Some things I just don’t “get” in other runners

I’ve been a runner for a long time, sometimes competitively and sometimes recreationally. Having run through many different phases in life and many different mindsets of what I’m doing and why I’m out there, I think I have a pretty good understanding of why most other runners are doing what they do. But there are a few things that I see in other runners which make me think: “HUNH??? I just don’t get it!” Here are a few:

  1. Runners who get in the food line directly after a race. Every time I race I see it and I think “HOW??? How can these people eat right now?” The smell of anything makes me want to throw-up. I know you’re supposed to eat within a 30 minute window for optimum recovery, but I just can’t do it. I look at these people and think they must be aliens. Of course, give me 30-60 minutes and I’m ready to eat anything and everything. But respect and incredulity for those who can go straight from finish chute to post-race buffet line.

    Looks delish, but not yet, thanks! Credit: Luiz Rampelotto/EuropaNewswire

    Looks delish, but not yet, thanks!

  2. Runners who are all or nothing. I’ve seen people go from the most dedicated, disciplined training to a dead stop – like not even jogging 20 minutes a week. I’ve been the intermittent 20 minute jogger and the consistent disciplined trainer. I get how life situations can take you to both extremes. In some phases you have time and mental energy to devote to training, and sometimes you just know that mileage goals are out of the question and maybe the races need to be put on hold for a while. But to just stop altogether – cold turkey because you can’t train to your fullest capacity? I totally don’t get it.

    If I'm not training hard, I'm doin' nothing!

    If I’m not training hard, I’m doin’ nothing!

  3. Runners who carry everything with them. Ok, if you’re an ultra-runner or out there for a crazy amount of hours, maybe I get it. Admittedly I’m a bit of a minimalist, and I might be annoying to my running buddies when I take them up on their offers of water which they’ve been carrying around. I never have, but I might also take them up on toilet paper if required. But I draw the line at tissues. Ok, I do find it a bit cute and endearing in a quirky way when my friends carry tissue to blow their noses, but don’t we all assume we’re going to get sweaty and snotty while running? To me that’s the equivalent of carrying deodorant while running and re-applying it mid-run. I believe in embracing the sweat and snot while running and cleaning up after.

    You CAN leave home without these

    You CAN leave home without these

  4. Somewhat related to the last point: Runners who look and smell great while running. I totally don’t get this. And no, it’s not just women – I’ve seen it in men too. People who look and smell like they’ve just taken a shower, and then go for a run. Not a hair out of place, perfect makeup, fresh smelling clothes. I mean, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, but it is just so the opposite of how I approach going for a run! If I am going to put any energy into my appearance (every now and then I try) I’m definitely not going to waste it on how I look on a run. But maybe some people just look like this all the time? I don’t know. I don’t get it.
Just heading out for my run...

Just heading out for my run…

Who knows – maybe, or more like probably, I’m the quirky one. It’s a good thing we’re not all the same. I just find it funny when I observe these differences in other runners. I know we’re all roughly of the same breed but boy – there really are some big differences in how we do things!

The sad reality for kids of runners

I feel badly for them sometimes, I do. They didn’t ask to be the kids of a runner. It’s not their fault their mom runs every day – sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes hills, sometimes on a treadmill, sometimes long, sometimes short. Every day I run. That, they are fine with. It’s been part of their ‘normal’ since they were born. No one questions it or wishes it weren’t so. Mom running is like mom making them food when they’re hungry or kissing them when they’re hurt – it is a given.

But what they are left with is this: a mom who is ALWAYS in need of a good foot massage. And whose feet are pretty calloused up and rough to boot. Whenever we are all lying down together – watching t.v. on the couch or reading in bed, I start to feel the irresistible urge to ask someone to massage my feet. That’s when the bargaining begins: “But they’re so GROSS!!!” “Please? I’ll read you an extra chapter…” “Can you wear double socks?” “Ok, but you’ll have to do it harder” and so on. In reality I usually do 15 minutes extra of reading for one or two half-hearted squeezes to my arches, but it never stops me from asking.

The other weekend was Mother’s Day. I could tell my son was very excited about the gift he was going to give me. He almost gave it away, but managed to keep it a secret until he presented it to me in the morning after I’d returned from my run. It was a diamond encrusted electric foot buffer. But let’s call it what it really is: a callous shaver with the hardest substance known to man ready to take on my rock-hard feet.

The most powerful callous warrior I've met

The machine with tiny diamonds encrusted on the belt

His gift was that he was going to buff my feet until they were baby smooth, and THEN give me a foot massage that he could bear. (I suspect the fact that the machine was electric and looked and sounded like an industrial wood planer added to the appeal for him.) So we sat down and I read while he went to work on my feet. I couldn’t help but laugh at how seriously he took it! He was so intent on filing down every single patch of rough skin. There was “dust” (aka dead callous skin) flying while he worked away, never tiring, just planing away at my feet with all the effort he could muster. The buzzing went on for so long and was so intense that my husband said after he wondered whether I’d have any feet left at all. But they ended up perfectly, beautifully smooth. My son had done an amazing job. (He then half-heartedly massaged them, but the real effort had been done). It was the best Mother’s Day gift ever.

It occurred to me that this may not have been the same Mother’s Day experience as most of his peers. But breakfast in bed will never work for me. I’m up and running and building foot callouses before anyone else is up. This is my kids’ reality – like it or not. They got a runner as a mom.

 

My running fantasy

AF3

I had a day the other week where I was recovering from an illness and didn’t have any planned or scheduled runs to do as part of my training. But I did have a few errands and appointments to get to, didn’t have a car, and I happened to have time. So I put my bag on my back and ran (or more aptly, jogged) all around town. It was such a great feeling, and led me to a premonition (or fantasy?) of myself in my later years.

It’s an image of a 60-something woman who just runs everywhere she goes. She no longer cares about races, or times, or proving herself or trying to remain young and fast. She doesn’t care where she falls in the rankings nor what is said about her as a runner. She doesn’t track her time or count her miles. She doesn’t have hard days or easy days. She runs where the patterns of her day and energy take her. Sometimes she gets a good stride going, but usually she just jogs along. She runs with a little knapsack which holds her wallet, phone and maybe a book in case she feels like stopping to read. She runs to visit friends, she runs to appointments, she runs her errands. If she needs to be somewhere which doesn’t require highway driving, she will plan to be there in the amount of time it will take her to run there. On some days she doesn’t have to go far, and on those days she doesn’t run very much. On other days she runs across the city and back. It’s never a bother for her to go to the bookstore to pick up a new book she’s been meaning to read, or to meet a friend uptown for lunch – she likes looking for new running destinations. She’s always running but she’s never in a rush. Whenever she sees someone she knows she stops to chat, and if her phone rings and it’s someone she’d like to speak with, she answers it. She doesn’t stop her watch when she stops to chat since she isn’t timing her run anyway. If she gets hungry she might stop at a cafe and sit down for a sandwich and coffee before resuming her run. Some people who don’t know her well call her “that lady who runs everywhere”. She doesn’t mind. She knows she’s a bit eccentric. Most people call her “that happy lady who runs everywhere” because she is almost always smiling.

I’m not there yet. I’m still fitting my runs into busy days and I’m still timing and measuring myself – trying to get as fast as I can in the limited amount of time I have. I’m not at a stage in life yet where I’m calm or at peace. I’m striving and working and pushing. And I’m enjoying it! I just think this pace may not last for another 30 years, and when I stop struggling, I hope to be that lady.

Kind of getting a little sick of winter running

I generally like to stay positive, especially when I know I could be influencing other peoples’ moods. And I will always love running and generally enjoy changes in seasons as it keeps the routine from getting stale. However, two months into winter I’m sort of over the new and exciting challenges that it brings to running. I need to blow off a little steam about things that are bugging me about running right now. Once it’s off my chest I’m sure I’ll feel better and be able to enjoy running in slushy negative temp conditions again. So here is a list of a few things I (don’t hate) but dislike about running in the winter:

1. My constant failure to get my layering perfect. When the days fluctuate between -5C to -25C within a twelve hour window, it’s really a crap-shoot whether you’ve dressed appropriately. Even if you are perfectly dressed for half of your run, chances are the same combo won’t work once the wind hits you from another direction. Just today I had the annoyingly unpleasant sensation of being too hot on my upper body while at least two of my toes were completely numb from cold.

Another uplifting forecast

Another uplifting forecast

2. Lack of sidewalk space. Most of us city runners have perfected the sidewalk dodge, and are pretty good at judging other pedestrians’ pace and patterns so we can zip between people, strollers and dogs without breaking stride. In winter though it’s a different story. On most sidewalks right now there is room for about one and a half people to pass with snowbanks lining the path on both sides. If absolutely everyone is looking up and follows courteous passing rules (one foot each in a snowbank while turning sideways) then it all can work. Mostly this doesn’t happen though. The other day I was running along the sidewalk and coming towards me were a mother and her young son. I committed to the side of the boy, thinking there would be more room, but then noticed his eyes were covered by his toque and scarf and his head was bent down to protect his face from the blasting wind. His mother and I both saw what was going to happen, but there was nothing to do. There was nowhere to go. Instead of diving into the nearest snowbank I simply stopped and braced myself for the full impact of him walking directly into me.

Good luck passing anything larger than a Chihuahua here

Good luck passing anything larger than a Chihuahua here

3. My poor skin. I know I’m going to sound vain here, but is there anything less attractive than dry, pale, weather-beaten skin? Especially when that skin is on your face? As I approach 40 I’m already concerned enough about every new wrinkle and line. I feel like the skin on my face suddenly just gave up all at once – like the elastic in a bathing suit which suddenly lets go. And yes, I blame winter.

In desperation I've taken to slathering my cooking oil on my face

In desperation I’ve taken to slathering my cooking oil on my face

Ok, I’ll stop there. Winter running can be glorious, gorgeous and fun. There is a lot to love about it, and mostly I do. There, see? I feel better already. Thanks for listening.

The Do’s and Don’ts of multi-tasking for busy runners

Like most runners, I have many obligations which I have to fit around my daily runs. I try to run in the early mornings so that I’m not taking from any other bucket, but that doesn’t seem to stop my unending need to multi-task in order to cram everything into my days. Through trial and error I’ve learned which tasks can be combined, and which cannot. I will share my list with you so that you too can be an efficient runner and don’t make the same errors I have in trying to combine the wrong activities.

Activities: Eating and showering.
Scenario: You’ve come in from a long run and need nourishment asap. You also have to be out the door to an event in 15 minutes. No time to re-fuel and shower, so why not combine them?
Result: Soggy food mixed with soap and hot water.
Status: Multi-tasking Don’t

Activities: Making dinner and doing squats and lunges.
Scenario: Everyone’s hungry but you haven’t done your strength training yet.
Result: Dinner is on time and you have thighs of steel.
Status: Multi-tasking Do

lunges in the kitchen

lunges in the kitchen

Activities: Blow-drying hair and talking on the phone.
Scenario: You’ve just taken over an hour of time to yourself by running and showering, and are about to head out to your next activity, but you owe a call to your friend/sister/aunt.
Result: One-way yelling conversation because you can’t hear and your hair ends up frizzy anyway because you couldn’t hold the brush and hairdryer and phone at the same time.
Status: Multi-tasking Don’t (you’ll have to text her from your event)

Activities: Going for a run and catching up with a friend.
Scenario: You’ve missed the last five group get-togethers with your girlfriends and you failed on catching up over the phone because you had to blow-dry your hair, so you schedule a run-chat date.
Result: Your run flies by and you have great one-on-one chatting time with your bud.
Status: Multi-tasking Do

running and bonding

running and bonding

Activities: Looking after kids and getting work done on a computer.
Scenario: The kids have a PA day but you have a deadline and think you may be able to get some work done while kids entertain themselves.
Result: You can’t focus because of shouting, unsupervised arts ‘n crafts has left you with a two-hour clean-up job and everyone’s climbing the walls.
Status: Multi-tasking Don’t

outcome after unsupervised arts 'n crafts

outcome after unsupervised arts ‘n crafts

Activities: Looking after kids and getting a workout in.
Scenario: You slept through your 5 a.m. alarm, it’s the same PA day and you have kids with you all day. This is the easiest one! Take them to a pool and sneak in some 30 second pool-run sprints, take them to a gym and do burpees while they throw balls, take them to an indoor court and play “chase” while doing wind-sprints.
Result: Kids are happy and tired out and you got some high-intensity cross-training in.
Status: Multi-tasking Do

running out all our beans in a contained space

running out all our beans in a contained space

With some creativity and an open mind, combining your to-do list really can allow you to fit everything in. Just make sure you get the combinations right – it can be either Win-Win or a giant fail!

5 a.m.

The other day I was picking my kids up from school alongside my friend Roz who was doing the same. My younger one had been home sick all day but I had to drag her out to pick up her brother. Roz’ younger one was under-napped for having taken part in a school concert. Our boys were typically being silly, excited, and revved up on sugar as a result of the celebrations from one of their last days of school before the holidays. Roz and I were desperately trying to carry/cajole small people while locating boots, gloves, books of older siblings. Everyone was instantly ravenous and otherwise uncomfortable in some way which seemed to require immediate attention. It was only 3 p.m. We had five hours ahead of us which would involve getting everyone home, dinner made, a creative kid activity that involved exercise (unless we wanted three hours of constant whining and/or screen time), and then the bedtime routine including bath, snack, teeth and story. Tranquility and downtime seemed so far away. Roz and I looked at each other and both said simultaneously:”I can’t wait until 5 a.m.”

5 a.m. is when we meet to run. I discovered the window for running at 5 a.m. out of necessity. Often there are no other times in my day to fit it in, so I initially tried it out to see if I could do it. It turns out it suits my life perfectly. Sometimes I like to run at 5 a.m. even if I do have the option of going later in the day. There is something so calm and peaceful about that time. No one else needs you, you’re not running away from other responsibilities, you’re not in a rush, you’re not already stressed or annoyed from a recent interaction, you don’t come back in the door to chaos and emergencies. At 5 a.m. the day is a fresh start, full of optimism. You leave a quiet house and return to a quiet house. Roz and I meet and fall into a rhythm beside each other – it’s just us and the empty roads. We have an hour to enjoy this calm, peaceful and rare time to ourselves. We chat or run silently. We laugh or tell serious stories. An hour passes very quickly. I reach the end of these runs relaxed, happy and ready for my loud and busy life. I love the energy and bustle that surrounds me during the day, but once started, there is no ‘off’ switch. I know I need a window to myself in order to remain charged and available for others. Right now that window is at 5 a.m. Maybe in ten years it will be different, but for now I’ll take it and be grateful for it!

The calm before the storm

The calm before the storm


The storm

The storm

A dose of perspective

A few weeks ago I had a very alarming experience. As I was making my bed in the morning, I found a bug lying dead in the sheets. If I had found it in a corner on the floor I wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but it was a BUG in my BED! So of course I googled “bed bug” images and the pictures looked identical to my little critter. I immediately FREAKED OUT. I washed every linen, stuffed animal, pillow and piece of clothing from two bedrooms and gave the house a more thorough vacuuming than it had had in months (probably years). My life seemed to turn upside down in an instant. I would have to tell people close to me and everyone who would normally come to my house. This would cost me thousands of dollars and much mental stress. No one would want to come near me, my husband or our kids. We would be dirty and blacklisted. I felt sick and was shaking all morning. I finally had a window of time to take my bug to public health in the afternoon to have it analyzed. They took one look at it and told me it was not a bed bug. I cannot describe my feeling of relief. Suddenly, I was so happy and it didn’t matter at all what else happened to me. I didn’t have bed bugs! So the house was a mess, I was scrambling for a work deadline, dinner wasn’t planned, I had a million chores to deal with … nothing could bother me because I didn’t have bed bugs. I felt like I had won the lottery. I was the happiest person alive!

It then occurred to me how easy it is to make myself incredibly happy. Just pay attention to how good I have it compared to a potentially worse scenario.

So I thought I would apply this way of thinking to my running. I’ll admit it; I get frustrated when I’m not running as well as I would like, and when my runs don’t feel great I can get a little down. I would love to feel happy about running all the time. So why don’t I just remember how bad it could be? I’m not ill, I’m not injured, I’m not incapable of finding time to fit it in, I’m not lacking for great running partners, I don’t live in an area which makes it dangerous or impossible for me to run. I am really grateful for all of this, and when I think about it it does make me appreciate my situation and running a bit more. But sometimes you just can’t replicate the sense of gratitude and happiness you feel when you really are faced with a negative alternative and come out on the positive side.

I will continue to work on being thankful for what I have and taking nothing for granted – in life and in running. And in the meantime, I have learned another very important life lesson: do not to let your kids jump in the leaves outside and then jump on your bed.

A real bed bug (NOT my bug)

A real bed bug (NOT my bug)

My running crew

My sister and I are creatures of habit. We know if we want to run our best we need to do an interval workout at least once a week. We live near each other and have similarly busy lives, and since misery loves company, we started doing these workouts together every Wednesday morning at 5:30 a.m. (the only time we had). This was about three years ago. Once we started we just kept up our pattern. Every Wednesday morning – rain or shine, even through the darkest, iciest, coldest winter mornings, we would meet and run hill repeats or hard intervals together.

My loyal workout buddy doing hills at 5:30 a.m. in January

My loyal workout buddy doing hills at 5:30 a.m. in January

One day we thought it would be nice to have some more company. So we started telling people it was fun. If we heard that someone was a runner and lived nearby, we immediately tried to sell them on the idea of joining us at 5:30 a.m. We got a few out – one very consistently, so we became a bit of a trio for a year. Sometimes there were four of us, so we started calling ourselves a “running crew”. Then we used the warmer months to bring more people in. More stayed on. Amazingly we went through the next winter with some freezing workouts bringing as many as six runners out.

It has now been just over two years since we started our “running crew”, and we have a group of up to sixteen runners (we average about 8-10 people per workout) who meet to do hills or repeats ranging from 400 m to a mile every Wednesday at 5:30 a.m. Bodies converge at our meeting place in the dark, a few pleasantries are shared, we wait a few minutes for those we know are making their way over, I go over the workout and we jump in. We don’t talk much – there’s not usually enough time or oxygen for small talk. We bond through the shared experience of waking up in the dark and working our butts off to get faster. We’re all moms and dads, although that’s not a prerequisite for our group. There are no prerequisites, running credentials or membership dues required: you just have to show up and run. However, we are the ones for whom 5:30 a.m. seems like a great idea, because it’s the only window which works. Once we’re finished, we don’t hang around and enjoy our post-workout buzz. We hurry home quickly to start our busy days. Our crew contains teachers, a firefighter, business VPs, directors and managers, a doctor, sales and marketing executives, entrepreneurs. Some of us have gotten deep into professional careers and are now focusing on raising families (I suspect these are the busiest amongst us!)

Definitely not making small talk at the top of a hill repeat

Definitely not making small talk at the top of a hill repeat

We’ve managed to get together for a few social events and sometimes a few of us can even coordinate busy weekend schedules to do long runs together. It turns out I really like these bodies in the dark who run, sweat, grunt, gasp and spit beside me on early Wednesday mornings. Who would have guessed? I’m glad my sister and I told them it was fun – I think some of them may now actually be starting to believe us.

Enjoying a mid-morning pint together after the STWM Half Marathon

Enjoying a mid-morning pint together after the STWM Half Marathon

Are you running for times or for your body?

The other day I was having dinner with a friend and I was contemplating my feelings about coming up on 40. It will happen next summer. I said I’m pretty happy with most things about getting older. I’d rather be who I am now than who I was ten years ago. The only thing I’m not looking forward to, I told her, is continuing to train just as hard, only to see my race times slow down. My friend looked at me uncomprehendingly and said “Who cares?!? You look fantastic!” (she’s a true friend). But I thought – wait – did she mishear me? I wasn’t talking about my looks, I was talking about my race times. It dawned on me that to some people running has a completely different purpose than chasing times. They train to look good. Which is fine. I’ll be honest, I’m very happy with the physical consequences of running hard. But my workouts are designed with one purpose in mind: to make me a faster runner. They’re not about sculpting or shedding or firming. I have the luxury of not thinking too much about my body because my goal of trying to get faster sort of takes care of that. But it made me wonder … how much do I really “not care”? So I played a game with myself to see (I like torturing myself with mind games this way.)

What if the Devil made a deal with me that I could take a minute off my 5K time this year (I’d still have to train just as hard so I deserved it) but I’d have to carry 5 extra pounds of fat on my body for a year? I would take that deal.

What if I could take two minutes off my time but I’d have to carry 10 extra pounds of fat for a year? I’m hesitating. I’m stuck on that one.

I guess I’ve been kidding myself because although I like working hard to run fast, obviously I wouldn’t be willing to unconditionally trade in times for my body (which by the way isn’t even close to perfect, but another benefit of coming up on 40 is that I’m finally comfortable in it).

My friend with whom I’d brought this up wouldn’t take an ounce of fat for a 10 minute PB. I interviewed another friend who I thought would struggle more with the question, as she works hard for her times and cares about them a lot, but she wouldn’t do the 5 pounds for 1 minute deal either. Hunh.

I would love to ask Shalane Flannigan. I bet she would take on 30 pounds for three years in exchange for the American record in the marathon (around 2 minutes faster than what she’s run). But I could be wrong – it is one of those things which is impossible to know until the Devil is actually there asking you to sign the deal.

I suppose all runners must fall somewhere along the scale of running only for times vs. running only for the physical benefits. The truth is, in reality the two are so inextricably linked that it really is hard to pose the hypothetical question of “which one is driving you?” It’s fun to try though – go ahead and test yourself – your answers may surprise you!

My love/hate relationship with this photo: I like how I look, but not the time. (so conflicted!)

My love/hate relationship with this photo: I like how I look, but not the time. (so conflicted!)

Back to a schedule

I’m writing this on the last official day of summer vacation. Tomorrow my two kids are back to school and with that comes predictable schedules and routines. Although I’ve enjoyed and made the most of our unstructured time together this summer, my running is definitely ready for some re-commitment and a healthy dose of planning and structure.

Throughout the long days of summer we were relaxed about bed times and I often let my kids play outside until their usual school bedtime. The result was that everyone would sleep in (including me). If I got myself into a sleep deprived hole, there was no recovery and little enjoyment for anyone. During the day, my kids and I would decide on a whim whether to hop on our bikes to go to the pool, meet up with friends at a park, hit an amusement park, or just run some un-rushed errands together. We reconnected with old friends and family, and prioritized activities which everyone could do together, like hiking, windsurfing, cycling, swimming or just hanging out together. Running seemed to become a little less of a priority to me and it was a little harder to make sure all of my workouts and long runs stayed on schedule.

Here are some things I prioritized over running:

Bumper cars
photo(73) copy 9_2

Catching butterflies
photo(73) copy 13

Late night circus show
photo(73) copy 11

Tubing
photo(73) copy 24

Windsurfing
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Paddling
photo(73) copy 21

Exploring
IMG_0209

I was aware this was happening, but instead of fighting it I decided to go with the flow. Yes, running routines thrive under structure, and I’m sure the elites don’t let loose-ended days and spontaneity get in the way of their training. But I’m old enough to appreciate the fleeting nature of summer, and my kids are young enough that I know this phase together will not last much longer. So I ran as much and as hard as I could without imposing my schedule on others and without losing the free-flowing nature of summer.

Now we’re back to reality with schedules, bed-times, wake-up times, planned activities, and responsibilities. For this to work with my running I must cling to a tightly imposed schedule – and I do. I actually don’t mind it at all – it’s the only way to make it all work. So I welcome fall and the return to structured activities, but I do not regret for a second the training I missed throughout the summer.