When my kids were younger, I thought my time would free up as they got older. How wrong I was! With a tween and a teen, I find that I am constantly on the go taking them to soccer, basketball, refereeing, choir, work and – oh, yes – school. Combine that with marathon training, a new grade to teach, and coaching teams, and you have the perfect recipe for a tired working mom.
After running Boston, I realized something had to go. So I dropped my mileage to 25 to 30 miles a week – just enough to keep my legs happy – and finished the school year feeling ready to push myself again with my running, to keep chasing my dreams.
Last week was the first of my Summer of More: more sleeping, more eating and more running. Of these, it is running that is my main focus; the other two naturally come into play as my mileage climbs and my intensity increases. Last week was the first in a long time that I was able to run with Zeda, coordinate time to run with friends and get in a 10 solid miler. I was so happy to finish the week with over 35 miles; I have just a few miles to go to reach 40 miles a week, when Coach and I can start focusing on some fall goals.
On the weekend, I ran into a parent from school who asked me how my first week of summer was. I answered truthfully. “I feel like I have been drugged. All I want to do is sleep.” To that she laughed, and I added, “Seriously. All I’ve done is eat, sleep and run. It’s my Summer of More.”
The Canada Day 5K in Burlington, Ontario has always been one of my favorite races. It’s a smaller, local event, which is well-organized by VrPro, on a flat course and, for me, it’s the first race of my summer break.
This year, though, the numbers of runners jumped. Last year, there were around 500 participants but this year, I heard at the start, there were almost 1000 runners. Between the constant media and retail reminders that July 1st marked Canada’s 150th and the daily email reminders and facebook posts leading up to the event from VrPro, a lot of people registered at the last minute, resulting in a race that grew too fast too soon.
Now don’t get me wrong, the race director, Kelly Arnott, is quite respected in the Ontario running community. She puts on the Chilly Half-Marathon in March, which attracts a few thousand runners, and many other races. Kelly also puts a lot of money from the races back into the community, especially Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington. Kelly has been directing races for years and she knows what she is doing. But on Saturday morning, there were problems from the get-go.
First, the volunteers weren’t ready for the crowds at the bib pick-up. I don’t know how many collected their race kits on the day before, but Monica and I found ourselves at the end of a very long line an hour before the race. We were told that the race was going to be delayed so that everyone would have time to get their bibs and timing chips. I felt my anxiety climb as I was worried about having enough time to get back to the car, change into my running shoes (always a good thing at a race) and warm-up. We inched our way forward, collected our bibs and – what? No t-shirts?
When I registered for the race, on Monday night, I was able to request a t-shirt and size (adult medium). Monica registered a few days later and only had an adult XL as an option, so she ordered that. We really had no idea what kind of shirts we were going to get, but we were expecting them. If the fabric was technical, I could wear it while working out; if it was cotton, I could hand it over to my son; if neither of us wanted it, I could use it as a prize at school. By the time we got to the bib pick-up table, they only had youth medium sizing left. I was given one; Monica wasn’t. I couldn’t understand the point in requesting a size or a shirt, only not to get it. In all honesty, not getting a shirt is not a big deal and I gave mine to Monica. It just irks me that this happened.
After we got our bibs and token flyers, we were directed to a second line to pick up our timing chips. We assumed that the chip line was for people who got their bibs the night before. If we had realized that we had to line up twice, we would have split up. Fortunately, this line moved faster. By the time we got back to the car, I had just enough time to change my shoes and do a quick warm-up before the race start.
I always like this course, even with the bit of sand that we have to run through; I don’t even mind the “out and back” route that so many don’t like. As we expected, the start was packed. I positioned myself close to the start line, but I still found myself weaving through far too many people for the first mile. The marshalling and water stations were just fine, but a few of us commented that we didn’t see any medics along the course. They could have been there, but we did not notice them.
About 20 minutes after finishing and talking with some friends, I noticed that they were wearing medals. “You got a medal?” I asked. “Why didn’t I get a medal?” Somehow, between cutting the timing chip off my shoe and handing me a bottle of water, nobody gave me a medal. I borrowed a friend’s to take the “medal” picture as that was really all that I needed. Again, I think the race grew too fast (in a week) and the volunteers weren’t ready for the numbers of people coming through the finish line. I heard later that they did run out of medals and the race director is ordering more for those who want one. Will I ask? No, but for the first timers or people who don’t race often, I know that getting the medal will be a big deal for them.
Will I run this race again? Absolutely. As I mentioned above, I like the course and I like VrPro’s races. This year’s event simply had a few hiccups which can easily be corrected for the next one.
Months ago, when the Ontario Masters Association announced that the Toronto 10K was going to be its 10K championship race, I knew that I wanted to do it. Even if my recovery from Boston was slow, I knew that I could be ready to race a 10K more than 8 weeks later. However, I waited too long to register; by the time I sat down to enter, the race had sold out – 10,000 runners were all set to go and I wasn’t one of them. Never did I imagine that the race would sell out so quickly. But I really wasn’t all that surprised; Lululemon had come on board to sponsor this Canadian Running Series (CRS) race and, when Lululemon is involved with any race, it sells out quickly.
I took this as a sign. First, maybe I did need more rest (and as time progressed further into the spring, it was obvious that I did) and not getting into the race simply forced me to take more time. Secondly, it gave me a chance to volunteer with my club, Toronto Olympic Club, which always sends marshals to the CRS events.
One of the lessons that I learned from my father was the importance of volunteerism. As a teacher, I luckily see it at my school on a regular basis; teachers volunteer their time to coach clubs/teams outside of school hours; parents come into the school to help in the classroom, with lunches, fundraising….But I also see a huge lack of volunteers in other areas of my life and it is often the same people who give their time again and again and again. So when I have the time to give back, I like to do just that.
Honestly, though, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about waking up early on Saturday morning. Since the race started at 7:30 a.m, I had to be out of the house by 5:45 at the latest. After many days and late nights of testing kids, marking, and writing reports, waking up before 5:00 a.m. on a Saturday was the last thing that I wanted to do. But I had committed to helping so I set three alarms before falling asleep. At 5:30, I was out the door and on my way to meet Monica, who was one of the lucky ones, and her boyfriend so that we could head into Toronto together.
After dropping me off, I walked to my post – about 3.5K into the race and just past the first water station. On the way there, I realized that my bag of cowbells and noise makers was still at home, sitting by the door so I wouldn’t forget them. Hmmmm….. Fortunately, I did have my teacher voice with me and was all set to put it to work on its own. By 7:00, the volunteers at the water station were almost finished the task of pre-filling hundreds of cups of water. It was going to be a hot morning (it was already close to 23C) so the runners were going to need it.
I headed to the intersection where I was stationed with another TOC marshal, Chris. He was organized enough to bring cowbells and, while I hesitated to borrow one, I found myself ringing a “Bell” bell within 15 minutes of the start of the race.
The Waterfront 10K had a variety of participants. The wheelchair athletes started at 7:30 and they whizzed by on their machines. They were followed by 6 waves, beginning with the elite athletes and ending with the walkers. For Chris and me, there seemed to be a never-ending stream of runners. We watched the tags on the bibs change from red to green to yellow and so on, each colour representing a different wave. When we saw the first orange bibs come through, we knew that we were close to the end.
While marshalling, we noticed that all runners, no matter how fast or how slow, were giving their best. We cheered the typical encouraging phrases such as good job, way to go, and you’ve got this. But knowing that there were designated cheering sections after us, with groups like the Argos cheerleaders, a Jamaican band and a spin bike club, I decided to turn my cheering up a notch: “Good morning, runners! Let’s wake up Toronto!” and “Let’s rock this town!” We were simply the opening act for the entertainment to follow; we had to set the cheer standard. Of course, our bells were ringing loudly and I was told later that they could be heard two blocks away; I’m surprised that I didn’t go home with a blister on my finger. Every now and then, someone smiled back at us and we knew that our cheering, while a bit crazy, was appreciated.
When we were done our shift, I walked to the finish line at Ontario Place and was able to catch the spin bikes as they were wrapping up. Ontario Place was busy – after all, thousands of runners and families were going through there – so we left as soon as I found Monica and Stefan. She ran a speedy 40ish minutes, making her one of the top finishers in a huge race.
While the early start was a bit of a pain, I loved that we were back on the road by 9:30 and heading home. Looking towards next year, I’m not sure if I do want to race this event. There was a lot of positive feedback from those who did, but I think the flat course in downtown Toronto may not be what I want in a 10K. Maybe I’ll return to volunteer again instead. I have loads of time to decide – well, at least until they open registration for next year’s event.
Last night, I was reminded by a close friend that I have been spending the past several months stepping out of my comfort zone in my running world. Somehow running stagnated for me. I was still running and enjoying it, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. With the exception of a few close friends, I was running alone and my times were becoming stale. I was racing relatively well, but I wanted to do better – and I needed to push myself more. I needed to get out of my comfort zone.
The first real change I made was race the Canadian 5K Championships in the fall. This is an elite event with many Canada’s fastest distance runners. Toeing that line scared me and, as much as I wanted to be a part of that event, I was afraid to enter. As a masters runner, I just didn’t think I was good enough to be a part of it. After eyeing the race for a few years, I finally swallowed my fear and applied for a bib, gulped when I was accepted and nervously pulled myself to the start line in September. After finishing, I was so glad that I made that effort as I realized that it was one of the most prestigious races that I would ever do as I got the chance to race with 200 of Canada’s best runners.
Next, I did something that frightened me; I entered the Boston Marathon. Five years ago, in 2012, my family and I drove to Boston, the year that temperatures were insanely hot. Between the heat, worrying about being able to finish feeling well enough to drive back to Ontario to work the next day, and being pushed so hard by another runner that I ended up on all fours with gravel stuck in my palms, I decided to dnf – never an easy decision and especially at Boston. Over the past five years, this race has became a bit of a monkey on my back and I had to get rid of it; I have to finish that race. In September, I applied to run Boston 2017 and was accepted. In eleven weeks, I will be back, ready for anything that can be thrown my way.
Third, I decided to try something new: this blog. Many know that I have been blogging for years but, like my running, my blog was stagnating. To put things in perspective, I lost the time that I use to be able to put into blogging as my boys are now older (and busier) and my teaching assignment has changed (also resulting in busier days). But writing about running is something that I really enjoy and, if someone is reading about it, then writing becomes even better. Somehow, I needed to make time to record my thoughts and I needed a fresh start. So I bought my own domain and am still working at rebuilding my blog, but I am slowing finding more time to write and am loving it.
And, suddenly, I am excited about running again – truly excited and, like a junkie who just can’t get enough, I needed more. I wanted one more change to light another spark. So last week, I returned to my former club, Toronto Olympic Club, to train under its guidance. I think it takes real courage to go back to something that you once walked away from and my return to TOC is no exception. I left the club two years ago, on good terms, because it was simply too difficult for me to get to practices when I lived in a different city. That distance still exists but I realize how important it is for me to have the coaching and encouragement to physically challenge myself. For now, my coaching is primarily remote, but my heart still skips a beat every time I open my training log to double check my plan for the day, when I lace up, and when I sit down to record my run. And, on Sunday, I was thrilled when I got to wear the club colours at the Robbie Burns race.
Last night, my friend helped me to see that these changes are not just helping me come out of my comfort zone, but they are helping me to believe in myself. The two go hand and hand, and as one gets stronger, so will the other. It’s 2017 and I am strong, I am focused and I believe in myself. It’s going to be an amazing year.
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“Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, I’ll try again tomorrow.” Dennis Edney
Picking my fall races is a challenge. It’s cross-country season, there are lots of different distances for road racing and, of course, there are a lot of marathons. There are so many great events to pick that I could race every weekend if I wanted. I sat down at the computer a few weeks ago to try to decide on which races to run. Resigned that I was not going to marathon this fall, I looked primarily at half-marathons and cross-country, but every single marathon listed seemed to jump from the screen. “Pick me! Pick me!” I caved.
I love everything about training for the marathon distance. Watching weekly mileage climb has a powerful feeling; every long run finished leaves me feeling satisfied; fulfilling the commitment to train, which means planning to eat, drink, and sleep around running builds mental strength. Most of all, I love the sense of commitment that marathoners show and the confidence that they gain in training and elation of crossing the finish line.
When I made the decision to not run the Victoria Marathon, I was genuinely upset about it, but it was the right decision to make. However, for weeks following, I was being tormented by the October line-up of marathons: Prince Edward County, Scotiabank, Prince Edward Island, Hamilton. All of them were doable, but how doable? How much fitness did I lose?
After 2 rest weeks of lower mileage (40-45k) and no long runs, I had to test myself. F
our Monday mornings ago, I woke up before dawn and finished 19K – and I felt good! That weekend, I ran 21K, met my friend, Monica, part way through and felt not so good. That same week, I made a few minor changes to my running lifestyle, which included new shoes and pampering my feet a bit more, and my third long run (another 21K) felt great. I looked at the fall racing calendar, my family calendar and my work schedule and I started to plan. “I can make this work” I thought. “I can be ready for Hamilton.”
And now it’s game time. Yesterday, I upped my game and threw a 10K tempo into my long run (giving me a total of 25K) and ran a 12K trail recovery this morning. In the past month, I have watched my weekly mileage climb from 40K to 66K, and I feel great about it. This week, I get a little more serious as I add more yoga and 2 cycling workouts to my week so that I have a stronger core and quads so that I am ready for ‘net downhill’.
I know the next few weeks are going to be a bit crazy. The boys are back in school, I have a new teaching assignment, and coaching soccer starts soon. But, for whatever reason, running a fall marathon is in me and, like I tell the kids at school, “When you want something badly enough, you can make it happen.”
This has been another summer when I haven’t planned a lot of racing as I had been training for the Victoria Marathon. After making the decision to not marathon on the other side of the country, I started planning a race schedule with events closer to home. The Summer 5K was at the top of my list; it was a new running event, and it was close to home. Knowing that it was sponsored by Mercedes Benz and organized by vrPro, it was bound to be a good event.
On Sunday morning, my teen son who has been playing around with photography for the past few weeks, offered to come with me. “I’m leaving early,” I warned him. But the idea of practising action shots was calling him. Just before 8:00, we pulled into the Mercedes Benz parking lot and, while I went to pick up my race kit, he caught a few more z’s. The start was at 10:00 and it was already hot and sunny.
The volunteers from Mercedes Benz and Kelly Arnott of vrPRO were busy getting set up. Registration was open, men were setting up the barbecue for the after-race, the Pearl Izumi van with its tent had just pulled in…and the bathrooms were ready – inside the building! In fact, the bathroom facilities were one of the most exciting parts of the race: private stalls with doors with locks that actually worked, sinks with running water, paper towels, and mirrors. It was the first time that I have had access to such a luxurious bathroom at a race.
Feeling anxious, I headed out about 15 minutes earlier than planned to warm up and was I ever glad I did! When I registered for the race, I thought “Burlington – flat. This should be a nice, easy course.” The terrain seemed flat on the course video too. But when I started to warm up, I realized how wrong I was. As soon as I turned out of the parking lot, I faced a very slight incline, which became a bit steeper as I approached the 1K mark. As I continued to run, I saw the course plateau a bit and breathed a sigh of relief, only to get to the top and – you guessed it – saw the road climb again. I turned around to head back to the start to warm up and get my head into the game, realizing that I would have to carefully pace the first half of the race so that my legs wouldn’t fry at the end.
And that’s exactly what I did. I checked my watch at 1K and my timing was exactly where I wanted it to be: 4:20. The next 1500 metres were basically uphill and I knew there were a lot of women ahead of me. “Keep it like this,” I told myself. “You have 4 kilometres left to catch them in.” It took 5 minutes to run the next kilometre (uphill), during which I picked my targets to pass, one by one. Each time, I listened for their breathing to figure out how much space was behind me and how much more of a gap I needed to open. There was one more in sight and she would not let me pass her. When I moved right, she moved right; if I ran left, she ran left. So much for a friendly local race. I threw in a surge and fought to work my way around her and had the upper hand (or foot) at the halfway point. Now, there were no women in sight – but I knew there were still 6 or 7 ahead, judging by a volunteer’s counting – and I faced the part of the course I had been dreading more: the downhill.
I hate running downhill. In a race situation, it ends up being a real quad-buster for me, and I have avoided races like the Sporting Life 10K just because of the fast decline. Here, all I needed to do was (1) keep my pace and (2) stay ahead of the women behind me. It wasn’t long before I realized that keeping my pace was not enough as I could hear panting behind me; I was certain that it was the lady who kept cutting me off.
Sure enough, it was and it wasn’t long before we were running neck and neck, each of us trying to pull ahead of the other. Holding my pace was not going to happen; I had to pick it up. “Stay with her, Cynthia. Fight it.” We turned and the finish line was in sight. Now we were on a relatively flatter surface but into the highway wind and with about 700 metres to go, I pulled ahead. Silence. I felt the awkward stillness of her feet stopping behind. “Keep pushing. You can’t be sure that was her.” I stretched out my legs a little bit more, ensuring that I opened the gap a little more and hoped to catch two more gals who suddenly came into sight. Both were slowly down and if there were a little more real estate, I probably could have caught them, but I ended up finishing seconds behind.
Was I happy with my time? Not at all. I finished in 22:39, which is slow for me. However, the conditions were similar to the Beamsville Bench 5K that I raced last year and times were comparable. I also finished in the top 10 (whoever was counting missed a few) and first in my age group, which earned me a pair of Pearl Izumi shoes. Hooray for new shoes!
The reality, though, is I wasn’t training for this race. It was a C-race; I just threw myself into it to see what I could do: race with my head, pick up the pace when I needed to, run tough. My time wasn’t stellar but I can live with it, and it has given me some time goals to focus on while I keep chasing my dreams.
After 3 days of success stories, tears and losses, the one image that I still can not get out of my mind – the one that stands out the most – is from the opening ceremonies. Three days later, and I am still shocked that Gisele Bundchen was a part of the opening to Rio 2016.
The Olympic Opening ceremonies should do two things: promote international sport and the culture of the hosting country. The first was easily done. All athletes were invited to participate, but some chose not so that they didn’t have to spend so much time on their feet, tiring themselves out and hindering their chances on their day of competition. No matter where you live, watching your national athletes walk into the stadium fills your heart with pride. And if you didn’t see your favorite athlete, your hero, you immediately felt a sense of disappointment. Secondly, even under the tight budget when compared to recent Olympics, Brazilian culture was well represented under Fernando Mereilles’ direction in which he creatively captured Brazilian history, science and entertainment while emphasizing the international importance of the rain forest. But a supermodel? Where exactly does she fit in?
Gisele is Brazilian. That’s it. The Brazilian athletes weren’t singled out so why was she? She is fit and she is married to football player Tom Brady, but neither is a part of Olympic sport. In my eyes, Gisele was there because sex sells.
Is it the low budget that compelled Mereilles to bring her into the opening ceremonies? Was a significant donation made to the event if Gisele strutted her final walk across the stage? The question I keep asking myself, though, is “Aren’t we past the point of using beauty and sex to promote?” Clearly, we are not.
Gisele’s strut screamed, “Look at me. I’m fabulous.” It had nothing to do with sports and it did not represent Brazilian culture. It had no place in an international sporting event.
And by girls, I don’t mean daughters, friends or other women who run. I am referring to the “girls”, breasts, bosoms, or whatever anatomically correct or affectionate nickname you want to give them.
A few weeks ago, I was doing the “mom” thing: hanging out at the park with my friend, Susan, watching our boys run around with soccer balls. For some reason, and I can’t ever imagine why (heehee), our conversation turned to running.
“I wish I could run. You’re so lucky,” she commented. “It must be so nice to feel that freedom.”
Admittedly, I was surprised. Susan is a single mom of two boys who are involved with hockey, soccer and swimming. When she is not working, she is often chauffeuring them from one activity to another and, when she isn’t, you can be sure that it is because she is cooking, cleaning, and looking after them at home. I honestly didn’t think that she wasn’t interested in running or participating in other types of fitness for herself. Until now, the subject never really came up.
“You can run,” I said. “You just need to start slowly. I can help you get started.”
“I can’t. I need to find a bra that fits first. It’s too painful to run.”
Susan continued to describe one of her bras that she duct-taped together. “Both sides were duct taped so the underwire would poke me. Then the underwire started coming through the bottom.” The struggle was real.
Fortunately, finding a sports bra is something I have never had to worry about. I always wear Running Skirts strappy bra, which is comfortable, supportive and cute but, for my Double K friend, that just wouldn’t do. I started to picture previous covers of magazines with running success stories, photos of larger women who have lost inches and dropped sizes after they started to run. What did they wear? I have read about some ladies who double-barrel to give them the support that they need. We talked about designing a bra for her and finding a seamstress to make it. I was determined to find a solution. Someone must have an idea of what works. That’s when I turned to social media.
One of the groups I reached out to was Another Mother Runner on Facebook. I explained the problem my well-endowed friend was facing, and asked if they could reach out to their community. After a few days, I had dozens of responses and it became clear that Susan was not alone. Not only did we have a list of sports bras to select from, we had online sites (Break out Bras, Her Room, Bare Necessities) with great customer service that Susan could turn to for more advice.
Today, Susan headed to the Inside Story , known for its amazing customer service, for a fitting and decide on a purchase. She has narrowed it down to….
As bad luck would have it, the store doesn’t carry any sports bra that fits – period. The sales associate is going to do her best to find something that works. We are also looking at shopping online, a little easier but still a very frustrating process. The Juno bra by Moving Comfort, for example, was highly recommended for big-bosomed ladies, but we can’t find her size. Hopefully, we’ll find something that does the trick and keeps the girls under wraps before the end of the summer and Susan can “feel the freedom” that she is wanting so desperately.
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. 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.