All Done!

I have a very vivid memory from early motherhood etched in my brain. My son Hugo was under two-years old and we were flying from Halifax to Toronto together (my husband was driving). I remember Hugo’s age specifically because if your child was under two you didn’t have to purchase a separate seat as they were still considered to be small enough to fit on your lap. I was also about 7 months pregnant with my daughter, so there were essentially three of us sharing one small airplane seat. And when you’re almost two, you wear hard-soled running shoes and you don’t like to sit in one spot, so it was a physically uncomfortable and demanding situation for all of us.

But what I remember so vividly is a moment just before we’d taken off. Hugo had been excited about the airplane experience and loved the big jets and wings and the fact that he was inside of one of these machines. However that excitement quickly faded after about 5 minutes of being forced to sit on my lap in a boring seat. I had used up all of my snacks, games, books, colouring and toys within the first 10 minutes – again, before we had even taken off. As we were still taxiing on the runway, lining up for our turn to take-off, Hugo stood on my lap, pressed his face against the window of the plane and declared: “All done! Hugo all done airplane!”

I love how very young kids can assess a situation and declare the facts so clearly. He wasn’t asking or pleading or bargaining – he didn’t know how to do any of those things yet. He was just making a firm statement about his situation. He was over it. And of course the sad part was we then both had to deal with another two and a half hours in the airplane which he was thoroughly done with.

April, 2009. Almost 2 and pretty sure he knows what he wants but no idea how to go about getting it.

And this is exactly how I feel about winter right now. At first I got into it and even loved it. We celebrated the first snowfall, we’ve enjoyed lots of skiing, skating and tobogganing, appreciated cozy evenings around a fire, and I’ve even had many beautiful, enjoyable runs in the snow and cold. But now, by the end of February, the list of negatives has tipped the scales. I’ve joined many of my running buddies in the “winter wipe-out club”. I’m experiencing the lower leg niggles that you get from too much mileage on slushy, slippery surfaces. I’ve relegated yet another tempo run to the treadmill so I can hit paces.  All of my running shoes are stiff and salt-encrusted with laces which refuse to bend. My outdoor runs contain countless full-stops to either get around other people navigating the same single track of sidewalk, avoid giant ice puddles or hurdle snowbanks.

At this point I can officially say, “All done! Seanna all done Winter!”

But unfortunately, much like the airplane situation, I don’t think winter is done with me yet.

Current view of the sidewalk outside my door. Sigh…

Touch of Grey

I know it’s cliché to have a New Year’s resolution, and most of them tend to be forgotten within a month or two. But I do like the idea of taking a moment to reflect on my life and whether I am making decisions which reflect my values. That’s what I’ve been doing lately and I’ve decided that my resolution this year is to operate under the influence of a new guiding value.

It’s easy for me to get caught up automatic pilot and habits which are driven by tangible, visible rewards and achievements. I have a “to-do” list every day and I want to accomplish it and check things off. I want to run more miles, add more cycling and strength training to my routine, get better at x-country skiing, make some big changes and advances in my business, write more (even start a book), participate in leadership volunteer roles within my community, make sure my kids are well rounded in their after school activities and make it to all of their programs, coach my personal group of runners with thought and care, create healthy, nourishing meals every day for my family, sleep more, read more, … I’m sure this list looks familiar to many people. In fact I see a lot of my friends and acquaintances actually doing it all! But I’ve decided to add one guiding value to it: do it all with grace.

Grace – from the Collins online dictionary:

  1. If someone behaves with grace, they behave in a pleasant, polite, and dignified way, even when they are upset or being treated unfairly.
  2. If someone moves with grace, they move in a smooth, controlled, and attractive way.

I want to do both of these things. For me maintaining grace means remaining composed and mindful and thinking of those around me instead of pursuing my own single-minded goals whatever the cost. I would also like to visualize myself moving a little more like a dancer than a headless chicken if at all possible.

How I would like to visualize myself going about my daily tasks


What I unfortunately sometimes more likely resemble


This has come to my mind often over the last little while as I see myself and those around me hurrying around wildly, showing up to pick up or drop off kids in a disheveled frenzy, getting irritated by everyone and everything because we’ve left ourselves no margin of error in our schedules. No time for a pause or a spontaneous conversation with an acquaintance, no compassion for someone’s car accident which is making us late, no time or desire to humour or our kids’ whims to dawdle or stop and investigate an interesting new path. Sure, we can get it all done. We’ve shown we can keep up and achieve in this competitive environment. But can we do it with grace? I don’t want to cram more in, I want to do it all more elegantly. And that will likely mean letting some things go.

So maybe this year we’ll have a few less well thought-out nutritionally balanced dinners, I won’t get all of my planned weights workouts in, we won’t all get to bed right on time, some long runs might suffer, and I won’t finish my book by the summer. But what I do accomplish I hope to manage it with a smile, calm confidence, kindness and compassion, and hopefully a few spontaneous, interesting side conversations along the way 🙂


“The ABC’s we all must face. Try to keep a little grace.” – The Grateful Dead

Is coaching in danger of becoming obsolete?

I’ve just finished reading a very interesting book evaluating some potential trajectories of where our species could be headed: Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. There were many eye opening insights for me in this book. One of them was how quickly artificial intelligence is advancing and how it is very likely that in the not-too-distant future very very many jobs will be performed by robots and algorithms. The author made the point that human beings are a dominant species because of superior data processing skills but we will soon be surpassed in all areas on this feat by computers. Being able to take in all the variables and come up with the best solution, whether it’s buying/selling stocks, investing a company’s marketing dollars, making an informed legal decision, deciding what medical treatment someone needs, will be way more efficiently done by an algorithm. That means that all the soft skill jobs which surround these positions (managers, assistants, directors) will also become obsolete.

This got me thinking a lot about coaching (specifically for athletic pursuits.) It seems obvious that this could be one of the first roles to become obsolete – and for some it already has. We have watches which track our heart rate, power output, sleep, nutrition and our related performances. We have websites which can provide us with advanced technical training schedules and advice. As these devices become more sophisticated and personalized it is not unreasonable to see a future where all performance athletes are “coached” by an algorithm specific to their physical and genetic make-up as it relates to their goals. Based on my current resting heart rate, hormone levels, performance history and the time of day, I should do hill repeats today if I want to race my fastest 10K in three weeks. But you should do weights to maximize your training value. And our other training buddy should do an easy run with some pick-ups.

Kudos from my watch.

It sounds like the perfect system. But there is something missing there. I am a running coach and I have been coached by various different people over the years. I’ve also been a competitive runner for long enough to pretty much know what I need to do in order to reach my goals (close to 30 years if you must know.) The biggest value that my coaches have offered me is not my precise technical training plan, but their human-ness. By this I mean, I’ve benefitted by just having someone – a person – in my corner. When I’m in the middle of a race, I would much rather look up and see my coach than look down and read my watch. It motivates me differently. It’s the same thing after a race: I want to tell my coach how I did because he or she was invested in me and that matters. They care. My watch buzzing “you reached you goal!” feels a bit hollow.

The problem, as I’ve discovered with my own coaching, is that providing this level of service has a numbers cap. Really caring about someone takes a fair amount of time and energy. It is immensely rewarding, but it is not simple. It can’t be replaced by an algorithm which is “applicable to all.” Finding a good coach who cares about you might get you similar results to a plan off the internet, but it is worth so so much more. When you share a problem, worry or defeat with another human, it literally takes the weight off you. When you share a success or joy with someone who cares, it amplifies it. I don’t know if the smartest brains in Silicone Valley can come up with an algorithm that can replicate that.

Maybe this will be our future. As our jobs are all replaced by robots and artificial intelligence we’ll all start investing our time in personal growth, development and athletic goals.  And the workforce will be made up of the human coaches who help us get there.

Coaching some people I care about.

Why you should start a running group at work

Most of us accept that nowadays there is very little gap between our work and personal lives. We are connected to our work through devices at all times, and many of us feel that we’re ‘on call’ or representing our workplaces regardless of our physical location or the time of day. For this reason, many professionals seek out work that is meaningful to them.  Just as people are expected to “become their jobs” their workplaces also have the onus of developing them as people. It is no longer “show up and get a paycheck”. It is “invest in us and we’ll invest in you”. The more progressive workplaces are now seen as places where we can continue to develop, learn and grow as individuals while we contribute our talents and energy.

I’ve been thinking about this as I watch my kids and their schoolmates who are developing, learning and growing in elementary school. I coach their cross-country team and I love watching all of them learn a little more about themselves each season. I encourage as many kids as possible to come out and run, as sports is one of the best ways that they learn and grow: they develop confidence, learn how to deal with failure, start to develop resilience and appreciate the benefits of teamwork and cheering each other on. Many of the kids who come out to our running club don’t participate in other sports, but they do this one because we’ve made it the cultural norm. They get t-shirts, they are celebrated, and most of their friends do it (that’s why my own kids take part!) The barrier to entry is very low, and the learning experience is very high.

Kids learning and growing together

So back to the workplace: if we want individuals to continue to develop and learn and grow to their full potential, physical education in the workplace should not be ignored. I am very grateful to have worked at a company which valued this during my early years in the workforce. I was employed by the sportswear company adidas, and as you might expect, the culture was stereotypically one which valued sport and the participation in sport. Everyone was encouraged to play, train, run, sweat. No one ever had to make an excuse to leave work to get to the ice to play hockey or “sneak out” at lunch for a run. It was encouraged and expected, from the top down. The in-house gym was never a lonely place. Typically at lunch I would run with my boss, my boss’ boss and often the president of the company. When I started in a marketing role I soon learned that my boss, my boss’ boss, and my boss’ boss’ boss (yes, I was fairly low down the totem pole) had all done the Ironman, and it was somewhat expected that I would as well. Some of these people were natural endurance athletes and others were average joe’s who took up the challenge. But it was a culture of getting out there and doing it which was contagious to everyone around. So I signed up, trained for and completed the Ironman, knowing I had the full support and endorsement of my employer. Looking back I realize how rare and special this was. I learned a lot about myself and grew tremendously as an individual because of the athletic opportunities I took with the help of my employer.

If we really want to invest in the education and personal development of people, whether it’s kids at school or employees in an office, we cannot leave out the physical aspect. Some school educators get this better than others, and some workplaces do as well. We don’t all have to do an Ironman, but why not endorse participation a local 5K or 10K? It’s as simple as creating a culture where it’s the norm. Speaking from experience, when your boss’ boss’ boss is going for a run, you do too. And you will very likely learn a lot about yourself in the process.

Adults learning and growing together



Conflicting priorities – how do you decide?

I’ll be the first to admit that making decisions is not my strong point. I don’t think many people would refer to me as ‘opinionated’. I tend to see all sides of an argument or story, even when I’m actually trying to pick a side. When forced to make a decision, I first do a lot of listening, gather information, mull it over (usually throughout a few runs), chat about it, do a gut check, and then finally make a choice. I know life moves faster than that, so I can and do make quicker decisions, I’m just not that invested in them. I see this as a strength as I can change directions easily and with little fuss. As the wind blows…

However I do think about how I am supposed to make the “right” decision, especially when it comes to conflicting priorities, like work, family, and my own athletic pursuits. Here is an example I’m struggling with; I find longer tempo workouts particularly challenging on my own, and therefore I don’t do them as often or as well as I should if I want to realize my best results in races. I do however have a coach and group of runners to run with and push me on the exact day I need to do my tempos – Saturday mornings. But these workouts are across town and what I could get done on my own in an hour if I just stepped out my door could take me three hours if I meet the group. So then I’m stuck deciding… is it worth it? Three hours away from my kids and family on a Saturday for a better quality workout? I play it out over the long run – what could these workouts possibly lead to? Maybe 10-15 seconds faster in a 5K, 30 seconds to a minute in a Half Marathon? Do I care about that more than say going for a family bike ride or hike or library visit which we love doing together? But then, what if my kids are being ungrateful brats who are whiny and refuse to do anything (it sometimes happens) and I’m stuck with them for an extra two hours vs. doing something rewarding and energizing for myself? See what I mean? There is no clear answer as to what the “right” decision is. If I were completely invested in my running and results I would do the workouts. And if I didn’t care at all about running results I’d invest the time with my kids. My reality is somewhere in the middle.

I guess like most things in my life, I’ll probably just compromise. I’ll go to the workouts sometimes and do family time sometimes. I won’t be the best, most present parent, and I won’t be the fastest runner I can be. That’s just how it’ll be for now. Until the wind changes direction again and a new option pops up.

Gratitude Letter (of sorts) to my coach

A few months ago I took a mindfulness course. As part of it I was supposed to write a Gratitude Letter. This is a letter to someone who has had a positive impact in your life. You are supposed to write down all of the things you’re grateful for and then send it to them. I didn’t do this. But I did do it in my head. My person was my running coach who I started training with when I was 15; Ross Ristuccia. Since that first practice in 1991 when I showed up at Winston Churchill Park in my shorts, t-shirt and running shoes, Ross has been a steady, guiding influence in my life. He’s never asked anything of me, but I’ve always known that he will be there and eager to help me whenever I ask him. There is a lot to be said for unconditional, reliable support. Especially as you go through all of the torrent of changes which happen between the ages of 15 and 42 (there are a few). I often think about what Ross has had to hear from me over the years. Here is a sampling in chronological order.

“Ross, I can’t run today – I brought the wrong bra”

“Ross, I ate too much before practice and have sour burps”

“Ross, I know you said not to really run the Terry Fox 10K at school because I have practice today, but I kind of raced my friend, so now I’m tired”

“Ross, I’m tired from swimming and my shins hurt from wearing cleats for field hockey”

“Ross, my parents found a 2-4 of beer under my bed and now I’m in trouble”

“Ross, I know you tell me to slow down and not do too much sometimes, but I’m a teenager, so I’ll listen but I won’t really hear you”

“Ross, I’m injured”

“Ross, you know those shorts you once told me you don’t like because they’re not very professional looking for big meets? Big mistake. I will now wear them every single time. Just because I’m a teenager and we kind of like to test people and we’re assholes sometimes”

“Ross, do you think smoking would hurt my 1500 m time?”

“Ross, I’ll be working up north all summer and I might run sometimes if it works for me”

“Ross, I’m back – can you get me back in shape?”

“Ross, I’m leaving for university out of town. I expect to be able to show up at your workouts whenever I’m in town and it suits me though, ok?”

“Hi Ross, I’m back”

“Hi Ross, I’m back”

“Hi Ross, I’m back”

“Ross, I’m traveling. Don’t know when you’ll see me again”

“Hi Ross, I’m back”

“Ross, work and life are stressful. I just need the constant grounding presence of you and a workout”

“Ross I want to run marathons – will you train me?”

“Ross, now I’m doing an Ironman. I’ll show up for your workouts when it suits me”

“Ross, can you make me fast again?”

“Ross, I’m getting married! Ya, same guy you used to coach in high school too”

“Ross, I’m pregnant”

Long silence

“Ross, I’m pregnant again”

“Ross, not sure what I want to do with my life. Can I try coaching with you?”

“Ross, now I have my own business and my kids are busy. I can’t do it anymore”

Long silence.

“Ross – Thank You for Everything”

What it’s like to walk vs race a marathon

I’ve run (or I should say raced) many marathons. At least 10 I think. People have asked me later about some fact or other about the course or the scenery, and I’ve had absolutely no idea. When I’m racing, I’m extremely internally and process focused, and only register the outside world in fleeting glimmers. In Philadelphia I think we ran through a zoo, but I don’t recall one specific detail of that. In Chicago all I remember is seeing Paula Radcliffe at the start; I couldn’t tell you one thing about the course. In Sacramento I remember my friend cheering me on halfway through – that’s it. It almost seems pointless for me to go somewhere beautiful to race a marathon because that is not what I will take in.

But this year I decided to walk a marathon. The Catalina Marathon to be exact, which is on Catalina Island: 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles. It is beautiful and scenic and contains over 4000 feet of total elevation. My husband was racing and it was point to point, and logistics proved that the best way to meet him at the finish was to walk there. Plus I would be accompanied by a very fun crew of people also walking it. What a different experience! Here are the pros of walking a marathon:

1.You don’t have to stress about getting enough rest and good nutrition in the days before. This worked out well for me with all the travel it took to get there. Also, once on the island I enjoyed a beautiful run, not worrying about time or pace, and finished with whatever I wanted to eat, including a beer.

2. You don’t have to wake up super early in order to eat and digest breakfast before the race. In fact, you can take your last bite of food and sip of coffee while walking!

3. You also don’t have to worry about warming up. You just start walking.

4. You can eat whatever you want at all of the aid stations because you can walk and digest at the same time (so wonderful)

My diet throughout the Catalina Marathon

5. You can even drink a beer at the beer station!

I’m sure it was after noon somewhere …

6. You can stop to pee whenever you need to (which, it turns out is much more often than when racing – especially if you’ve had a beer)

7. You can take in the beautiful scenery in every spectacular detail. You can even stop to take pictures!

I definitely paused to take it all in.

8. You can have great conversations with the people you’re walking with. You can ask insightful questions and respond with well thought out sentences instead of communicating in gutteral grunts.

Some of the amazing people I was lucky to share this experience with.

9. When you finish, you feel quite good vs. like a truck has just run you over.

10. You actually look forward to going for a run the next day.

I sure took a lot of footsteps – but they didn’t leave me feeling wrecked.

So would I walk a marathon again? Sure! But I’d have very different criteria from marathons I race. To walk a marathon it should have: nice scenery, good food on course (beer a plus), enjoyable warm-ish walking temperatures, changes and undulations in the course are appreciated, and I’d have to do it with good company.

To race a marathon I would like: lots of port-a-potties at the start, cool temperatures for racing, water/sports drink every 5km, scenery not a requisite but would like a flat, fast course, and any human bodies will do to run with as long as they’re running my pace.

That’s not all too much to ask, is it?

Running (and thinking) like a kid

As a parent it is hard not to see the world through kids’ eyes a lot of the time. Usually our role as adults is to guide them and re-direct them to see the world through the perspective which we have gained through experience. There’s a reason we are boring to them – we are grounded in reality. “No, you can’t wear a cape and ‘fly’ off the roof.” “No, you can’t eat glow-in-the-dark slime and become a radioactive superhero.” “No, you can’t shoot firecrackers behind a skateboard for propulsion.” You know, the usual. But in observing my son and his friends in sports, I noticed something we could all stand to re-learn.

My son is 10 years old. This year he decided that he wanted to learn to snowboard. It did not suit our family schedule (or budget) to get him lessons, so he was left to learn on his own for a few hours every weekend. I had never witnessed him in action, as I was either off cross-country skiing or reading in the chalet. However, he would regale me with tales of his carves and “wicked airs”. I knew that in reality he was probably spending a lot of time on his butt, but in his head he was basically Mark McMorris. He never got discouraged or lost confidence.

To you it’s the bunny hill. To them it’s Pyeong Chang.

My friend’s son is the same. Despite never actually having played football, he is such a keen fan and observer that he could “pretty much basically probably make it into the NFL”. My nephew is “basically the 11 year-old equivalent of Lionel Messi.” While watching the Olympics my son will muse, “I wonder which sport I’d like to go to the Olympics in.” Never once questioning that he might not make it.

I don’t think this is false confidence. They know that they fall and lose and drop the ball a lot. What it is is fantasy which fuels their action. They are doggedly optimistic and happy in their fantasy worlds, which is why they keep dusting themselves off. While they are out doing their thing, in their heads they are the best. They go all in with enthusiasm and joy and dreams.

I think I remember a time when I would run this way. When I was 15, in my head I was Uta Pippig (I know this dates me – today it would likely be Shalane Flanagan). I would run imagining the glory of being the fastest runner in the world. I wasn’t constrained by the boring reality of my actual split times or paltry training regimen. Fantasy fueled me and energized me and propelled me forward.

This is something I want to get back. To live and think a little more like a kid and allow my fantasies and dreams to excite me instead of being grounded in the mundane reality of my actual racing potential. Olympics 2022, here I come!

Sick Runners

When I go to my doctor if I’m feeling ill, whether I think it may be Strep Throat, Bronchitis, or some other malady, I usually say, “… and my other symptom is that my runs feel really hard.” Then she looks at me and I can see her thinking, “well, if you’re still running, you can’t be that sick.”

The thing is, with runners, going for a run is no barometer or indicator of how well everything else is going in our lives. We don’t wake up every day and decide whether we’re going to go for a run or not. That decision has been made. It doesn’t take willpower or mental energy. We don’t consider the pros and cons and then make the decision. We skip all that. We just go. That’s the only way we’re able to do it so consistently every day. We just know we are going. The only question is how the run will play out based on our physical and emotional states and the conditions. Some days obviously feel way better than others, but we don’t pick and choose based on a scale of how ‘good’ it will be.

I liken it to brushing your teeth. Once it’s a habit, you just do it. You don’t consider every night before going to bed whether you will brush your teeth or not. It’s just what you do. Missing a night won’t kill you, and you rationally know you won’t get cavities in one night, but you miss it and you feel more comfortable doing it.

So it is even when we are sick. My thinking process goes like this: “Well, I’m up. I’m making lunches for my kids. I have to get dressed and walk them to school. If I can put one foot in front of the other I may as well run.” No, these are not my ‘best’ runs. They are short and slow. But I’m pretty sure they don’t make me feel worse. Since I don’t have a decision making process, I don’t know how to decide whether to go or not. Unless I physically can not put one foot in front of the other, my default ‘habit’ is to go for a run. I also have to be extremely sick not to brush my teeth before going to bed. It’s the same logic.

I know this may look obsessive and unhealthy from the outside, but it is just two sides of the same coin. I don’t deserve kudos for having the ‘willpower’ to run every day because it takes no willpower, but I also have an ingrained habit which is powerful and hard to turn off. I have a friend who ran the Boston Marathon with walking pneumonia. Unlike some who might have thought he was masochistic and nuts, I understood. He had made the decision a long time ago. He was running Boston. How it played out might change, but the decision to run was not up for question.

So when people say “well, if you’re running you can’t be that sick” I always smile inwardly. They don’t know runners.

Still running…

Running Sucks

Running Sucks. Doesn’t that feel good to say? There’s something satisfying and cathartic in saying it. Let’s face it, even though we’re “Runners” and we know we’ll always be back, sometimes it just feels good to say “Eff this”. I mean seriously – it’s often hard work and a huge slog. Especially now if you’re training for a marathon through temperatures which are alternating between absolutely suckingly freezing, generally cold and dark, and cold wet rain.

Not an uncommon t-shirt to see. Obviously the message resonates.

Here’s the catch though, and as runners we all know this. Complaining doesn’t get you off the hook. You still need running for all it gives you and all that you get out of it. Your non-running friends will say, “I told you it sucks! If you hate it so much why do you do it?” And you won’t really have an answer. So you know you can only complain in certain circles; amongst runners who know and agree and say, “Ya, this is brutal. Ok, let’s go”.

There are times, maybe during a particularly cold and nasty run, or in the middle of a long, hard, unrelenting training block, or after a string of poor performances, or usually after a marathon, when you actually do say “I’m done. I do not need to do this to myself”. And maybe you actually do need to stop and take a break. I’ve been there. More than once which is how I know it’s not a permanent condition.

My last episode was in the middle of a race which I was using as a training run. I had been getting deeper and deeper into a state of fatigue and over-training by trying to “keep my fitness up” after training for and racing a marathon. I was in a good state of denial though. The weather was perfect for running (it was spring) and all my friends were running. Why would I take time off? I went through weeks of up and down performances and training sessions just getting more and more fatigued and deeper and deeper into a hole. Then in the middle of the race I just said it. “Eff this. I’m done” and stopped dead.

Socks I gave my husband for Christmas. We’re both good at embracing the suck, but also knowing when to say ‘eff it’

That was about eight months ago. I’m happy to say that I don’t currently hate running. In fact, I’m starting to kind of really love it again. I knew I would. I love so much about running and wouldn’t want to live without it but at the same time, it feels so good sometimes to just say “Running Sucks”. So go ahead and say it. Then get your butt out for a run.