The running community is surrounded by volunteers. We work with coaches, depend on race marshalls to keep us safe, and look for those handing out water and Gatorade and blankets to keep us warm when we finish racing. A lot of race directors and their teams are often volunteers. But the one group that we tend to forget about are the First Aid Responders.
Before I write any more, I should make it clear that some organizations are crewed by paid responders, but many are not. What is the difference between them? Basically, none. They are all trained and kept up to date through practical sessions. But an event will often go to a less expensive organization first and any payment goes directly into that medical organization to cover its operating costs such as medical equipment and vehicles; since the responders are not earning income, there is more money to put towards those costs.
We need to remember that First Aid Responders are there because they want to be. It may not their job, and they probably are not being paid, but they are passionate about what they are doing: being there for you if you need help and looking after you if you get hurt. So when you are handing out thank you’s at your next race, remember to wave to the bike patrol, or stop at the truck or medical tent. We all know that a thank you goes a long way. You might just make someone’s day.
Since I have been injured, one of the hardest things to do (aside from running, which is still impossible) is driving. My sitbone being crushed into the car seat can send an excruciating pain through my body. But, unlike running, as a working mom with busy kids, I can’t just say “I’m not driving today.” As the expression goes, I have places to go and things to do.
Last weekend, my son and his friends went to Wonderland for the Halloween Haunt and I won the task of driving them home. That same afternoon, as I made a shorter 20 minute trip to Burlington and whined to myself about the havoc that Tammy the Hamstring was still causing, I started to think of supports and devices that might ease the agony of sitting in a car. I lifted my butt, shifted positions, lifted my cheek again and had a “Eureka!” moment. “I need a donut to lift my butt and surround the sit-bone so that it doesn’t dig into the car seat!”
After dinner, before venturing to Wonderland, I began my DIY butt-nut project. I ripped strips of fabric from an old pillowcase, wound them into a donut shape, fastened it with duct tape and created my prototype.
Dave could only laugh and walk away when I demonstrated how to use it properly. But I was proud; my butt-nut felt good and seemed like it would help me survive the 60 minute drive. The real test was about to happen.
In the car, it took a while for me to find the exact spot for my creation, and I did have to readjust it every now and then. I waited for the 13 year old boy comments about it when my kiddo and his friends got in the car; what teen boy wouldn’t turn “butt-nut” into something? But, instead, I got “That’s awesome!” or “You can go on Dragon’s Den and sell these! You can retire!” If I can impress a crowd of critical teens with these, maybe I have come up with the next great Canadian invention.
When I got home, after a total of 2 1/2 hours of driving, I felt surprisingly good. I was sore, yes, but no more sore than I was when I got in the car. In fact, I felt the best after driving that I have in a long, long time.
So remember: you read about it here first. The butt-nut, a donut with duct tape, personally fitted, designed for comfort. What could be more Canadian?
The marathon can be one of the most frustrating road events. I love the distance, the training that goes into it and the satisfaction from finishing. For the first time in many years, I changed my focus in this last training cycle from a time goal to simply finishing. I took on the “whatever it takes attitude” and I was winning. I was ready. Then the tides turned on me and derailed me during taper week, days before the Chicago marathon. Even then, I made it to the start and felt I could finish, albeit slowly. Instead, I finished one mile – one lousy mile.
I didn’t fail, but I didn’t do what I set out to do. Was I upset? Absolutely, and I was angry too, angry about the wasted time, effort and cost (in physio, chiropractic and osteo treatments). But I got over it, and now I move on.
Before I can do that, though, I have to get to the route of the problem. My hip buckled under me when I ran during taper week, and it did again on Sunday morning. This hasn’t happened before and it has become a cause for concern. Tammy the Hamstring may be playing her games again and partying it up with her friends, but my chiro suggested an x-ray to make sure that there isn’t a fracture.
On Friday night, Dave and I went to the hospital to learn that there isn’t an obvious fracture. The doctor suggested Advil (3 times a day), physiotherapy and a bone scan. (Why do doctors always recommend nothing but Advil and physiotherapy?). On Saturday morning, my chiro agreed that I should have a bone scan to look for a possible stress fracture. “With your high mileage, age, and frame,” he said, “I think it is a good idea.”
So now I wait. I have an appointment with my GP on the 23rd and will, hopefully, get some imaging done a week later. It’s frustrating as that means I probably won’t get results until a month after the first buckle.
In the meantime, I can continue to strengthen my muscles, try to get back on my bike and maybe, just maybe, get back into the pool. I may not be able to run, but I can take advantage of the time off running to do other things that I love, as well as focus on what I can do and work towards improvement.
Since the beginning of April, I have logged 750 miles, or an average of 47 miles a week. Running higher mileage like this for an extended period of time is new to me and I didn’t think that I would be able to hang onto this higher volume. Doing a few double runs has helped me to build but looking after my feet has made a huge difference.
Many older runners will tell you that their feet start to hurt when they reach a certain distance. My Mizuno waveriders gave me the support that I needed until five years ago when, at age 49, my feet would start to ache as soon as I reached 15 miles. Thinking it was just the shoe, I tried a few other brands but kept going back to the waverider; I knew the sore feet were not caused by the shoe but, simply, just my getting older. But, stubborn like a marathoner can be, I trained through these aches for the Buffalo, Chicago and Boston marathons, with my feet hurting more and more each time. Now aches are common with many distance runners but they are that much more pronounced in older runners as our feet tend to have less fat. Determined to not walk away from long distance yet, I needed to find a solution and turned to a chiropodist, Dr. Werkman.
I saw Dr. Werkman last August and he designed a more supportive insole for my shoes – not an orthotic, but my mizuno insole with the addition of poron, which provides more cushioning under the balls of my feet, the point of impact when I land. It took a few adjustments to get them “just right” but they have made a huge difference in how comfortable my feet feel. Since they aren’t traditional orthotics, this is also a much more financially reasonable solution.
Last week, I went to see Dr. Werkman as I knew that I was pushing the limits on my last pair of insoles. He built this pair for me in March and, by mid-June, I could tell that they were well-worn because the balls of my feet were starting to hurt a little, something that I haven’t had in almost a year. When Dr. Werkman saw how flat my insoles were, his eyes popped. “How far have you run in these?” he asked. The man is a magician. He took my Mizuno insoles from the shoes that I purchased in June, lined them up with my old insoles (also Mizuno) and replicated them. They felt exactly the same but the true test was my long run on Sunday. After 18 miles, I complained about the heat and I complained about the hill at Mile 16, but I did not complain about my feet.
The 12 weeks ahead in preparation for the Chicago Marathon are not just about logging the miles. They involve a lot of self-care; looking after my feet is just one part of that, one step to keep me chasing my dreams.
You know you’re a runner when you watch the countdown on a microwave, see 3:45, and immediately think “marathon time”. And you know you’ve raised your 12 year old well when he looks at your playlist and exclaims “Mom, you have enough music to run 3 marathons!” I’m not planning on running with music when I marathon but I’m pretty impressed that (1) his math was that quick and (2) he knows my marathon goal.
Like most runners, I often wonder about time. How fast can I run a 5K? If I run 5 seconds faster per mile/kilometre, how will that change my marathon time? You want me to run how many repeats? How much rest do I get? Am I on pace? Pacing is the one that is always on top of my mind.
For years, my running friends have called me a human metronome. During a 10K or half-marathon, I can quickly lock into a 7:30 mile pace. At the end of a run with friends, when the goal is to log miles and chat, we like to guess what our average pace was, and we are usually right within a few seconds. Even on the track, which I am absolutely no expert at, I can usually guess what my 400 metre repeats are within one or two seconds.
My friend, Monica, and I use to joke about my pacing during a long run: 7:57, 7:58, 8:01, 7:56….my miles were all where they needed to be, surrounding the 8 minute mark – until this year. Somehow, I have lost all sense of my marathon pace. Perhaps it has been due to the faster running that I have been doing in general, but that 8 minute mile has become elusive. For the past few weeks, my long runs have been faster than I want them, which might sound great, but I know I need 8 minute miles so that I don’t blow up at Mile 22 in Chicago. I also know that I need 8 minute miles when I am running continuously and don’t have a break whenever I hit a traffic light.
This weekend’s heatwave in southern and central Ontario that has given us higher temperatures and humidex levels than I can ever remember. Yesterday, the thermometer reached 40 degrees (which is 100F); in this part of Ontario, that use to be unheard of. While many are complaining about the heat, it is exactly what I need right now so that I can get back to the 8 minute mile.
Yesterday, I headed out for my long run at 6:30 with three goals: 10 miles, a half-marathon or anything longer than 15 miles. With weeks of 18 mile runs behind me, I felt that I could run that distance again – if Mother Nature cooperated and if I paced it properly. No matter how far I ran, I knew that I had to be slower if I wanted to reach any of the goals. Well, there is nothing like a heatwave to force the pace down as all of my mile splits were predicitable and well-timed: slow to start, faster miles on the downhills, slower on the ups and into what wind we had. At Mile 10, I was feeling good; at Mile 13, I was feeling strong; but during Mile 14, on a favorite but challenging uphill, with the sun high, I noticed my heartrate starting to climb and I thought “This is crazy. I have kids to worry about.” So I called it a day at 14.1 miles.
When I got home, I was mad at myself as I probably could have run at least one extra mile before “common sense” took over. Then, I started to think about the pluses: I got out and ran, and I ran more than 13 miles; my pacing was good as I averaged a 7:57 mile; I didn’t feel drained at the end of my run and had the whole day ahead of me. As I saw other runners post their 30K runs, I had to keep reminding myself of my positives.
The temperatures this weekend and in the days ahead are extreme but, in terms of pacing, they are exactly what I need. In the same way that running through the cold and icy winter made me stronger, this hot weather is forcing me to really focus on pacing and find my inner clock again.
A few weeks ago, my son ended up hanging out at a friend’s house longer than planned, which was fine until he had to ride his bike home. “Can you pick me up?”
“No, but I’ll bring lights for your bike.” When I got there, he argued that it would be much easier to put his bike in the car, but I wanted him to ride his bike home. He flat out refused the head and tail lights so I went to Plan B: drive home behind him so that traffic would see my headlights on him.
The dude knows how I feel about bicycle safety. I complain every time we drive by someone who rides without a helmet, through stop signs, doesn’t have a light… Since that night when he was mortally embarrassed by Mom’s driving home behind him, he has been careful to get home before dark.
Until today. He and a group of friends were out, lost track of time and were near busy-ish streets. One mom and I realized that they would be riding home in the dark and started texting.
Mom: I might just head over and pick them up.
Me: There are too many bikes (5). Some of them still need to ride.
Me: I have headlights. I’ll meet you down there.
I had four lights. One came from the Energizer Night Race a few years ago, another from the Trek or Treat Race, and two others were won as prizes. Fortunately, one of the boys had a headlight on his bike so we actually would end up with each kid being visible, as long as there wasn’t a battle about lights not being cool.
I was slow getting out of the house (after all, I did have to make sure that the batteries were working) and, when I got there, my son must have known what was coming because he ran to me and asked me to wait in the car.
“Um, no, I have lights so you boys can ride home.”
The youngest in the group ran up to me. “Can I, please, have a light so that I can ride home with them?” My guy gave in and I looked at the older boys. “Here’s a headlight for you,” I said, starting with one whom I recognized as a former student of my own school.
“No, it’s okay.”
“All the cool kids have them,” I sang.
“Okay,” he laughed as he took one. The fourth boy followed. Then, I clipped the Road ID Supernova lights onto the backs of the two youngest.
“Wow! You’re the cool mom!” I was told.
Success! Within minutes, I went from being told to wait in my car to being respected as the cool mom. They took off, I followed, and when I saw how visible the posse was, I drove ahead to meet them at the house.
And I might have spied on them, just to make sure that they were still wearing them, and everyone was. No one complained when they handed them back. Instead, they thanked me and reminded me that I was cool.
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.