A First

Just when you think you have things under control, life can twist into a knot and wrap you right in the middle.

Things have been going well: I’m running again, I’m feeling strong; I’m rested. But, I’ve also been fighting a cough – nothing serious but enough for me to err on the side of caution. So, yesterday morning, in the sub-zero temperatures, I headed out for a 6K run instead of the 10K that I planned. Last night, my cough was sitting on top of my lungs, threatening to dive down deeper. Being someone who has at least one good bout of bronchitis every year, I knew this was not good.

When I got up this morning, I decided to be proactive and see my doctor. And, as luck would have it, I learned his office is closed for another week. Now I knew a week would be too long, so I headed to a walk-in clinic.

I filled the doctor in on my symptoms, my history of bronchitis (and recent history of pneumonia) and concern that this might brew into something stronger if I didn’t do something.

“Are you a smoker?” she asked.

A smoker?! I’ve been called many things and referred to in many different ways (after all, I am a teacher), but I have never, ever been thought of as a smoker. “No,” I wanted to answer, “I sound like this because I’m sick.” Or perhaps I should have told her that I was developing a sexy bar voice for New Year’s Eve. Instead, I quietly shook my head no. But if looks could kill, they would have.

That did, though, get me riled up enough that I was successfully able to convince her that I needed an antibiotic. “What do you usually take?” she asked. Now I was beginning to think that she doubted that I have ever been sick. I prescribed myself biaxcin and headed out.

One dose later, I’m already starting to feel better. In fact, I got on the bike tonight for 40 minutes of fairly strong cycling. If it warms up, I might even feel like running tomorrow.

The message of this story: If I didn’t have running goals for the next few months, I probably would have ignored the coughs and discomfort and continued on. But as a runner, I train my body for a task and, over time (and don’t ask how long), I have learned to listen to it. I just knew that if I did nothing, I would be sick, sick, sick in the next two weeks – and that would interfere with my plans. I didn’t want that; I wanted control.

Tough Love

The tears started at 8:15 this morning.

“Please, Mom, I want to come with you.”
“No, it’s cold and it looks like it could be icy. You need to stay home. We’ll go out together tomorrow when it’s warmer.”

After a fall of on and off-running (thanks to pneumonia in October and a brief calf injury in November), I vowed to get some base mileage back under my belt during December. But I forgot how hectic December can be for the family. #1 sings in a well-respected children’s choir and has several rehearsals and performances during the first half of the month. The boys are both very involved with things going on at Church at this time of year. And, being the first year that #2 is at school, we have, not 1, but 2 school concerts to attend! During the first half of the month, I got in a few runs, but that was far better than I had been doing previously.

The Christmas Break was what I was really looking forward to so that I could get back on track. I’ve run 4 times in the past 10 days. I have registered for a half-marathon in the beginning of March (and am still miffed that the 8K I wanted to do in January is sold out). And, last weekend, I bought a hat (complete with the ponytail hole) to wear during my winter runs.

Now, my current mileage is nothing to get excited about but I’m being slow and careful. I figure that I’ll also really have to work at cross-training on a stationary bike to support my cardio. #1 is determined to be there with me for all of my training – quite doable unless there is ice on the roads. So, when I told him this morning that he needed to stay home, he was terribly disappointed. I was glad that I played the role of “tough Mom” though; with the wind chill, it was 10 below and he just couldn’t have handled it, and that would have made us both miserable.

Tomorrow is another cold day; Wednesday will be warmer. Who knows? Maybe, we’ll even pull out the baby jogger for #2 (and a really warm blanket).

The Supers

Monday is my longest day of the week. I’m up early (and early means by 5:30) with two energetic kids who are well-rested from the weekend and just won’t allow “Five more minutes”. After a full day at work, I spend the evening erranding since it is the only night that Daddy is home with the boys. So, by the time I can even think about going for a run, it’s usually past 8:00.

Last Monday, Runner’s Twitch grew worse with each passing hour so I could not wait to get out. Between the clear skies and unseasonably warm weather – warm enough to still be in shorts – I really wanted to get in a strong training run, especially with a race less than two weeks away. And, I was especially antsy as I had missed running the Sunday afternoon before.

So, at 8:15 I headed out the door with #1. Having company was something I really hadn’t planned on but I have a hard time telling my almost 9 year that he can’t spend some quality time with me, 45 minutes without the interruption of the phone, distraction of the computer or the needs of the little brother. Nor am I able to insist that he can’t get some exercise. My friends were initially critical of this parenting decision until they learned that he has LED’s on the front and back of his bike and a reflective jacket. Between his and my own reflective gear, we were visible.

And often, it’s being visible on my runs that motivates me to push harder; the last thing I want is for someone to see me when I’m slacking. As the two of us climbed “the hill”, a group of power-walkers waved and cheered. I wasn’t sure who the support was for: the 9 year old exuding confidence and power, or Mom driving herself uphill. Either way, it was all good.

After crossing the last traffic light, I decided to pick up the pace and drive myself to the finish. I zoned out, imagined the finish line of a race, and pushed myself harder and harder to get there. I heard #1 comment on the sound of sirens, but I had no idea what he was really saying. I tore down the final stretch, jumping onto the road to pass the older gentleman walking his pint-sized dog on an invisible leash – the kind that I always fear will get wrapped around my ankles. I crossed the last intersection victoriously and I stopped. I did it.

Then, turning around to walk back home, I stopped dead in my tracks; at the corner were two police cars with lights flashing. They were obviously looking for someone; I figured that there was a robbery at a nearby gas station or 24 hour supermarket. Now, I realized that my son heard police sirens but, like me, he was tuned out to everything except what lay ahead at the end of our run. Walking home, we chatted about how ironically safe we were with the police so close.

The older gentleman we passed was eyeing us, probably shocked that my son was not in bed like he should have been, I reasoned. As we neared him, he turned around and said, “I thought the police were after you, you were running so fast.”

I felt sorry for this man as he probably really did think that I was “the bad guy”. After all, he only saw a person wearing a baseball cap and androgenous clothing, a person running hard towards him and being followed by police cars. This wasn’t exactly the way I wanted to be noticed but, in an odd way, it made my run. I thought of my youngest’s passion for Superman, Mr. Incredible and other Superheroes, and I ranked myself right next to them. That one comment gave me an undescribable feeling of power. I feel ready to race again.

The Balancing Act

I spent the past 6 months achieving balance in my life. Somehow, I magically discovered how to juggle work and family and find time to run. This is mostly due to setting goals, making a conscience effort to achieve them, and having the support of my family and friends. Last month, though, when I somehow came down with pneumonia (and I still can’t figure out how that happened when I was running well just days before), I dropped one of the balls; running and racing was out of the picture.

Almost as quickly as I went down, though, I bounced back. I headed back to work a week later and felt ready to run, but I resisted. I waited for another week, but life got in the way and that one week became two. And, then, panic set in.

The rule of thumb for recovering from an illness or an injury is that it will take half the time to get back to where you were when you stopped. So how long, I worried, would it take me to get back to the 13 mile distance again? How much slower had I become? Can I be ready for an 11 mile race on Boxing Day? What about the marathon I want to run this spring? These questions made me realize that I was definitely ready to run.

All I needed now was time. Between busy days at work, #1’s homework and activities outside of school, and #2 often falling asleep before 6:00, weekday runs were beginning to feel impossible to achieve. But there are 24 hours in a day; I just had to find 6 hours out of 168 (in a week). The will was there and, with a bit of creativity, I found a way.

Run #1: Evening run, when Daddy is home, #2 is asleep and I can escape without tears – 10K
Run #2: Lunch run at work – 6K to 8K (and, if I get my run in at lunch, nothing can go wrong for the rest of the day).
Run #3: Lunch run at work or after school – 6K to 8K (we’re still trying to get that second lunch run in)
Run #4: Weekend run – building mileage

As of last night, I am feeling back. I’ve had a few recent strong runs and am ready to push again; I’ve planned my race schedule for the rest of the fall. I really know I’m back, though, because those same little things that drove me crazy a few weeks ago just don’t matter anymore. Running has let me escape from them; I have found balance again.

The Creepy Mile

Weeks ago, I planned to race the Trek or Treat Run in Oakville. It’s a popular and unique event (runners can choose between the 5K, 10k and Creepy Mile) which is held in Oakville; the run goes through the trails and around a cemetery at night, making headlights on runners mandatory. It is a terrific event for both runners and Halloween enthusiasts.

My recent bout of pneumonia put an end to my plans for this run. My boys, though, almost 4 and 9, both were looking forward to the Creepy Mile. How could Mommy say, “No”? So, we planned to reverse roles; this time, the boys would run and I would be the support crew – unless I thought I could keep up and run with them. We teamed up with friends (Daron, son and daughter) who are also of Irish descent and dubbed ourselves The Irish Pacesetters.

However, we hit another obstacle when a party invitation for Number 2 came home; times, of course, coincided with the boys’ run. The solution was easy: Plan A was to take him to the party, leave at 6:30 if he wasn’t happy (it was his first birthday party so anything could have happened) and go to the race together; Plan B was to drop off #2 at the party, drop off #1 at Friend’s house, pick up #2 at 7:30 and head to the race for the after-party. Either way, we would get to the race.

Even though I wasn’t running, I did end up doing a lot of running around as we ended up following Plan B. By the time, #2 and I arrived at the event, the 5K and 10K races were just getting started. Adults and kids alike were dressed in costume or in running gear. There was a incredible amount of excitement in the cool night air, a high level of energy that surpassed that of any other race that I’ve run.

My son and his friends had finished their run, claimed their unique black and orange ribbons and were busy feasting on pizza and candy. Once done, the four kids put their headlights back on and headed outside to the field – the totally dark field – to run around. Daron and I couldn’t help but laugh as we watched them run across the grass, headlights bobbing up and down, resembling excited little space creatures which arrived on Earth for the first time. The four of them ran, laughed, and turned off their lights so that they could sneak up and scare us in the dark; then, they laughed some more and ran away, headlights on.

I saw the first runners of the 5K cross the finish line but didn’t notice their times; watching my own boys laugh and play was much more exciting. For them, running was not about time or place but about being with friends and having fun.

These sub-9 year olds reminded me that running meets so many of our needs: the physical one, through the act of running; the emotional one by achieving goals, whatever they may be; the social one, by being with friends and others who share that same spirit and enthusiasm for being active. At different stages in our lives, one need becomes more important than the others but, every now and then, the scale tips, the balance shifts and another need becomes greater. For my boys, the need to run this race was primarily social. For me, attending it as a spectator fulfilled an emotional need. The physical need? That’s on the back-burner for now. But, I have a feeling it won’t be long before that need becomes dominant again.

Surviving the first month?

I thought I had made it through the first month of the school year. Two boys and two different schools means for a hectic drop off and rushed end of the day. Every morning had tears when Number 2 said good-bye; suddenly, without rhyme or reason, those tears stopped last Thursday. Success. Number 1 had settled into his morning and afternoon routine, made it through a change of teachers half-way through the month, and was happily participating in extra-curriculars. Another success. Me, I had found balance between work and family and still made time to run. I even finished a half-marathon at the end of September with a very respectable time. Dad has also had to make adjustments: morning drop-offs and pick-ups on his off-days; planning time with the boys so that I could do my long runs. A huge success. So, when October 8th arrived, the official start to the second month of school, I thought I would be writing about how well we made the adjustment to a new school year. And, in many respects we did. But, on October 7th, that all changed.

That was the day I took my school cross-country team to our first meet. I wasn’t feeling great as I had been fighting a cold but, typical me, I felt well enough to go. This meet is a big event and I really needed to be there – for the 150 kids, for the school and for me. Our team ran well, bringing home several ribbons and two pennants. However, as the day progressed, I started coughing more and more; as soon as I got back to school, I booked a doctor’s appointment and a supply teacher for the following day. That night, the coughing subsided but I still felt like a bag of dog dirt.

So, the first month of school was a success. The boys are happy, I ran well, and my cross-country team had a fabulous meet. But, yesterday, I was diagnosed with silent pneumonia. This makes no sense to me as I just ran a strong 10K on Sunday night. Now, I can barely make it up the stairs. And, there is nothing silent about my cough.

This means my plans for October have completely changed. I’m no longer running a half – the race I’ve been training for since June – at the end of the month; instead I’m gearing up for recovery. I’m starting at the bottom of the hill and climbing it is bound to be so, so frustrating because I’ve had to abandon my goals. I know I have a long way to go but, once I get to the top, things will be easier. There is always another race; it just may take a while to get there.

Run for the Grapes: Race Report

For the past year that I’ve been back into the road-racing scene, I’ve consistently been behind Margaret. Whenever we run the same event, she is always one spot – seconds – ahead of me. But, even more frustrating than that is we are in the same age group so she always beats me in the age group awards too.

Three weeks ago, we both ran in Oakville; I ran the 10K and she ran the half-marathon. When I saw that she finished in 1:41, I was relieved that I only ran the 10K, believing that I would have been minutes, not seconds, behind her.
Two weeks ago, we both ran a 5K in Burlington. Somehow, I passed her in the last kilometre; that was a first.
When I saw that she was also registered for the Run for the Grapes, a half-marathon in St. Catherine’s, I was nervous. The data shows that Margaret is a better runner than I, but that one race – that short 5K – gave me hope; perhaps I could outrun her in this half.

Last Sunday morning, I scanned the hundreds of runners at the start line to see where she positioned herself: close to the front. “Good,” I thought to myself. “Now I can see her, and I can pace myself against her. I want to stay back until the time is definitely right, probably at the end.” And I followed this strategy for the first 8K. But, somehow, somewhere between 8K and 9K, I caught up to her.

“Good job,” she commented.
“Thanks. You too.” After a few breaths, I continued, “You’re Margaret, right?” She answered yes. “I’m trying to stay behind you (oh no, I was giving away my secrets) but I can’t.” So, we ran together and chatted for a few kilometres; sometimes I let her pull ahead, worried that I was pushing myself too much and too soon, but I always caught up again. We counted the women ahead of us at the turnaround. “That makes us 14 and 15,” I said. And, then, it happened. I pulled ahead of Margaret at the 14K mark.

I kept waiting for her to catch up and pass me. At 17K, I heard lighter footsteps – a female’s – but it wasn’t Margaret. At 18K, I heard tired breathing but her habitual grunt wasn’t in it. By 19K, I felt that if I could just hold my pace for those last two kilometres, I could do it – I could outrun her.
When I crossed the finish line at 1:41, I looked back but she was no where in sight. Neither was my cheering squad; Dave and the boys had gone out for a bike ride in this quaint rural town and had obviously lost track of time – my time. So, I ran back out. “Go, Margaret!” I cried. She ended up a few minutes behind me, finishing in 1:45. As far as standings go, I finished as 13th female, 2nd master and took home our age group award- Bart Yasso’s autographed book, a running cap, and a medal; Margaret was one spot behind me in our division.

When we walked back to our cars, I learned that she is not only in my age group but is also my age. That means that one of us will never jump into the next age group waiting for the other; we will always be chasing each other to the finish line.

Still in shock that I beat her, I asked Margaret if she was injured.
“No, I’ve just had a really rough week. I’ve been getting my kids settled at school.”
“Me too.”
“Oh, did you kids just start university too?”
“Um, no, kindergarten.”
Same mindset, different stages in our lives. We are moms and we are runners; for both of us, motherhood and running are delicately intertwined, making us who and what we are.

Our next big race together will be the half-marathon in Niagara Falls. There, anything can happen.

Running After Our Goals

In the spring, I planned to run a fall marathon. However, one Saturday night in June, when I considered my husband’s work schedule and the needs of my boys, as well as my own desire to run well, I was compelled to reevaluate my goals. As a family, we planned on a fall half-marathon – although the date and place were undecided. Then, I set 3 realistic goals: (1) a 1:42 half-marathon; (2) increasing mileage over the summer, gearing towards a spring marathon; (3) keeping everyone happy. For me, each goal was equally important and finding that special balance to achieve each became a weekly challenge.

Almost every run was done with a child in tow, one on his bike and one in the baby jogger. Even though he is almost 4, #2 was always happy to jump into the baby jogger – staying at home and being excluded was simply not an option for him (and CAS frowns upon 4 year olds being left alone). My older son is a mini-CEO, a planner, a visionary; knowing that I had goals to meet was all that was needed to motivate him to ride along, no matter what the distance. He saw himself as providing an essential service; he was a pace bunny, a water boy, and fantastic company.

Between the support of my boys and delicately planning long runs and races around my husband’s work schedule, I was able to boost my mileage and decrease my run times. Getting up for early races became easier for everyone as they saw the improvement in my running. Daddy measured this by time, #1 looked at my rankings, and #2 started counting the medals hanging above my desk.

As I started racing more and more, each one became a goal towards running a 1:42 half; I figured that to run a strong half-marathon, I needed to be able to run a good 10K. It wasn’t long before I discovered that each 10K race prepared me for the next; I learned how to pace myself at the start, how to find my spot in the first few kilometres, how to pick up my pace once I found my groove, and how to fight for the finish. As each 10K race became easier than the one before, it became obvious that I needed to practise running a half-marathon in order to meet my primary goal – a 1:42 half. The next rung on my ladder, then, became The Run for the Grapes, held in St. Catherine’s.

Coming up: Race Report: Run for the Grapes

Battle of Burlington: Stryder Waterfront 5K

The Stryder Waterfront 5K in Burlington was suppose to be held last Saturday. However, the race was postponed by a week, apparently due to construction in the area. The likely reality of the delay, though, was the run was scheduled for the Saturday morning of the last long weekend of summer, resulting in low registration. Another possibility is Burlington had Ribfest going on the same weekend and the crowds from that were incredible. Imagine: thousands of people congregating into the waterfront area for ribs.
Regardless of the reason, I was annoyed at the date change as a race last Saturday morning fit in nicely with my training plans wheras one this weekend did not. I was tired from my week at work and I was taking a course that started at 10:30. However, I declined the opportunity to withdraw my registration for a full refund and planned to run. So Saturday morning, Daddy and #1 were still sleeping in bed, #2 was locked in front of the electronic babysitter and I headed west to Burlington.
For me, this race was really no different from any other: race kit pick-up, bathroom (but a real bathroom this time), warm-up, gunstart, run – fast. I targetted my victim, passed him or her, and continued onto the next. Once I realized that I was the sixth or seventh female, I was driven to taking down a few more.
With just over a kilometre left, five women remained with three of them in my line of fire. I went after the one in orange but she was protected by two male bodyguards behind her. The path was narrow and I tried to squeeze through – but had no luck. So, I pulled back a bit and waited for the right moment. Suddenly, I picked up my pace and, consequently, my breathing deepened; the guards looked at me and pulled aside, knowing that they had lost. “Go get her,” one said, and I did.
There were now two who remained visible; I sensed the leaders, probably a minute or two ahead, were victorious. My legs turned faster and faster in my efforts to catch the remaining runners, and I hoped the hill at the end would wear them down. It did – but not enough. They finished ahead of me, 28 and 55 seconds respectively. With a class to get to in less than an hour, I ran for the car for a quick get-away, leaving my first place division award (and 5th overall) for a friend to claim.

Post-script: After finishing, I grabbed a bottle of water and the two bottles of juice that all runners were given at the end. Driving home, I was tempted to open one but, being on the highway, I thought it would wiser to keep my hands on the steering wheel. Thank goodness! When I went to put them in the fridge, I realized they were mini-bottles of wine. Now, that could have been a whole other story…..

Inspirational Athletes

I really didn’t want to run today. I was tired; back-to-school week was exhausting, the weekend was hectic and I just didn’t feel like running. But I knew I had to; the half-marathon I’m training for is coming up and I need the mileage. Knowing that the week ahead is likely to bring all sorts of interference with it, I dragged myself out.

Somewhere between lacing up my shoes and the end of the first kilometre, I suddenly remembered it was the day of the Terry Fox Run and the guilt from not participating hit me. I knew about the run but I had many reasons for not doing it: I have to run 10 miles; it’s the first day of Sunday School; we recognize Terry Fox at a school run at the end of the month. So, I put Terry out of my mind and hit the pavement.

In Canada, Terry Fox is a household name. In the early eighties, he began to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. What made his story interesting is Terry was a cancer victim; as he had lost one leg to cancer a few years earlier, he was running with a prosthetic. Terry had to abandon his run when he learned that his cancer had spread and he needed to return home (to B.C.) for surgery. However, he still achieved part of his goal; he raised thousands of dollars for cancer research and, more importantly, he raised an awareness of the disease. The Terry Fox Run was established in his memory and it generates millions of dollars for cancer research each year.

I was not thinking about Terry Fox today; I was focussed on my run. As I dragged myself up the hills and into the wind on this hot Sunday afternoon, I did have many thoughts of packing it in and heading home but I stuck to my plan, determined to run my 10 miles. Hot and thirsty, I made a detour for a friend’s house so that I could get some fluids into my system and, as I headed back out, I spotted a wheelchair athlete heading towards me; he was pushing himself into the wind.

“Man, that’s tough,” I thought. I glanced at his muscular arms and thought about his legs and wondered why I had never noticed him before in the area. “What a guy.” A block later, I spotted a sign: Terry Fox Run. That made sense; he was out for Terry Fox. As I passed other runners, I wondered how many of them were also running for Terry. I thought about the man in the wheelchair again and I could not help but compare him to Terry Fox.

What power they both have; for them, every run is a battle against the terrain, the elements and their own physical limitations. Me? I have it easy; I run because I can. These guys? They run because they want to and their doing so is absolutely inspiring.

Tonight, my legs are tired and I can’t help but think about how worn Terry felt after logging 20 miles each day. And, I can not get the image of the wheelchair athlete out of my mind. Perhaps he was like me and doing his own thing; perhaps he was out for Terry Fox. Regardless, he and Terry Fox have made me realize how likely I am to be able to do what I can.