The Photo Finish

“Smile for the camera at the finish.”

I can’t count the number of times that have I seen that phrase on a race application or heard those words at a race? Nor can I tell you the number of my finish line photos that I don’t even recognize as being mine. I clearly recall looking at one marathon photo wondering who the old lady was in the picture; I was 27 at the time. Now, thanks to modern technology, race pics can quickly be deleted with one click of the mouse – not forgotten, but moved to the recycle bin (and, as if I ever want to see them again in any size or format).

This year, my race pictures have been, well, words really can’t describe them. At the end of one 10K, my greying hair suddenly turned white. If any of my students saw the facial expression at the end of a recent 5K run, they would never return to class, fearing that I would become the real teacher from the black lagoon. No matter how I run, my finish line pictures are, without a doubt, horrible.

This spring, at a 5K race in Toronto, my 8 year old decided to try out his new camera and took pictures of me running. The 2 side views and 1 back are awesome. You can barely see my face (if at all), my stride is strong and my muscles are ripped. Why hasn’t any “real” photographer tried these angles? Number 1’s pics were so good that he is now my official race photographer and, of course, he is under direct orders to only take pictures from the side or the back.

So the question I have is how do the elites do it? How do they muster up that energy to smile at the finish line. Here, for example, is Lisa Bentley, Canada’s Iron woman champ. She swam, biked and ran and she still has the strength to raise her arms over her head to smile at the crowd and the cameras. Me? I can barely find the strength to crack a smile. And they say it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown.

Well, this month with 3 races lined up, I’m set to go – and this has nothing to do with my training. On Thursday, I had my teeth cleaned at the dentist; today, I had colour added to my hair; I’ve already decided what to wear at each event. All I need now is for someone to tell me to smile.

Racing Mother Nature

Some days I wake up and the first thing I think about (well, after wondering how early my little monkey is wanting to play lego with me) is when and where I am going to run. In my house, this is a major decision as I have so many things to consider:

(1) Nutrition: When did I last eat? Have I had enough to eat to run? Did I eat long ago enough that it’s not going to come back to haunt me?
(2) Time of day: Has the 3 year old had his nap yet? If not, is he likely to fall asleep and, if so, does this mean that he is going to be up with me at midnight? (This, by the way, negates all benefits of stress-relief during that run.)
(3) Nutrition – yes, again: When did the boys last eat? Does the oldest need a snack before he gets on his bike with me? If the youngest eats, will this induce sleep during the run? (hmm, I’m sensing a theme here.)
(4) Weather: Can the three of us cope with whatever Mother Nature might bring us?

Yesterday’s was an easy decision – at 5:00, after snack, before dinner and, if you-know-who falls asleep, he can sleep through until morning. But, out of nowhere, the winds changed direction and, by mid-afternoon, a major thunderstorm watch was in effect. How dare Mother Nature get in the way today?

In true running addict form, I constantly checked the radar from my homepage throughout the afternoon. I was not going to let my mother, Mother Nature or any other mother tell me what to do. The storm was north and east; we seemed to be escaping it – for now. And, then boldness set in. “Okay, boys, we’re going now and we’re going fast.”

The kids jumped. It was going to be an adventure. “Let’s beat the storm!” cried one. “We have to get home first,” cautioned the other. We were all keen but, as we walked down the driveway, the spitting began.


Nothing was going to stop me now. “If it rains, we get wet. If it pours, we get soaked – and we’ve done that before. If we hear thunder, we high-tail it home – and we’ve done that before too.”

We ran, and we ran fast. It continued to spit, the drops got bigger, and then they stopped. We still weren’t going to take any chances; we’d been caught in downpours more than once. So, even though we faced a long hill, followed by a gradual incline (you get the point, right?), we didn’t slow down. And, as our luck would have it, we were greeted at the top of the hill by a boom of thunder.

“Quick, 1K left, go straight home!” I yelled to my little cyclist.
“You’re old enough! Stay in eyesight! Go!”

And we weren’t far behind. We won this race. As soon as we literally got onto the driveway, the clouds exploded; we made it home.

Now that was satisfying.

If the Shoe Fits

As expensive as they can be, shoes are the only things in my entire closet that I’m willing to pay full price for. I blame my mother for this. As children, my brothers and I were religiously taken to the shoe store every 4 months to see if our feet had grown into the next size. I suppose I should really be thanking her as none of us have had or do have any problems with our toes, feet, knees or hips today – and with our combined ages being well over 100, that’s pretty impressive. However, this means I am now programmed to return to my favorite running shoe store whenever I sense that my shoes are nearing the end of their running days (only, of course, to become my favorite playshoes).

Last month, I went to replace (sniff, sniff) my ASICS, the pair that had seen me finish my half-marathon training, run during the winter for the first time in years, and helped me win many age group awards. With a resume like that, how could I not want this year’s version of the same model? So, I tried the same size, the size below (just to make sure) and bought a 9 1/2, the same size I had worn for years.

Within the first week, I had a black toenail. By the end of the second week, the same toenail on the opposite foot had also blackened. This made no sense to me at all and, when I checked the size of these and their predecessors, they showed that they were the same. “Darn,” I thought. “I did need the 9’s.” So back to the shoe store I went.

After retrying the 9’s and commenting that they were definitely too tight, and lacing up umpteen other makes and models of shoes, I realized that the unforeseenable had happened to my feet: they shrunk. I didn’t think this was possible, especially when all of my female running mamma friends complain that their feet got bigger after childbirth. Not me, though; mine had to be different from the others – an abnormality. And worse than that is they had shrunk 1/4 of a size. Now I had the crisis of figuring out what to wear on my feet for the rest of my running days. This was decidely worse that finding that perfect dress for a formal event.

After retrying many of the not-so-badly fitting shoes and likely trying the patience of the sales associate, I walked away with a pair of Mizuno’s. They are not the prettiest shoe but, for me, they were the most comfortable. And, today, a week and 35 kilometres later, my feet and toes are happy. If the shoe fits, wear it.

The Vanity Run

Yesterday, I glanced at myself in the mirror as I headed out for my 6K run and thought “Girl, you’re looking good.” I was right. At this time of the year, and half-way through the summer holiday, I’m rested and my colour is great. Wearing shorts and a tank, my leg and arm muscles jumped out. It’s not about the run that matters but about how good I look. This was vanity at its best. Within seconds, though, that moment vanished as my three year old bounced up shouting, “Mommy, I’m ready to go for our run!” So, off we went – me on foot and him in the baby jogger.

In typical 3 year old fashion, he got excited about the garbage trucks that drove by. And, so did Mommy. Ohhh, maybe they’ll honk at me, I thought. Wait a minute! I’m pushing a flipping baby jogger. What guy in his right mind is going to honk at a mother?

Years ago, I remembered, truck drivers were always waving at me. In fact, not a day of running went by when there wasn’t a friendly hello. But that was years ago and in the big city. Here, in a small-town, people are much more conservative, I told myself.

Wait a second!! I use to get honked at here. But then reality clicked. I am now a mother, I have two children, I cannot just wear a jogbra and shorts anymore because I have two children (and scars to prove it); I must keep myself covered. Oh, how I miss those days of wanting complete strangers to see how good I looked.

Wow!! Somehow did honk at me! I haven’t lost it. Then, a young voice cried out, “Hello, Mrs. O’H.” Ah, one of the kids from school. They love seeing me run. I waved back, picked up my pace and was overtaken by another moment of vanity.

Listening to Mother Nature

I watched the forecast, I watched the clouds, and I performed on of the greatest sacrifices a mother could do: I skipped my workout. Yes, yesterday was an official day of rest. I hung out with the boys. The only thing we had to do was go to the library; the threat of library fines and the fear that all those years of preaching the importance of being on time would be forgotten impelled me to get there.

During the afternoon downpour, the boys and I were safely under shelter at our local library. The only problem was so was the wagon, and I don’t mean car. The stubborn mom in me, the one who refuses to drive to the library because it is only a ten minute walk, arrived there yesterday afternoon with two boys and a wagon in tow (hoping the youngest would fall asleep on the way home). While the rain came down, the announcer reminded us that the library was closing in 15 minutes; how would we get home?

The oldest thought that we should just find a corner in the rec. centre and read our books until the rain passed. There was no adventure in that at all.

We then considered leaving the boys by the door of the rec. centre while I ran home to get the car. How fast can you really run, Mommy? Not fast enough.

“I can run home, Mom,” was his second suggestion. Great, I thought. So he gets home soaking wet and waits alone until we get home. He then added, “I can get 2 umbrellas and come back.”
And, double his chances of being grabbed, I thought. No.

Every trip to the library has its own story and this one was quickly evolving. I wasn’t really worried about getting home – we’d just be wet. But getting home with wet library books would be an issue. Can you tell your child they can’t take home books to read?

At 5:00 sharp, we were evicted. But, while there was no mercy from the librarians on this Friday afternoon, there was from above. The rain suddenly lightened so we decided to make our move. The youngest jumped into the wagon and tried to sleep but couldn’t as the clouds were spitting at him. We walked quickly – almost fast enough to qualify us as power-walkers – hoping to beat the rain before it plumetted again. Secretly, though, I hoped our tale would end with the skies opening and the boys running home in giggles.

I’m not sure what happened but the youngest suddenly didn’t want to sit and be pulled anymore; he wanted to walk with his brother. Before long, the two were running and their laughing started as they left me behind pulling our bag of library books in the wagon. They ran the rest of the way home, giggling every step because they beat me and the heavy rain.

Children laughing and running in the rain – one of life’s little treasures.

Summer’s Here??

Today is the first day of summer – the first day of my summer. School is out, summer school is over and now I get to play. The only problem is somebody forgot to tell the weatherman.

This is the day I look forward to the most, the one when I can get up, stay in my jams until I feel like getting dressed, and hang out with the boys with no time committments to be anywhere at any time. This is the day that I almost have complete freedom to do what I feel like do (as much as can be expected with two young children). Today is the first day all year that I can go out and run whenever I want to and for as long as I want. And, even though that means tagging along with one on the bike while the other sits in the jogger, that is freedom.

But, it’s raining and raining and raining. Even the dog is refusing to go outside. The rain started last night, just after supper and it seems endless – except, of course, when the 3 year old finally decides it is naptime. There will be no trips to the park with the boys, no walk to the library and, sadly, no run; today will be an indoor day.

This isn’t exactly what I had planned for my first day of summer vacation. But, as a mom and a runner, I have learned to be flexible. Isn’t that what life is all about? Isn’t this what the human race is all about – doing what we can, when we can and striving to come out on top? Today, then, while as annoying as it is, is really just another test of my own inner strength. While I really, really want to run, I must simply accept that it is very likely not going to happen – at least not on my terms.

Today, then, is a day for rest or a day for cross-training. Or, maybe it’s a day for the babysitter:)

Out the Window

I wake up every morning and look out the window, searching for the noisy birds that chirped me awake, checking the roads and sidewalks for rain, glance around the neighbourhood to see how busy the streets are – my own way of judging whether or not I can get a few more minutes of sleep.

At night, I lie in bed and still find myself looking out the window. I watch the clouds blow past the moon as my youngest slowly sets himself to sleep. I wonder when the neighbours will finally go inside for the night. I periodically search for a sign of Dave riding down the street on his motorcycle.

Like any other day, this morning began with my window. And I’m certain that it will end with it too. And, an important part of the day is also out the window – my plans to run.

I put a lot of effort into today’s run: the boys had their swimming lesson; we visited the fish store – as promised; I picked up pizza for a late lunch – as promised; they had their bath and I got set to run, only to find the baby jogger hanging from the rafters in the garage. Suddenly, my plans went out the window. Frustrated? Very.

Like the birds, that opportunity to run will come back tomorrow. I just have to look at the window at the right moment to find it.

The Long Run

The long run. Def”n: a long-term goal: the result of today’s actions; or, simply, a longer run than usual.

What is most important about the long run, though, is the relativity. Anyone in the middle of marathon training would probably laugh at me for, today, 8 miles is my long run. It will be tough as I haven’t run that far in almost a year. I’m bound to have my 3 year old in the baby jogger and that combined weight of 60 pounds is another challenge. And, it’s hot – 25 degrees. So, this is going to be a tough run for me today. In 3 months time, this same run, but with a higher base mileage, cooler weather and, perhaps no child, will likely be easy.

It’s the long run that makes us tougher as runners and as individuals. They require planning, they take effort and they demand committment. It’s those same traits that are necessary as employees, life partners, parents…. A runner or not, each of us, somehow and someway, faces a long run in our lives.


Being a mom is such a juggle. I always thought that it was hard for working moms but, after having the summer off, I realize that it is hard for all moms.

This weekend, for instance, the only thing that I wanted to do was a long run. I’m in the middle of training for a half-marathon so a long run is something that I need to do weekly. Well, it poured all day on Saturday, which really didn’t matter as I was planning to run on Sunday. It simply meant that any possibility of doing my run earlier in the weekend to get it out of the way was out.

So, Sunday morning, I was up and eager to go first thing in the morning. The problem was so were my 2 and 7 year old boys. Daddy was tired. Daddy slept. Daddy kept sleeping until 1:00. By then, I was starving (and running on an empty stomach never is a good idea). For the sake of family harmony, I postponed my run until the next morning.

As a mom, I am constantly revolving my own life around my sons’ agendas. That’s what we do; we put our children first. But it can’t always be about them; sometimes it needs to be about me. When it is, I do a better job of being a mom. hmmmmm.