If you have been running with the same person for a while, or if you have watched the same person run often enough, you begin to notice their stride and gait until you can eventually recognize it from far away. Years and years ago, my husband commented on “that thing I do with my foot.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You swing it out, or you kick it out. I don’t know. It’s just weird. But I can see you from a mile away.”
Of course, I still carefully look at every photo of me running. Am I doing “that thing with my foot?” Yes. And, even though I have known about it for years, I haven’t been able to change it. I have always attributed it to my one leg being longer than the other; my body has had to accommodate for that when I am running. You can see it here when I raced the B&O 5K Championships last September.
A few weeks ago, when at a morning practice with TOC, Coach Greg was able to watch my gait more carefully. “You’re swinging your hips,” he told me at the end of the workout.
“What?!” I was surprised, but it made sense and tied in with the foot kicking/swinging action that has been going on for years. Now that my chiropodist has put in a bit of a lift inside my shoe, I am noticing that my hips are feeling straighter and, hopefully, “that thing [I] do with my foot” is disappearing.
These foot kicking/hip swinging idiosyncrasies of mine, though, seem to have created another unique feature: the Cynthia Arm. A few days after Coach Greg pointed out that I swing my hips when I run, Monica told me that my left elbow sticks out. Again, this was met with a “What?!”
“It sticks out – probably because you’re swinging your hips.” And I swing my hips because one leg is longer than another and….Somehow I felt like singing: the leg bone is connected to the hip bone, and the hip bone is connected to the….
“Don’t worry about it,” Monica said. “It’s your thing. It’s like the Andre-arm. We’ll call it the Cynthia Arm.”
Well, if it works for Andre de Grasse, maybe I should just leave it alone. Perhaps my elbow will get me into the same club as the cool kids; maybe that’s my secret to becoming a champion, to going to the Olympics. I wonder if I need to put an insurance policy on my elbow; after all, it has become my trademark.
Or maybe I should just work at tucking in my elbows more, straightening my hips, pointing my toes forward, and keep on singing “Dem Bones.”
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 Sunday was the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington. I have run and raced this several times and had planned to race it this year, aiming for a sub 1:37. This winter has been great for runners; my mileage was good and I was getting the speedwork done. As luck would have it, though, I was diagnosed with a sinus infection the week before the race. The extra effort that I seemed to be putting into my running suddenly made sense; I couldn’t breathe – simple. So I quickly accepted the meds that I was prescribed, took one day off training, and kept moving forward. By the race weekend, I was confident that I would be able to run the Chilly Half; racing it was still questionnable.
The morning of the race, I was up at 5:30 to drive my oldest son to the GO station so that he could catch a bus to Toronto and it was cold. By the time I got home to run my shake-out, the sun was coming up but there was a face-biting cold wind. At 8:30, when I arrived in Burlington for the race, it was much warmer and I was glad to have a 10:00 start, but the wind was still noticeable.
I went out with 2 plans. I wanted to run a 4:40/km pace, which would have me finishing around 1:38. My back-up was to go out slightly faster than marathon pace, which is 5:00/km. I realized very quickly that the getting over a sinus infection/wind off the lake combination was not a good one and, by 5 km, accepted that I was not going to run 4:40 that day. I was totally okay with that, though, as the last thing I wanted to do was blow Boston because of what should be an easy prep race.
So this race became a chance for me to practise. Not worrying about speed meant that I could relax a little bit and try to enjoy the course. The Chilly is known for it’s pancake flat terrain, but it was cold and very windy. I was really looking forward to turning around at 14K and getting out of the wind, but I swear the wind changed direction at the very moment that I did. Except for the 200 metres at the end, I felt like I was running into the wind the entire time.
I am particularly proud of my porta-potty pb at the Chilly. I felt my gut start to tighten up around 16/17K and decided to duck into a porta-potty shortly after. It was a false alarm – only gas – and I was in and out in just over a minute. With winter layers to contend with, I was pretty pleased with that time. You know you’re a runner when you claim a personal porta-potty best!
So what is the nitty-gritty? I finished in 1:42, 5th in my age group (50-54). This was also a Provincial Championship race for the 21.1k distance and I earned my age group’s silver medal for that, which makes me happy. So while I didn’t leave with the time that I wanted, I walked away with a reminder that you need to be in top condition to race well. And even though I wasn’t in peak condition, I still ran well.
In the past ten days, I can feel myself being stronger and healthier. Around the Bay is next and that will be a strong indicator of my fitness for Boston. I can not wait!
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.