December 2015.  I wasn’t running due to a tight SI joint and was tired of just spinning and yoga.  The dudes were bored and needed to get more activity in their lives.  We talked about heading back to Climbers Rock and it wasn’t long before the dudes were literally driving me up the wall.

CR - walltopiaDuring the past two months, I have realized what a fabulous form of cross-training this is for me.   First, it is a great way to strengthen my feet and counteract all of the pounding I do to them when I run.  When climbing, my feet are constantly stretching; I can tell that they get stronger.  The day after every climb, I almost feel as though I’ve had a foot massage.  Climbing also supplements the yoga work that I have been doing to strengthen my core and it helps me to really stretch out my legs and back.  I love the feeling of waking up back muscles that I haven’t used in a while.

The best part of climbing, though, is I can do it with the boys.  One night, the Littlest Dude climbs better than all of us and, another night, I can climb tougher walls than the dudes.  We’re at approximately the same ability level right now and that will change. But we will still be able to do it together and, when we aren’t climbing, we’ll continue to  watch and support each other.  It is a great family activity.

CR - trySo once a week, we are committed to going to Climbers Rock.   Getting one busy mom, a working teen and an active 10 year old to find time to do this together can be a challenge but we do and happily get out of the house.  Hubs: he is happy to have the house to himself.

And my fear of heights?  Well, I am still working on that.  But I am reaching for the top and make it up there.  I just don’t look down.

 

Back to Basics

Christmas 2015 - treeThis is the first Christmas that I am no longer the child.  We lost my parents in the spring and, for the first year in a long time, my brothers and I did not spend Christmas together.  So this year, Christmas was on me.  It was my year to establish some new traditions while keeping the old.  This is a mothering role that I wasn’t quite ready for and there is a lot of pressure in doing it right.  So I did what felt natural; I took my family back to basics.

We started our holiday prep on Sunday.  That is late for most families but both of our dudes have birthdays in the 3 weeks before; we wanted to respect those and not blend them with the rest of the Christmas season.  We were also so busy with choir, school concerts and events, and report cards that I didn’t really have time to focus on anything Christmas.  So Sunday was the planned day to put up our tree.

We have always gone to a local church to purchase one from the Boy Scouts of Canada, where we have always able to find a beautiful tree from Nova Scotia, but I wanted to try something different.  This year we decided that we would go to Merry Farms where we could cut our own.  At the last minute, the littlest dude resisted making the trip out of town and complained most of the car ride but, once we got to Merry Farms, he was the one who had the most fun.  The two dudes laughed and giggled, took turns pulling each other on the wagon and ran around looking for the perfect tree.  After that, they picked out a new ornament for the tree and shared a large chocolate chip cookie.   The day was a success and a new memory for us.

This year, the boys had big ticket items on their lists – electronics and expensive.  Christmas 2015 - toilet plungerI have always followed 3 criteria for purchasing a gift: something that the other person wants; something that you aren’t really buying for you; something that is affordable.  Their “wishes” did not fit the bill but this toilet plunger  for my husband did as he always complains about our old one.  It also had the benefit of being completely unexpected – and it raised loads of laughter on Christmas morning.

For my husband and boys, I had ideas which were much different than their dreams of gadgets and electronics.  It was going to be a year free of technology- not even an iTunes card; it was a year of gifts which brought the family together and would help them grow rather than send them to their quiet spots where they did their own thing.  Santa and I respected their interests – sports, cooking, and play – and they found real toys, games, books, magazines and cooking appliances (“Oh!  A rice cooker!  It will do the work for me!”) under the tree.   Everyone has happy; there wasn’t one complaint and the house was filled with laughter in the afternoon.C

Laughter cutting down our tree; giggles while playing Monopoly or during Nerf gun battles; hysterics about a toilet plunger carefully wrapped and placed under the tree.  These are the sounds of togetherness, the joy of being with family, and the feelings that will stay with us for many Christmases to come.

 

 

Travelling to the Start Line

Chicago - elevatorTwo weeks later, I am finally ready to write about the Chicago Marathon.  It was not my best race and it has taken me some time to accept that.  But, without a doubt, it is the best marathon course that I have run.  Even when my legs were tightening and I watched my pace get slower and slower, I kept thinking about how much I want to return next year.

For me, I had two goals in Chicago: getting to the starting line and, then, crossing the finish line.  I didn’t have a time goal; I had a hope but nothing tangible.  Getting to the start line was my way of challenging myself over the summer to get back into running shape, and I did.  I felt stronger and healthier than I had in years.   With my running history of not racing well at crowded events (I dnf’d in Boston in 2012, the year of the heat wave, and I had trouble coping with the crowds at the Scotiabank Half in 2013 but managed to run a 1:34 PB.), I wanted to test my mental toughness – to prove to myself that I am capable of running a big event and not dnf.  For that reason, I trained to cover the distance.  I was going to finish – no matter what.

On Friday after school, Dave, the dudes and I began what became 9 hours of driving (including a long wait at the border) to Chicago.  We bunked down for night in Jackson, Illinois, which kept us (well, me specifically) from getting too cramped from the long drive.  The next day, we arrived at the Chicago Hilton, the official marathon hotel, at 1:30.  I would have loved to have had a nap and an easy run but I had to pick up my race kit.  Chicago - expo So the two dudes caught the shuttle bus to the expo, did our part to stimulate the American economy and got back to our hotel by 5:30.

By then, my headache – unusual for me- and feelings of nausea had started.  The stress of travelling and dragging the boys to the expo had obviously caught up with me.   I hoped that the nausea was just unnoticed hunger and a good meal would be the cure.   While the dudes and I were at the expo, Dave, who had wanted to go out for dinner, screened the downtown core for potential restaurants but I suggested eating at the hotel.  “Why not?” I asked.  “Everyone staying here is involved in the marathon tomorrow so all of the dining areas are offering pasta specials.   And it is probably going to end up costing us just as much as going out somewhere, we don’t have the hassle of leaving, and there is no stress from looking for the right place and waiting for a table.”  It was the best decision of the day.  Dave and I had the pasta buffet (He supported me by eating pre-spectating carbs) and the boys ate burgers and fries.

Dinner did cure my nausea so I think I was just hungry, but my head was still pounding.  I took the boys to the pool and watched them splash and giggle.  An hour later, we headed back to our room.  It was close to 9:30 and I had just enough time to get my gear organized before hitting the pillow.

By 10:00, I had taken 2 Tylenol, crawled into bed and feel asleep instantly.   In less than 12 hours, I would be around Mile 16.

Tomorrow’s post: The Marathon.

Going Outside My Comfort Zone

Three weeks ago, we put an incentive program in place to encourage The Littlest Dude to stick with his swimming lessons: a trip to Wonderland.  What he didn’t know is I had already planned to take the boys during the summer; it just happened that I was able to use that to my advantage.  On Thursday, he had his last lesson (and passed – hooray!); the next day, we planned our Wonderland visit.

Yesterday was a recovery day for me so I didn’t need to build time into my day to run.  My oldest wasn’t working and The Littlest Dude was ready to drop everything for a day at Wonderland.  To make things even better for us, the weather was expected to be great.  Monday was the obvious choice.

The only problem was getting there was a huge stress for me.  Despite my age (51), I am still a fairly new driver as I only got my license 8 years ago.  I am comfortable driving and I’ve driven on a lot of highways, but I have never driven on the 401, a major highway that goes through Toronto.  It has 6 lanes in each direction, collector lanes, other highways and roads passing over it and, at times, traffic facing the lane that you’re driving in.  It is overwhelming.  Living outside of Toronto, I hardly ever have to use it and, when I do, my husband does the driving.  So when Dave said that he wanted to stay home for the day, panic set in.  I didn’t voice my anxiety.  Instead, I took a deep breath and planned a different route.  There was no other way, though.  I had to drive on part of Highway 401 to get to Wonderland.

Once we had arrived, I looked forward to spending the rest of the day with the boys, even though it would mean spending about 50 minutes in line for a 3 minute ride.  Wonderland boysBut it was time together and I was fulfilling my promise to the Littlest Dude.  I expected that I would stand in line with them, wave as they got on the rides and take some pictures.  Wrong.  What I didn’t realize was both boys expected me to go on the rides with them.  Every.Single.Ride.   It didn’t matter that I am afraid of heights.   Even when the older of the two chickened out of Riptide, a gondola which takes you up in the air and flips you upside down over water, I still sat beside the Littlest Dude because he really wanted to go on it.  Did I get pictures of my ponytail and me hanging upside down – and there were several photo opportunities?  No.  Not one.  But, throughout the day,  my sons watched me face my fears.  They watched me do things that I really didn’t want to do and I hope it is those memories, more than the memories of the rides themselves, that they took home.

Monday was a rest day from running for me but, in the end, I ended up doing a different kind of training – mental training.  While we waited for the Time Warp to begin, the three of us were lying horizontally, facing the ground, locked in a cage.  I was nervous about the ride that would take us flying through the air while we always faced down or, if we were on a curve, sideways.  As at the start of every other ride, I was worried; my heart was pounding; I was sweating; I didn’t want to be there.   Suddenly it hit me.  I realized that I was learning to get comfortable being uncomfortable.  Running is the same.  There are times when it is going to be hard and it’s going to hurt but, through practice and training, we start to get use to it.  Fast paces, longer distances: to take those on, you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.  At Wonderland, although in a different atmosphere, I took on a load of that same mental toughness.

At the end of the day, the boys and I waited for the big one: The Leviathan, a long coaster which has drops at 85 degree angles.  Without a doubt, there were several hundred people ahead of us and I made a point of telling the boys that I was easily the oldest person in line.  This was the only ride on which we agreed that I could wait with them, watch them get on  and wave them off.  Instead, as we waited together, I looked around at all the people and thought “If all of them can do it, so can I.  I’ve done the others; this can’t be much worse.”  So I did.  We got on together and I listened to them laugh and scream.

For us, Wonderland started as a family outing but it became so much more.  It reminded The Littlest Dude that I fulfill my promises; the trip was a huge deal and I am sure there are times when he wondered if I would follow through with this one.  It forced me to come out of my comfort zone by driving on the 401 and going on rides that were beyond anything that I had imagined.Wonderland Mom  My boys saw that it’s okay to be scared.  Most importantly, though, is the trip let my boys see that there are times when you have to do something that you really don’t want to do.

Will we go again?  Maybe next year.  And if we do, I’ll be able to drive, go on those same rides and try some new ones.  I am more comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.

 

Embracing The Digital Age

Over the past ten years, our society has been bombarded by iPods, iPads and gaming systems.  Internet servers have changed from dial-up connections to wireless ones.  Kids’ social scenes moved from the playground to behind a screen.  And it all happened too fast.

It’s tough being a parent of the first digital generation.  We are trying to figure out how to monitor usage, set guidelines and discipline as we go along and, at the same time, trying to learn so that we can stay one step ahead of our kids.  While electronics and online games come with manuals and help centres, there is no guidance for us.  What should they be playing?  How much time can they have?  How do I really know if this is school work or fun?  We are the adults who set the rules but we still aren’t clear on exactly what those rules should be. We don’t have our own set of experiences to base our ideas on so it is impossible to compare our decisions to the ones our parents made when they were raising us.

I am lucky that my youngest, 9 years old, likes to share his online world with me.  Last year, he created my own personal track in Minecraft.  For my birthday, he gave me a Minecraft house, complete with a bed, library, crafting table and furnace.  I try to sit with him while he designs but, in reality, I am usually hovering behind him making dinner or washing dishes while he plays.

Last night, the Littlest Dude and I were home alone, and he asked for time on the computer.  Moments later, he asked, “Mom, do you want to learn how to play Roblox?”  We’ve sat down with Roblox before and I really didn’t think there was that much more for me to learn; you build guys and they chase each other.  But, for some unknown reason, the Littlest Dude really wanted to share his Roblox world with me.  In the next 30 minutes, we created a new outfit for his character, which is really just the 2015 technological version of designing and playing with paper dolls.  I watched him work within a budget as he only had so many Roblox dollars (Robox) to spend and weigh whether he was making good choices.  He strategized as he played the game, trying to escape from some guys and find others so that he could improve his level.  Within 30 minutes, I realized that there is an educational component to the game; blinded by the digital display, the Littlest Dude doesn’t even realize it is there.

As parents, we have to embrace the technology that our kids are using, not hide from it or shut it down.  Yes, we need to set guidelines but we also need to sit down with our children and watch and learn as they play.  In the same way that I want my kids to be a part of my running life, support me in my goals and cheer me on from the sidelines, I need to do the same for them.

But when we create my Roblox character, you can be pretty sure that she will be sporting a ponytail and a running skirt.

 

Knowing When to Say When

When I registered for the Chicago Marathon, I had forgotten how hard it can be to train through the summer heat.   Well, I didn’t entirely forget but I shrugged it off, thinking that this would be a typical summer with empty promises of hot weather.

Let’s keep in mind that this is Canadian hot – so nothing near the hot, dry heat that is felt through many parts of the United States and other parts of the world.  In Southern Ontario, I have to get up by 6:30 so that I can run in cooler temperatures, not at 4:30 like my Floridian friends.  But it’s all relative.

This past week, we had the first real heat wave that we have had in two summers.  23252-sunglasssunOn most days, temperatures were around 32 degrees (about 90F) but, when you added the humidity, it felt like 38C (about 100F).  What exactly does that mean?  At my hot yoga class on Monday night, they turned off the heat, closed the curtains to keep the sun out and we still walked away drenched; even then, it was hotter outside than it was inside.

Training-wise, the heat took its toll on me.  I ran my long run on Sunday and went through two bottles of Gatorade and lots of water in the 6 hours that followed; that was a personal record.  On Monday, I went to hot yoga at Power Yoga Canada; I trained with Lions Valley Athletics on Tuesday night, another sweat drencher.  On Wednesday night, due to family commitments, I kept my run short – 8K in feels like 35C heat.  By Thursday, I was done.

I had had it with the heat.  It, quite simply, had tired me out.   My feet were slightly swollen and I wasn’t sleeping well at night.  On Thursday, when the Littlest Dude asked if we could spend the whole day together, which meant no running for me,  I knew it was time to take a day off.  I needed the physical break but, more importantly, my son needed me.

Of course, I stressed over this.  I knew that the day off alone wouldn’t matter in the big picture but I worried about the drop in my weekly mileage.   I started to calculate ways to make it up over the rest of the week.  “Do I need to drop mileage next week too?” I wondered.   And what about next week’s mileage?

“ENOUGH!  It doesn’t matter.  It is one lousy day.  And it is one day that, for whatever reason, the Littlest Dude wants to spend with you.”  My inner voice set me straight.

And, as the week is wrapping up, the day off didn’t matter.  I ran yesterday and today, as planned, and I will tomorrow.  What matters is the Littlest Dude and making sure that he realizes that I am there for him when he needs me.  And when I do head to Chicago, he will be there, looking out for me.

Not Your Typical Prerace Routine

Tomorrow is race day for me, a C-race but still a race.   On the day before a race, I usually go for an easy run to unwind or to a yoga class to get a good stretch.  Not today, though.  My typical prerace routine went out the window as I took my sons to CIBC PanAm Park.

PanAm Park, known as the centre of all of the PanAm action,  is a great place to take kids as there is a little bit of everything.  The main stage has several performances each day and we were lucky enough to get there on time to see Eva Avila, who sings Unidos Somo Mas, the official theme song of the PanAm games. PanAm Panamania About an hour later, Cirque Inspirall wowed their audience with their acrobats.  Every day of the games, all day long, there are entertainers lined up and, the best part is, it is free.

PanAm bike - Robert
Powering a slot car with his own energy and being able to see himself on the big screen. What a great idea!

Of course, there are also a few sport events.  Chevrolet has a large tent set up with an indoor volt-powered slot car track.  Each of us had our turn pedalling a bicycle against four other people to see whose car could get to the finish line first.  The oldest dude raced and finished first in his group.  The Littlest Dude and I went together and he finished ahead of me in first place!  While we were only on the bikes for about a minute, it was a hard minute of spinning and my quads were burning by the end.  All I could think about after was whether I would regret that minute of spinning at tomorrow’s race.

There was lots more to do at PanAm Park.  Some people played wheelchair basketball; others tried their hand at Bingo or throwing darts.  The three of us walked around PanAm Park and were able to have our pictures taken holding a PanAm Torch or next to an image of the CN Tower.  PanAm torch The Littlest Dude had his picture taken in front of a green screen, and his head was superimposed on an ultrasound image of the human body. We could hold a bronze, silver and gold medal from the PanAm Games and, if we waited long enough in the Coca-Cola line, we could each have had our name printed on an empty coke can.

We were only at PanAm Park for a few hours since we had to get back home so that my oldest could get to work on time.  However, we could have easily spent a few more there.  The atmosphere was fantastic.  If you haven’t been yet, you’re missing out on a lot of fun.

 

The Race to the Buses

This month, it has been obvious that my boys live a runner’s life.  Ironically, though, they don’t run.  I wish they did as both have a beautiful stride and my youngest has natural speed.   At times, I think they are ready to jump into the running scene and, then, they pull back.  I think that they are intimidated by seeing me train and race; I think they worry that they have to put in the same dedication and effort, and come home with the same kind of results.  When I questioned both, and separately on this, their replies were “no”.  But deep down, I think that they are simply intimidated, believing that they need to follow my footsteps, race and race well.  One day, they will be ready; meanwhile, I’m not pushing it.

Canada Day - Andrew and Mom
Eating Tasty Tatters, one of the day’s highlights for The Littlest Dude.

I saw the excitement that running brings to The Littlest Dude on Canada Day when we headed to Bronte Harbour to watch the evening fireworks.   When we heard that there were only 4 shuttle buses to take everyone – hundreds of spectators – back to the parking lot with our cars, the two of us knew what that meant.  It was going to be a race to the buses.   As soon as the final applause started, we were on our feet and running.  Follow me!  Stay on the outside of the crowd!  Run next to the teenagers (since they wouldn’t be rushing home so it was a section that wasn’t moving)!   All of my race-start strategies came through, and The Littlest Dude instinctly knew what to do.   And we made it; we were on one of the first four buses to leave the harbour.

PanAm Flags and Tents
Tim Horton’s Stadium, Hamilton, Ontario

This past week, we faced the craziness of shuttle buses again when we left the soccer field in Hamilton, where we were watching PanAm Soccer.  This time, it was the fourteen year old who sensed what had to be done.  In the last few minutes of the game, he looked at us and said, “When the game whistle goes, we have to run.”  And he was right.  Unlike the hundreds of people at Bronte, we were leaving the stadium at the same time as thousands of other soccer fans.  The two boys are smaller than I am so they could weave their way through the crowd inside the stadium more easily than I.  Once we were outside, though, the starting horn sounded in our minds and we raced to the shuttles.   I heard my youngest coach his older brother “Stay on the outside of the crowd.  It’s faster.”  I watched them jump curbs and hurdle trash lying on the ground, and I hoped that they wouldn’t bump into anyone.  We made it to the buses quickly, which got us to the GO station with 40 minutes to spare.  It made us wonder why we rushed out of the stadium but we had fun doing it, so much fun that we raced out of the stadium the same way on the other two nights that we were there.

Each night ( at Bronte Harbour or Tim Horton Stadium), my boys proved to me that they can run.  They have speed and they can manoeuvre.   For them, running is fun.  But, for whatever reason, they aren’t ready to make a commitment to Cross-Country or Track and Field.  And I’m just fine waiting for it to happen because, once they do, they are going to be awesome!

 

 

Supporting Our Athletes on Home Soil

The boys and I have been pretty excited about the PanAm Games being in Toronto.  Now, for those of you who aren’t in Toronto, the Games are really being held in Toronto, Milton, Mississauga, St. Catherine’s, Hamilton and a few more suburbs on the other side of Toronto.  So, really, they aren’t just being held in Toronto and this makes getting to them a logistical nightmare; from where we are, getting to any of the venues takes some effort.

But so does raising a child.  How could I not give my boys the opportunity to see some of our national athletes compete on home soil?   Tickets are reasonably priced and they include the cost of public transit.  Soccer was the obvious choice as games are at the Tim Horton Stadium in Hamilton, which is close to home, one son plays soccer and the other referees the game.   For me, it is important that my guys see Canada play.

boys at soccerYesterday, the three of us dressed in Canada’s colours and headed to the GO station to watch Brazil play Peru and, then, Canada face Panama.  We got to the stadium in time to watch Brazil, Peru and their referees warm up.   Son #1 had his eyes on the refs and was obviously taking mental notes on what he could be doing  before he takes charge of the field.  I pointed out to both boys that a lot of the drills are the same as the ones that we use when running and reminded them that a lot of world-class runners use to be soccer players.  When I heard, “Look, he’s doing some accelerations!”  I knew that running terminology was becoming more and more natural to the littlest dude.  What I also liked was seeing a different drill – a combination of A’s and side-stepping – that I will use with the kids when I start coaching cross-country again.

Oddly enough, the first game between Brazil and Peru seemed to take forever.  I had one restless child who was losing interest quickly.   We broke the monotony of sitting by going for walks, getting a drink, and exploring the stadium.  Half-way through the second half, he wanted to go home.  I waited for the ultimate meltdown to occur.  “Relax,” I told him.  “When Canada gets on the field, the game will be so much better.  You’ll see.”

And it was.  Even though it was an 8:30 start and only about 40% of the stadium was filled (a lot of people left after the first game), it was the place to be.  We cheered, we did the wave (many times), we watched a beach ball being bumped around from section to section until a volunteer took it away, and we cheered some more.  The littlest dude asked for his ipod, which we brought for the train ride home, so that he could take some pictures.  There were no requests to go for a walk; there wasn’t any whining about being tired of sitting.  Without a doubt, he was happy.   And my teen?  He was thrilled that he was able to watch, not one, but two games with national level athletes.

Both boys loved the chance to see our athletes play so close to home.  We talked about how sad it was to see the stands so “grey” during the second game.  “Yeah, Canadians need to watch our own team play, not just leave,” commented the littlest dude. mom and drew And he is right.  Seeing Brazil play Peru was great, but supporting Canada is really what it is all about.  We did – and we’re going back for more.  Go Canada!