Running to keep up (with my kids!)

I’ve heard people use the phrase “I workout so I can keep up with my kids.” I’ve always thought those were thoughts for older parents or really unfit people. As a competitive runner and enthusiast of many sports, I have never worried about being able to keep up with my kids. In fact it’s the opposite: I have always looked forward to the day when they would be able to keep up with me so we could go on athletic adventures together.

My kids are 9 (boy) and 7 (girl). They are generally active and athletic, but they don’t train formally for anything, so they aren’t specialists. Other than the monkeybars, they don’t do the same activity more than once a week. The result of this is that they are ok at most things, but neither of them are experts in any one sport. And I am in generally quite good shape as I run every day and am usually training for a race of any distance varying from 5K to the marathon. So I have always assumed it would be a long time before they’re waiting for me vs. me waiting for them.

But I am getting older, and they are growing quickly.

During our most recent family vacation, we decided to hike up the side of a mountain, for an adventure and to see the view. I wasn’t too worried about my 9 year old, but assumed there would be a lot of stopping and possibly even some complaining from my 7 year old. This is the guidebook’s summary of the trail:

SUMMARY:
This is a rugged and strenuous 5-mile trail from Maalaea to Ukumehame. This is an out-and-back hike with trailheads on either end. Both trailheads are close to sea level and the trail gains ~1600 ft. in 2.5 miles, then descends back toward sea level for another 2.5 miles. The Lahaina Pali Trail is rocky, and the uphill portions can be strenuous and slow-going. It will take a person in good physical condition ~3 hours one-way, including several short stops; give yourself 4-5 Hours if you are in a lesser state of conditioning or plan on taking longer breaks.

Sounded like fun to us! So we packed lots of water and set out.

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-6-52-58-pm

Setting out

My husband has very long legs (and is also quite fit), so I’m used to him walking ahead of me. My 9 year old skipped and ran alongside him to keep up. I figured I’d be the caboose with my daughter, and eventually with both kids. But I only ever saw the back of my son unless they were stopped and waiting for us. As I hiked up alongside my daughter, I realized it really was a tough climb. I was sweating and huffing and puffing. And she didn’t stop chatting once. She kept singing a song and asking me to sing it back to her. Honestly all my focus was on getting up the hill, so I kept forgetting the words. Finally she said “Mummy. It would sound better without all the hard breathing in between the words.” Touché. In my defense, I was the one carrying the pack with all of our water, but I still could not believe that both of my kids seemed to be outpacing me!

"Come ON Mummy! And don't stop singing."

“Come ON Mummy! And don’t stop singing.”

We finally caught up to my husband and son waiting for us 2/3 of the way up – an hour after we’d set out. Still not one complaint from either kid, but my husband and I decided that coming down would be tricky as well so we’d better turn around.

The view from our turnaround point

The view from our turnaround point

It turned out we were right. Coming down technical mountainous trails is very hard on your quads. And I was dead-last in our group. My daughter was very kind and waited for me, provided I continued to work on getting the words to the song correct. My husband and son were nowhere in sight.

So, I guess now I can add “so I can keep up with my kids” to my reasons when people ask me why I run. I really never thought it would come so quickly.

My new workout motivators: King and Queen of the hill

These dudes: providing me with yet another reason to keep running …

Sometimes you just need a medal

I’d been having what you’d call “A DAY”. Just trudging forward all day, through many chores, tasks, and obligations – expected but unrecognized.

It had started at 5 a.m. with a running workout (yay! The only thing for me and which energized me for the first bit of the day) but once in the door it was immediately into the tasks of making breakfasts and lunches and making sure one of my kids got his homework project finished. Such fun at 7:00 a.m.

Not the most relaxing start to the day.

After I’d dropped my kids off at school it was straight off to a meeting, followed by another meeting, and trying to fit a bit of actual work in before having to pick up one kid for an appointment. I did some work during that appointment but then fell asleep in the waiting room (really hoping I didn’t drool), while sitting with my laptop on my lap. After the appointment I was faced with a very moody kid and the task of getting another errand done (his haircut). I then picked up the second kid from her after-school program, only to discover she’d injured herself and was in tears. But we had yet another appointment to get to so I struggled to get two unhappy kids there. I was smiling and cheering and being cheery the whole time, even though I felt physically off with the wrong time of month in play. And then I read some very sad news about a friend. I just wanted to pack it in there. I was done with this day. But I had to keep going and buy food and cook a healthy dinner, clean up lunches, and get homework started (my husband was out of town.)

It was when I started to unpack the lunch bags that I looked on the counter, and saw… my medal from a x-country race the weekend before.

Cue the sound of Angels Singing

Cue the sound of Angels Singing

I normally don’t put much stock in medals or hardware. In most races I decline them because my kids are no longer interested in them and I’m not one of those crafty people who make things out of them. Usually to me, they just represent junk in my house. But I looked at that medal at the exact moment that I needed a medal. And I felt it. I stopped and just looked at it and thought “Ya. That’s my medal. I earned that medal!” I remembered that I’m more than a mom, a friend, a volunteer, a business-person … I’m someone who worked for and earned a medal. Tangible recognition for something I’d done.

I restrained myself from putting it on and wearing it while cooking and serving dinner, but I was close. And it made me think that we should really have more medals in life. Because my God, we deserve them!

What do runners look like when they aren’t running? (don’t ask me…)

Many people say they have trouble remembering peoples’ names after they’ve been introduced. That’s a common problem but once you’re aware of it there are tricks you can use to compensate (for example, make a mental image of something which you associate with their name – such as a banana for someone named Hannah, or use their name a few times within your first conversation). But what if you have a hard time recognizing faces? This is an affliction which affects me, and it become even more pronounced when I see people out of context. More specifically, when I see them in any context other than running.

I have some good friends who I still struggle to identify if I see them in casual clothes or even worse – business clothes! It’s not uncommon for me to be walking down the street and hear “Hi Seanna!” If the speaker is in running clothes I identify them immediately. If not, I start to panic. I usually smile and wave, but depending on who it is (it could be someone I run with at least twice a week) that could be perceived as a somewhat cool response. Who is it, who is it? I try to take in height and facial features. But they just look SO different when they’re not in running tights and their hair in a ponytail! I now have some friends who very kindly accommodate my disability. My friend Meagan for instance whenever she sees me while she is not in running clothes says “Hi Seanna! It’s Meagan.” As if we were on the phone, not standing face to face, having just run together that morning.

All of this is compounded in the winter. My running group meets once a week at 5:30 a.m. in every type of weather. A few winters ago it was quite a brutal one, and you had to bundle up immensely in order to brave the cold. We had some new members join our crew for those 5:30 a.m. pitch dark, bundled up workouts. These workouts are quite a bonding experience, so you become close with your fellow crew members. We  encourage each other running up and down icy hills, or along windy stretches of path. We high-five and congratulate each other for completing tough workouts together. We even chat about non-running related things and know about each others’ families and work lives. But god help me if I had to recognize anyone who joined that winter without their signature blue jacket or red toque and face mask! Put us in business suits in an elevator together downtown and there would be absolutely no hope of any hint of recognition from me. And these are people I’d consider my good buddies!

I have no problem recognizing any of these people in this format.

I have no problem recognizing any of these people in this format.

I get the humour in my predicament, I really do. I just hope that no one takes it personally. I know there are many more awkward moments in my future, but I’m learning to roll with them. And my good friends are learning to understand that streetwear is a mystifying disguise for me – if they want to reveal their true identities they need to either spell it out, or wear their running jackets at all times.

Celebrating runners in all our differences

I’ve always said that I like and understand other runners because they tend to be “quirky” in ways that I am too. It’s hard to explain to a non-runner why you run almost every day. Waking up before dawn or heading out in the dark after the kids have gone to bed. Never missing a run due to cold, heat, rain, ice. And that’s because it really does defy reason. We do it because we love … something about it (not necessarily every minute of it). There is no purpose to it. It truly is a selfish pursuit. No one really cares how fast you run and no one really benefits from your running but you.

That’s why I think it’s so strange when runners react negatively to other runners who add an even quirkier element to what they do. For example, people who run races with a stroller, people who joggle (running while juggling), or even people who run Beer Miles. I have heard and read many negative reactions from “pure” runners towards all of these fringe events and their participants. Here is a link to Michal Kapral (the world record holder for running a marathon while juggling) reading the “mean tweets” from runners about his feat: Michal “The Joggler” Kapral Reads Internet Trolling.

It’s a pretty funny video because he obviously doesn’t care what they’re saying. I’m sure his skin has been thickened by years of running past people yelling “Run Forrest – Run!” Yes, we runners are on the receiving end of a lot of jokes and teasing. So why turn on each other? Why not celebrate our differences? If this pursuit really doesn’t matter to anyone but ourselves, then who cares how or with what flair someone decides to put their mark on it? I’m not sure where the negativity stems from – I’m assuming insecurity. Having dedicated so much time and effort to their sport, these people want to believe that running is meaningful and purposeful and pure in and of itself. Guess what: it isn’t. It only matters to you, the runner.

A few weeks ago my kids were running in the x-country city semi-finals. Halfway through the event there was a pause in the schedule of regular grade school races for a race of kids with various different physical disabilities. Some were completing the distance with the help of walkers, some with a guide and others in wheelchairs. All of the able-bodied kids surrounded the course and cheered just as loudly, if not louder for the athletes. It was completely normal that everyone should participate in the way that worked for them. It didn’t occur to the cheerers that anyone couldn’t or shouldn’t be able to participate because they were doing it differently. It also didn’t threaten or take one thing away from how any of the kids saw themselves as runners. They all understood that we’re all doing our own thing out there.

This is one of the things I love about running. It truly is a celebration if individuality and diversity. So whether you’re running in a batman costume or in your underwear or stopping to chug beer every lap or pushing a stroller or juggling balls, or using a walker or wheelchair, I will cheer you on just as loudly if not louder than for the winners of the race.

b0pd6_riqaafktw

Having some fun, doin' what we do.

Having some fun, doin’ what we do.

The trouble with racing ‘only’ 5K’s

There are many things I love about racing ‘shorter’ distances like 5K’s, 8K’s and 10K’s. I say ‘shorter’ because it seems everyone these days is training for a marathon or half marathon (not to mention those training for Half and full Ironmans!) These longer races are all amazing events and admirable goals to train for. I’ve been there and I’m sure I’ll come back to one or two. But these days they just require a bit too much time and structured training for my liking. You need to go with the flow of the stage you’re in, and right now my stage is “get everything done super quickly and efficiently and move on to the next thing” – which lends itself well to 5K training and racing.  So, to anyone who asks, I say I’m training for mostly 5K’s. However, I’ve discovered a serious flaw to my plan of “going with the flow” and jumping into 5K’s when they’re convenient. And that is that they never really are completely convenient and they often get re-prioritized! I have no one to blame for this but myself, but after a summer of saying I was racing 5K’s I only ended up starting two and finishing one (my DNF is another story…)

 

img_5025img_4720img_4808img_4407

Some non-regretted summer experiences I chose over racing a 5K

It does suit me right now to be flexible and to be able to re-prioritize on the go.  Imagine having to say ‘no’ to a kid’s birthday party (they come up more frequently than you’d think), or a bike ride excursion with kids and friends, an invite to a cottage or a camping weekend with the family, because “Mom’s racing a 5K this weekend”? I truly would not enjoy that – no matter how fast I ended up running. I keep myself fit enough that I could jump into a 5K on any weekend and be either pleasantly surprised (it did happen this Spring) or have a bad race and question my training and racing strategy (see DNF). I never know because my training is never focused on one particular race. Again, this generally suits  my life right now, but after a few missed 5K races for other things that came up (plus my DNF), I realized I wasn’t giving enough respect and commitment to my races because they were “just 5K’s”. For any of my longer distance races in the past – from Half Marathons and up, my weekends were blocked off and my family and social schedules adjusted. Why did I feel I could justify the prioritization for those races just because they’re longer? In fact, I’m one of those people who loudly defends the 5K as not ‘just’ a 5K, as it too is an Olympic event, and you would never say an Olympian runs ‘just’ the 5K. Focusing on going faster over a shorter distance is just as commendable as completing a longer distance.

So, I’ve learned a lesson. If I really do care about the results of a race, I will have to plan for it – regardless of distance. I now have a “season” of fall races penned in (thanks in large part to a new coach who is guiding me) and they are written in my calendar in pen. If a birthday party, a cool excursion or some other fun sounding option comes up, I will still prioritize my race. Plus, it’s only a 5K – it won’t take that long 😉

 

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!

Drivers and runners – a wake up call

As a general rule, I tend to avoid confrontation. I don’t enjoy being in altercations with people and I find there is little to gain by engaging people who seem to be ready for a fight at any moment. I have no ego involved in protecting my views and am generally completely fine with walking away without having the last word. I think this attitude has come to me with age: I’ve learned the value of peace vs. confrontation.

My run last week challenged my usual habits though. I was running along a pedestrian and bike lane on a shoulder of road where there is not a lot of pedestrian traffic. The lane connects two great running paths through parks, but for a few hundred meters it runs right beside four lanes of fast moving traffic. The cars in this area are not accustomed to pedestrians and bikes being around them – they tend to want to move fast. There is however a pedestrian crossing light which takes you across the four lanes and back into the safety of the trails. I approached the light just as it turned to the ‘WALK’ signal. A truck made a right hand turn in front of me as I was at the far side – that’s ok – he had time. But I was running and had started across as he was turning. There was a car attempting to turn behind him. I caught his eye as I ran towards him and flashed the peace sign as a signal of “thank-you – I’m crossing”. But somehow he was angered by the fact that I was running across the road in the pedestrian crossing area while the ‘WALK’ signal was clearly flashing. He was in a hurry and wanted to turn right. So he accelerated towards me, swerved around me and gave me a good HONK.

And that’s when my good-natured peace loving patience ran out. I stopped, turned around and yelled indignantly through his open windows, pointing to the ‘WALK’ signal and throwing in a few adrenaline-fueled expletives. As I was yelling I took in the scene in the car. There was a male driver with an older woman as a passenger (possibly his mother) and a young girl in a booster seat in the back. This did not stop me from reacting strongly. As much as the confrontation left me angry, slightly guilty for yelling and much less peaceful than if it had not occurred, I realized that some people need a wake-up call and this could possibly prevent future accidents. Hopefully that guy then got a stern talking to from his mother and is now driving much more cautiously.

I’m not saying I’ve never been in the wrong. I got my driver’s license a week after I turned 16, and I really don’t recall being very aware of bikes or pedestrians as a teenage driver. I can’t think of any specific incidences, but I am sure I was way less courteous than I am now. I’ve also been a new mother with a crying baby in the back, feeling every cry like a stab to the heart and viewing every obstacle between myself and getting home to feed my baby, whether bike, pedestrian or other car, as a direct threat and enemy. So I try not to judge, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t have used a good wake-up call behind the wheel at times. Because when it comes to cars and pedestrians, it really is often about life and death. And maybe the person’s roof you just hit because they cut you off or came too close to you will become a little more aware and is now driving more cautiously. And maybe your confrontation, although it will likely bring a negative impact on your day, could prevent a future accident or death. So if you’re running and get cut off by a car, make a point and speak up for yourself and other pedestrians. And if you’re driving and get yelled at or have your roof hit by a cyclist or pedestrian, my words to you are this: suck it up, smarten up, and just take your medicine – we all need it now and then.

pexels-photo-100579

Charging

When I was being introduced to and learning about surfing in the ’90’s, I remember asking my boyfriend (now husband) about a particular surfer. I may have asked “is she good?” His answer was “she charges.” That was pretty much the biggest compliment you could give a surfer. “She charges” means she doesn’t hesitate, she goes out in the biggest waves, she throws herself over the lip. She probably wipes out a lot as a consequence and may not necessarily win all the contests, but “she charges” denotes an attitude which earns respect in the surfing world.

Serena Brooke - one of my all-time favourite surfers. She charges!

Serena Brooke – one of my all-time favourite surfers. She charges!

I recently spent a good portion of a weekend with four 9 year old boys. There are some redeeming and some not so redeeming qualities in 9 year old boys, but one thing I noticed and sort of admired was that they “charge.” They do not hesitate or ponder consequences or consider alternate options. They charge forward in everything they do with energy and passion. They are not graceful or skilled or particularly athletically talented, but that does not dampen their enthusiasm or enjoyment in doing everything at full throttle.

Not sure what they're doing, but they're doing it with gusto!

Not sure what they’re doing, but they’re doing it with gusto!

Being someone who “charges” can be viewed by some as being thoughtless or irresponsible. It’s not mature. But I respect the quality of people who go for it – regardless of age or sport. A runner who charges may never be noticed by the record books. It’s someone who goes out and just goes for it every time. In workouts and in races, these people are in the moment and working for their own internal rewards. I can spot them. They’re usually not the disciplined, athletically gifted, methodical runners at the front of the pack. They’re somewhere in the middle, working as hard as they can, charging with everything they have towards the finish line.

I like chargers. If surfers and kids can be chargers so can 40 year old runners. Let it not be said about me that I am consistent, disciplined, steady, a smart runner or even fast or strong. I would rather it be said about me that I charge.

Racing as a Master – my perspective has changed!

I will always like to run, whether I’m competing or not, but often enough the urge strikes me to register for a race and compete. By this I mean, run as fast as I can, test myself, and try to hit a certain time. I usually have a pretty good idea of where I will rank among finishers, depending on the size of the event. Sometimes in the smaller races I win outright, and sometimes I’m happy with a top-10 finish. I don’t really care about beating specific people, as my own time is what I’m aiming for. I would rather run with fast people who beat me but pull me to a faster time than come first with a slower time.

But I won’t lie: it’s nice to “medal”. Especially as my times are starting to slow down with age. I usually know on the start line by looking around whether I’ll be in the mix for a top-3 finish or not. In any races where there is significant prize money and elites show up, I put myself way down the list. Until this year when I turned 40. Suddenly there was a new (lower) bar. I could compete against older runners for a top podium spot! I’d be competing against women who had families, careers, and other major priorities outside of running. People who were older, busier, and fitting in training where they could.

I had mixed feelings. I knew (or thought) I would fare better in this new group, but I sort of felt like I’d been put out to pasture. I was competing against the “B” Team. Oh well – I would compete in this new category, but maybe really still measure myself against the runners in the open race.

The first race I competed in as an elite master was the Race Roster Spring Run-Off in April. It was -12C and windy (and hilly as it always is). At the beginning my toes and fingers were frozen, and by the end my mouth was too frozen to speak.  But the conditions were tough for everyone. If my time wasn’t the best, I still had places to run for. And this is where I learned how tough these other masters women are! I ran one of my faster times on that course and I still didn’t make the podium as a master! This was a bit of a shock to me, but also oddly exhilarating. This is no “softie” category – these women are serious athletes who kick butt! I am so pumped to be one of them – even if I’m not the best 😉 I love having others out there setting the bar high. These ladies are fierce and fearless. They have nothing to prove to anyone. Pretty sure they’re all doing this just for themselves. The funny thing is they are also super friendly and warm and seem genuinely happy that I’ve joined their ranks. No one takes themselves too seriously. We’re all “something” first, and runners maybe second, third or fourth. But don’t let that cause you to let your guard down. We will run fast and hard all the way to the finish. I am so excited for this new phase in my competitive running. Look out ladies – I’m comin’ for ya!

The top 10 finishers in this elite race show a nice range of ages!

The top 10 finishers in this elite race show a nice range of ages!

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.