Running from Asthma

puffer picOne day, while having a conversation with a gentleman, he questioned, “You run in the winter?  Don’t your lungs freeze?”

I shook my head and explained that it is okay to run in the winter.  “You just dress for it, that’s all.”  I left out what I wanted to tell him – that I have asthma.

For years, I wasn’t able to run in the winter because of my asthma.  I’d go out and, within 20 minutes, my chest would start to tighten.  Every time I stopped (because, living in the city, you have no choice but to stop at a traffic light), my chest would tighten and I’d start to cough.  Often, I’d be wheezing.  Yes, it was a struggle.  I hated it.  And I started to hate winter running.  So for a few months each year, I would turn to cross-training indoors (but not the dreaded treadmill).

Fast forward to life after pregnancy.  Both of my boys were born in the late fall and, like many new mamas, there were days when I just needed to get out.  We lived in Toronto, where I could escape to the gym and park my babe at its child care for an hour.  When we moved to Oakville,  I became a home workout warrior; all of my fitness started and ended in my basement.  This was fine until after I delivered my second child.  I needed to physically leave the house.  However, it was winter – and I couldn’t run in the winter.  My lungs wouldn’t let me – until I woke up one morning and said, “That’s it.  I’m going for a run.”

run over obstacles“Are you sure?” my husband asked.

“Yes!  I have my puffer.  I’ll take my time.  I’ll only be gone for 20 minutes.”  I pulled on my winter running gear that had been sitting in the closet for years and headed out the door.  “I can do this,” I told myself.  “I’ll be fine.”

And I was.  My run was slower but I didn’t care.  I was outside and running.  I got back home feeling exhilarated and powerful.  “I can do this!  It’s time to take asthma by its horns and show it who’s in charge!”

For that and the next winter, I taught myself to run with asthma.  I had to run a slower and longer warm up – to open up my lungs – in the same way that I have to warm up before a race.  I learned to use my inhaler properly: one puff while getting dressed and another (about 10 minutes later) before I head out the door.  68b71-p1290294Thanks to Running Skirts sub-zero skirts, I could comfortably carry my puffer in my side pocket (puffers in tights’ pockets just don’t work) in case I “got into trouble”.  My running partners got use to my heavier winter breathing, the constant running nose and snot-covered gloves.  Over those years, I built my winter running distance from 20 minutes to 30K.  I was the boss of my asthma.

Last winter, due to my fall and broken jaw, I was forced off all exercise for weeks.  This meant I escaped the woes of winter running and all of the laundry that came with it.  I thought I was lucky but I was dreading the shock of readjusting to cold weather running.  This past week was the first week of truly cold temperatures that southern Ontario runners have had to deal with this winter and I knew it was going to be a shock to my system.  For the past few days, friends have posted pictures of themselves running with frozen beards, frozen eyelashes and steam circling their heads.  Me?  I wasn’t ready to face that kind of running yet and stayed on my windtrainer in the comfort of my warm basement.  I was wimping out.

Until yesterday.  Temperatures were climbing and now closer to -20C.  I was ready.  On came my layers and out I went.  Within 10 minutes, I was quickly reminded that I have asthma.  Yes, I used my puffer and, yes, I took my time warming up.  But I could feel my chest tightening, resulting in that same feeling that I had many, many winters ago.  “Wow, the air really is a lot thicker when it’s cold like this,”   I thought.  And I remembered that conversation many years ago. “You run in the winter?  Don’t your lungs freeze?”

Cold 2016
Yesterday, after 5K in -20C.  Feeling great.

No, my lungs don’t freeze.  But I have to be careful.  I have to dress for it, that’s all.  I have to use my puffer and I have to do a long warm-up before I run the way I want to.  Yesterday, that is exactly what I did and guess what.  I got home feeling exhilarated.  Once again, I took asthma by its horns.

 

How Did I Become a Soccer Mom?

For the past 2 weeks, I have been hopping around from one blog to another and have enjoyed meeting new people.  Today is my spotlight day so I am going to start off telling you a bit about me.

Chicago - expoChasing My Dreams – Setting goals and going after them makes me happy.  After my long layoff this year, I still ran the Chicago Marathon and BQ’d.  When I was still on the course, I set one of my goals for 2016: to marathon in the spring and improve my time for a better corral start.

Yummy – My favorite food is chocolate.  I’m pretty good about staying away from it.  Being lactose intolerant helps.  But when I do my own baking and I know that foods are “safe” to eat, I have to really watch that I don’t eat all of the chocolate chip cookies.

Nerd – I am such a math nerd.  I love looking and analyzing data, especially when it involves running.  It’s a good think I teach math.

Toenails – I have ugly toenails – really ugly.  Running has not been kind to my feet at all.

Hot – I love hot weather runs.  I love to sweat.  I hate all of the winter laundry.  Summer laundry is so much easier.

Ice – After last January, ice terrifies me.  When I fell, I broke my jaw in four places. cropped-pw-near-trail.jpg I was off work for weeks and was forced to stay away from exercise of any kind for weeks and weeks.  Even downward dog was dangerous for me to do!  I’m not sure how I’ll deal with running this winter yet but I should know soon.

Asthma – I developed asthma when I was in my late 20’s.  For a while, it stopped me from running.  I tried and tried, but I had asthma attacks that simply wouldn’t let me run.  I go fed up and took asthma by the horns.  Over a few years, I learned to run with it, even in the winter, and can now race as a top Masters athlete in Ontario.

I am a Grade 6 and 7 teacher and, from one day to the next, each of my students has something special that makes them stand out, something that makes them shine.  It could be a passion for a sport, a favorite hobby that they love to talk about and share, or a general excitement that they bring to class.  That enthusiasm makes their eyes shine and makes even the toughest kid smile;  it defines who they are.

Ten Miler - finishMy enthusiasm for fitness and an active lifestyle makes me who I am.  Fortunately, the digital age is still fairly young so I can’t post any pictures from the Richard Simmons’ era, when I was bitten by the aerobic bug that eventually led to me teaching aerobics.  In the 90’s, I needed more of an adrenalin rush so I turned to running and general fitness training – and I haven’t looked back.   Today, if you were to ask someone about me, they would most definitely use the word “runner” in the first two sentences.

In the past 25 years, my running has only been halted three times.  The first was when I developed asthma – induced by cold and exercise (not great for a Canadian runner)  but I spent several years learning how to run with it.   I also stopped running when I was pregnant (my boys are now 9 and 14)  as I really didn’t enjoy running while pregnant .  So I turned to cross-training – mostly stationary cycling and the stairmaster.   My most recent hiatus was this past winter when I broke my jaw while running and, then, had to deal with the deaths of both parents in the spring.    After every “rest” period, whether forced or self-inflicted, I could not wait to get back to the roads.

So it has always shocked me that my own boys have not been into sports.  My husband is an avid hockey player, cyclist, tennis player and occasional runner.  Me:  I run competitively (competitive enough to claim the Canadian 50-54 title for the 8K distance).   We dreamed about raising superkids with both fast-twitch  and slow-twitch fibres, coming from his speed and my endurance.  Nope!

04800-p6080047
The Littlest Dude (at 4), ready to go.

Over the years, we encouraged both to participate in sports but they showed a combination of low skills and an even lower interest.  They came to races with me, cheered me on, and would race the odd Kids’ event.  We’d see glimmers of potential and a bit more enthusiasm, but the boys kept going back to the things they loved: music and lego.

We couldn’t push them.  I wasn’t going to be “that parent” who dragged a screaming child to a swimming lesson or soccer game.  But I could plan my training with them in it.  I would throw one into a baby jogger or drag them out on their bikes when I ran long.  We talked running around the house a lot but, still, there was no real interest.  All I could do was hope that they would eventually realize what they were missing.

At the beginning of August, like every other August, the two Dudes and I talked about what sports they could get involved with this year.  To my surprise, they both said soccer.  My oldest has been refereeing for the past year and has taken an interest in the game as a player.  My youngest is either following his lead or was bitten by the soccer bug when we watched the PanAm Games.  Either way, it didn’t matter; they wanted to play soccer.  Soccer cleats

At the end of the month, I opened an email: “Coaches Needed for U11 Boys.”  Hmmm…. We had a quick family meeting, a few days to digest the decision and I was suddenly coaching the Littlest Dude’s team.    So now, a typical weekend for us includes one U11 game, one U15 game, a few games to referee and a load of soccer laundry.  This week, Soccer Mom also organized a practice for the team.  It looks like the boys aren’t the only ones bitten by the soccer bug.

“Where are my soccer socks?”  “Can you wash my ref jersey?”  “Who do we play this week?”  Soccer has quickly become part of the regular language in our house.  The boys are excited about it.  They smile when they talk about it.  Soccer: it defines who they are.PanAm Green Screen Andrew

 

 

 

 

Review: Manitoba Hemp Hearts

Hemp hearts envelopeGetting protein in my diet is a struggle.   Don’t get me wrong; I love my meat.  But I don’t eat a lot of it and I am not a huge fan of meat alternatives.  So when I came across the opportunity to try Manitoba Hemp Hearts, I jumped at it.

There are a few things that pulled me towards Hemp Hearts.  First, it is a Canadian product.  The hemp seeds are grown in Canada and products are manufactured in a hemp-only facility in Manitoba.    Before I even tried them, I knew that I was heading into a  romance between Hemp Hearts and this former-Manitoba girl.   I also love that they are packed with protein: 10 grams of protein and another 10 grams of omegas in a 30 gram serving.  Lastly, it’s an easy protein fix.  There are lots of recipes that use Hemp Hearts that I can try but, for me, nutrition has to be easy.  hemp hearts with eggsI love that I can just open the bag and sprinkle them on my salads, pasta (my favorite way to eat these) and even hard boiled eggs.  I wish that I had found these last winter when my running accident meant that I had to spend a month living off smoothies.  Hemp Hearts add a delicious sesame taste to my food.  Yum!  Check out their website for other great nutrition ideas.

Other great things about Manitoba Harvest Hemp Hearts is they are vegan-friendly and they are non-GMO certified.

Often, when I come across great looking products on the web, I end up being disappointed because they are hard to find in stores.  This is not the case with Manitoba Harvest; there are oodles of local stores which carry Hemp Hearts and other yummy hemp products.  I know that I’ll be heading out soon to pick up some of their Hemp Heart Bites for my mid-afternoon snack at school or Hemp Heart Bars for my son with the teenage bottomless pit.   Hemp Hearts package

You should try some too.  Use the promo code HHSP1015 for a 20% discount off the entire web store at Manitoba Harvest.  (expires December 31, 2015)

 

 

What Was I Thinking?

As much as I love the marathon distance, I have never really entertained running a fall marathon.   I have a classroom to set up, students to get to know, marking and assessments to complete, an open house, progress reports, cross-country coaching – and I also have the task of getting my own two boys back into their routines.  In the fall, my family, teaching and running lives collide; building mileage towards a marathon has never been in the cards.

getting back at it.
Starting to think about running a little more seriously at the end of March.

Until this year.  I really don’t know what I was thinking back in April when I registered for the Chicago Marathon.  I really must have been going through a period of insanity.  At the beginning of April, I was just getting back to working out again and, at that point, I was only running two or three times a week (if that); my weekly mileage was barely at 20k.   Breaking my jaw in the winter meant that I was missing out on the spring marathon season and I was bitter about that. I needed to fill that void.   My dad had passed shortly after Easter, my mom wasn’t well and I needed something to focus on – something positive and something for me.  Clearly, training for a marathon would fill my time even if my plan was simply to just finish.  Training for Chicago was about to consume me.

Before that final click to registering, I did think about the September start-up.  “You’ll be fine,” I told myself.  “You’re an experienced teacher.  You know what you’re doing.” Clearly, I was delusional as I clicked “submit”.  Then, I started dreaming about chasing ponytails and distance goals and it wasn’t long before I was focussed on rebuilding mileage and fitness.  If the first half of 2015 was a test of my inner strength, the summer was a test of my physical.  By the end of August, I had caught those goals.

And, then, last week happened: back to school.  Suddenly, late nights were filled with laundry and planning lessons while early mornings became even earlier with drop-offs at two different schools before I arrived at my own.  And, somehow, I had also planned to make last week my second highest mileage week before heading to Chicago – second highest, over 90 kilometres of running during the first week of the school year.  What was I thinking?

labour day
Monday: my double-run day.

But I got it done.  By planning 8 runs over 7 days, which included a double-run day on the holiday, a late night run and a very early morning jog, I was able to reach the weekly distance I wanted: 93K done!

Am I tired?  Yes,  I am justifiably exhausted.  Running is going well, school is great, my kids are happy and my house is a mess to prove it.   But I am feeling like a rock star.

This afternoon, after my 93K week, I suddenly started to feel really tired, more like a rock star who had partied way too much on the weekend.  Monday morning is going to hurt.  And, once again, I am asking myself “What was I thinking?”

 

 

 

Closure

The excitement of back to school is in the air.  My boys have spent the past two weeks organizing their gear, trying to guess which teachers they will have, wondering which friends will be in their classes, and planning their morning routines.  I have been busy setting up my classroom, planning with other teachers and getting ready to greet a new set of smiling faces.  While I enter September with energy and excitement, this year I have also been carrying a bit of fear .

Broken Jaw 1
The morning after my accident. The open wound is stitched, discolouration is beginning and there is some obvious swelling.

In January, I had a running accident, a freak accident if you will, when I fell on a particularly dark section of road and broke my jaw in four places.  I spent 4 weeks recovering at home, 6 weeks on liquids and 8 weeks without any physical activity other than walking.    I was lucky.  I could have broken my neck, I could have been unconscious…the list of “could have’s” is endless.   I only broke my jaw.

The one worry that I carried throughout my recovery, though, was about my teeth.  When I hit the road, my bottom front teeth shifted.  The sudden discolouration of some teeth made the oral surgeon think I would need a root canal or two.  It looked like I had some cracked teeth at the back of my mouth.   But I was told that teeth do repair themselves so there was no reason to worry.  “Wait 6 months,” he said.  “That will give your mouth the time that it needs to heal.  Then, we’ll x-ray and see what work needs to be done.”

“Don’t worry,” he said.  Of course, I worried – every time I looked in the mirror, brushed my teeth and ate.  And I’ve worried about the time that I would need from work for any reconstructive work.  And I worried about the cost.  How could I not worry?

So at home, when the dudes have been excitedly in their back to school frame of minds, my fear of my follow-up exam was consuming me.  I was glad that I had booked my appointment for the week before school so that I could eliminate my fear of the unknown; I had to have an idea of what lay ahead.   At least, then I would know; then, I could plan.

All smiles
All smiles after my great news!

Yesterday, I spent 40 minutes with my dentist who checked the top, front and back surfaces of every single tooth.  He did the “percussion test” when he taps on the teeth to check for any sensitivity.  Then he announced, “There is nothing wrong with your teeth.  Nada.  I can’t believe it.  They have repaired themselves.”

“Don’t you want to x-ray them?” I asked.

“I don’t need to.  You aren’t showing any signs of damage.  When you come back for your regular check-up, we can x-ray then.”

I could not believe it.  We – my husband and I – were certain that there was long-term dental damage.  The oral surgeon was right.  “Teeth have a way of repairing themselves.”  I am still shocked that he was right; I am completely fine.  The feelings that I had when I left the office were overwhelming – happiness, gratitude, relief.  I don’t tend to be an emotional person but I almost wanted to cry.  Almost.

When I left the dentist, I left my fear of the unknown behind me.  The accident is now a thing of the past, a memory, an experience, a challenge that probably made me a little bit stronger.  And now, as I head into a new school year, I can truly look forward to what lies ahead.

 

 

Things Come in Three’s

My Parents, 1965
My Parents, 1965

Life is about balance.  For me, that means juggling my life at home with work and fitness.  Sometimes, that is easy; others, it is a struggle.  This year, finding balance has been one of the biggest challenges ever.

At the end of January, all fitness activities came to a halt when I broke my jaw.  It was a running accident, a freak accident at the end of January.  I was heading out to meet my club at a local recreation centre when, on a poorly lit road,  my toe caught hold of a chunk of ice, sending me flying.  My chin hit the pavement and I broke my jaw – in four places – and had not choice but to take time off work and all fitness activities.

A few weeks later and while I was still off work, doctors discovered a large mass of cancer on my dad’s brain.  He had been living with cancer for years and had undergone a variety of treatments, the most recent being radium injections in the fall.   My brothers and I had hoped that this would destroy the cancer cells but, instead, the disease became more aggressive.   At the beginning of April, I took another leave from work as we buried my father.

The beginning of 2015 had brought me a physical and an emotional challenge.   I was grateful for my job teaching at a school close to home.  I was able to return to work both times, forget about the things that were going on in my life away from school and focus on the kids in my classes and the runners that I coach.   This only lasted for a few weeks, though.

At the end of May, my brother called me to tell me that my mother went in her sleep.  She had Alzheimer’s/Dementia and we expected that we would say good-bye to her sometime before 2016.  That day came earlier than we thought; seven weeks after our dad died, we said good-bye to our mother.

Many people believe that things come in three’s.   Myth, old wives’ tale, fact or fiction, I don’t know how much value I have in that.  But I do know that the stresses that I faced during the first part of the year – my broken jaw, the uncertainty of my parents’ health and their deaths – are gone.   For that reason, I dubbed July 1st as the start of a new year, 2015B.  It is a fresh start, a new beginning, a time for me to set some goals and go after them.