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.

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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.

 

My complicated relationship with food

I have a confession: I’m not really into food. I mean, I like to eat, especially when I’m hungry, but I’m not really picky. Or I should say, sophisticated. I’ve heard about people going out to fancy restaurants for $500 meals, and I can’t think of anything remotely satisfying about that. There is no way my enjoyment of a meal could be worth that value. I’m not judging people who do it. I mean a lot of people wouldn’t pay $50 – $80 to run anywhere from 5K to 23K, which I do on a semi-regular basis. Some people are into running and some people are into food. Many people are into both, and others are into neither. No problem! I am just making the point that I am really not into food.

Of course I like to eat when I’m hungry. And I’m not saying I never over-eat. I have times when I can finish an entire bag of chips before noticing the damage. But don’t confuse this with being into food. Anyone will eat fast and convenient sweet, salty and processed foods and I’m one of them. It takes another level of attention to food to plan, buy, and prepare healthy, balanced, and tasty meals. Again. And again. And again.

Obviously as a runner, I understand the importance of good food for my body. I therefore try to have my basic go-to healthy meals and snacks which I don’t have to put a lot of time or thought into. Nothing creative or fancy – just the basics: sandwiches, fruit, veggies, crackers. If dinner contains more than three or four ingredients I start to get overwhelmed. I prepare food because I have to, and the less I have to the better. This is a typical weekday dinner at my house:

Three ingredient dinner.

Three ingredient dinner –  actually one of my kids’ favourites.

But suddenly everyone in my house is hungry ALL THE TIME and I feel like my life revolves around planning, buying, preparing and cleaning up food. My husband and I are both very active, and the more we workout, the more we have to eat. This is annoying to me. On top of this, my children (ages 6 and 8) are suddenly bottomless pits. We used to leave restaurant meals with half the meal in a take-out bag for the next day’s lunch. Nowadays we get in the door from a restaurant and someone immediately says “I’m hungry”. I can’t think of two less welcome words to my ears. But you can’t leave someone hungry. I try to get them to get their own meals, but often this ends up happening:

"Sorry Mom - it was an accident!"

“Sorry Mom – it was an accident!”

In a typical day, I wake up, make three breakfasts (my husband does his own) and then pack two lunches. Throughout the day I graze and don’t make much beyond crackers, nuts or an easy sandwich for myself. But I am still thinking about food because I’m planning that night’s dinner and wondering if we have enough bread, yogourt and fruit for the next day’s lunches. I usually have to buy at least one ingredient every day. Then I pick up the kids and feed them a snack after school:

Snack to fit between two programs before dinner.

Snack to fit between two programs before dinner.

I often feed them the snack while cleaning out their lunch bags and making dinner. This all requires much more kitchen time than I’m happy with, but I see no way around it. Once dinner is made, my husband typically joins us, we eat, I clean up and my kids immediately start expressing their hunger again. That’s usually when my head explodes. At this point when I hear “I’m hungry” I just say “No.” Or sometimes it’s more like “NO!” I don’t know if I mean they can’t be hungry or that I’m not making anything –  I just know that I cannot deal with food anymore.

This is when they know I’m beaten and they go in for the cookies while I collapse in a broken heap on the couch, as far away from the kitchen as possible.

I’m not sure what all this means. I think I’m looking for something that can just fill us up already! Just fill the voids so we’re not always hungry and/or thinking about, buying, planning, preparing or cleaning up food. There must be a pill out there for that, no?

 

 

Ruthless Prioritization

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Ruthless Prioritization. This is a phrase coined by my sister and I love it. I live by it actually. I have a full life with many people around me, and many dreams and goals and I want to do everything as well as I can. But unfortunately, the word priority itself means that at some point you have to choose something over another. Usually with me these become game day decisions. If you asked me I would say that I prioritize my running and training. And I do, over many things. But it turns out that when it comes to crunch time, I do have other things that take priority over training.

Over the last few weekends I’ve had to choose between getting a couple of long runs in (or even running at all) vs. spending quality time skiing with my family. I realized I would actually rather spend the time with my husband and kids and didn’t even begrudge the fact that I couldn’t train. I’ve also been quite busy with my independent business, and when it has come down to getting an extra run or gym session in vs. working on client and business goals, I’ve had no problem choosing work first.  I don’t make these decisions because I have to – I do because I find them more rewarding. Running simply never wins out over my kids’ needs (which seem to be quite high these days!) nor my drive to build a successful business. If the choice was running vs. getting my hair done, it would be running – no contest. Running also often wins out over sleep, shopping, and maybe a bit of housekeeping (ok, all of it). I’m actually quite a master at fitting my training in because I really do care about trying my hardest and performing my best. But without ever having vocalized it before, I’m realizing that my training has been moved to the backseat more than a few times over the past few years.

When I was in my 20’s I never had an excuse not to do as much training as my body could handle. So I did run a lot. And rest a lot. I worked as well, and carried on a social life. It’s not like I had nothing going on other than running, but it would be a rare occurrence for running to ever be toppled off the top of the priority pyramid. I look back at those days when there were such fewer demands on my time, but I am not wistful. I wouldn’t say running is any less important to me now, but I now have other areas to which I want to devote at least as much time and energy. And that is why the prioritization becomes so ruthless. Even the some of the best things have to get cut.

I often think of children’s stories when the main character grows up and leaves their imaginary friends as sad. Maybe my running is a bit like that. I’ve grown up and try as I might I just don’t care about it quite as much as I once did. But it’s not really that sad. It would probably be sadder if I still talked to my teddy bear and if I still devoted everything to my training to the exclusion of other areas of life. We grow up, and with new experiences come new priorities. The only really sad part is that my race results reflect my current priorities. Ruthlessly.

 

 

 

What I think about when I’m running

I’m not sure if I’d classify myself as someone who runs “a lot”. It depends on my audience. To non-runners, yes, I probably do run a lot. To people training for marathons, I don’t log that many hours or miles. I run about 5-6 times a week, probably averaging an hour for most of my runs. But it’s enough time to become aware of the often asked question :”What do you think about when you’re running?” I’ve been asked this question a number of times and I usually answer with something vague like “nothing” or “anything”. The truth is I don’t really know. Once you start thinking about what you’re thinking about, you become too self-conscious and the “what” of what you’re thinking about becomes what you’re thinking about.

But I was disturbed by a recent study that came out published by The Atlantic on What runners are thinking. It examined the thoughts of 10 runners who were training for marathons or half marathons. The study found that 40% of the time the runners were thinking about pace and distance. 32% of the time they were thinking about pain and discomfort. And the remaining 28% of their thoughts were focused on their environment.

As I said, I don’t know what I usually think about, but I just looked at those statistics and thought “that’s not me”.

I can recall one run where I didn’t have a watch but vaguely had an idea of what route I wanted to do. I changed course partway through and a while later I found myself back home. I tried to remember where I had just run but had no clue. I’d gone on automatic pilot on one of my routes, but with no watch I had no reference point. My mind had slipped into neutral and remained there for the course of my run. Pretty sure that one wasn’t an hour, but who knows?

After reading the above mentioned study I became aware of what I was thinking. But sometimes only after the fact. The other day I did run for a full hour (I timed that one), and about 10 minutes before finishing I realized that for the entire run I had been replaying a funny YouTube clip of Will Ferrell in my head. It was an 8 minute clip. I had been chuckling about it to myself for 50 minutes!

I’m not sure what all this says about my intellectual depth, but I do know that my mind likes going to these “happy places”. I also know that if 72% of my time spent running required thought power and mental energy vs. an opportunity to mentally check-out, I would definitely be doing a lot less of it!

Where I go when I'm running

Where I go when I’m running

Negative splitting my way through life

I did a hill workout this morning which resembled many of my workouts in its pattern. I had eight hills to do, so I rolled into the first one without a lot of enthusiasm – just getting the work done, one foot in front of the other. But once I was about halfway through the workout I started to get excited about pushing harder, and I started running the hills faster. By the time I was down to my last two I was pushing as hard as I could and running my fastest hills of the day.

I’ve been training to run my workouts this way (saving the fastest for last) for over 25 years. Nobody “wins” the workout on the first interval. I was always told it was the last one that counted. I run all of my harder training runs this way – whether they’re tempos, long runs or interval workouts. However I’m not sure if my pacing tactics are due to years of training that way, or whether they are the result of my innate personality.

I know many people like to go out hard, figuring it’s “time in the bank” and they think if they are going to get one super fast segment out of themselves it might as well be the first one. They like to front-end-load their work. I understand this mentality, and I don’t judge it. But no matter how much you tell these people to save the fastest, hardest effort for last, some seem just incapable of doing it. I think that this too is an innate personality trait.

In my non-running life, I am someone who works to a deadline. If I know where the finish line is, I pace myself accordingly. In university I could have three weeks to write an essay and all the work would happen in the last day. I ramp up in pace and intensity as I get closer to my goal. I just cannot seem to go hard out of the gates. I wish I could though! I really wish I could get all of my work done days in advance and then have free time at the end. But I think I am fundamentally incapable of that type of pacing. I can’t do my best or most efficient work with lots of time to spare. I sprint to the finish every single time.

Have all my years of training with negative splits in order to get my best running results rubbed off in other areas of my life? Or is this just a strategy which suits my personality for any task I undertake? I’m not sure. But if you want to see my best work in anything, you’ll have to wait until the end.

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The art of competitive registering

There are many things I didn’t know would become part of my life when I became a parent. One was how competitive it is to get your kids into the programs you and/or they want. What do the kids of laid-back, non-competitive-type parents do? I’m guessing they get into the “register anytime” camps that never fill up – like maybe math camp or running camp? Maybe not the worst options – back to that in a sec.

Meanwhile, last Saturday’s date had been marked in my calendar for a month as the date on which to register my son for ball-hockey in the Spring. He really wanted to do it. I’d visited the website and gotten as far as I could with setting him up with a user name and password, but the registration would be locked until 8 a.m. on Saturday morning. I knew I would be on the road with my kids at precisely that time, so I enlisted my husband to do the registering. The problem is, I didn’t really have the heart to tell him how obsessive and competitive you have to be in order to even have a chance of getting in. I did say “register at 8 a.m. sharp” and left it at that. I didn’t say “have at least two computers going with the registration page open twice on each (in case of freezing or some other weird glitch), start at 7:50 with lots of coffee and adrenaline, have everything ready to go at 7:58, and start repeatedly pushing the ‘refresh’ button on all four screens simultaneously (bonus if you can also be calling to get in that way – sometimes they let you but it’s always busy so you have to keep hanging up and dialing again) and keep doing all of this from 7:58 to 8:03. By 8:03 it’s over. If you didn’t get in, try again next year.” How do you communicate all of that without sounding like a crazy person?

As I was driving that morning I saw my phone ring at 8:07. “I didn’t get in” he said. “Did you register at 8?” I asked. “Pretty much”. Oh how I love to be up against competitors like that! Poor guy didn’t stand a chance.

We broke the news to our son, which went over ok. Now the problem is mine. Either find a program which he likes, is convenient to get to and is not too expensive, or entertain him myself in those time blocks. Back to that running camp idea. He actually does like running (ok, when it suits him) but I think I can gently encourage it. He did want me to register him for the Ride for Heart 5K Run in June, so we have a goal to train for. And all joking aside, we have found a very excellent track club for kids which has great coaches and which he has enjoyed in the past. The question now will be: can we make it fit our schedules? Time to get to work on Pan B…

 

New Routines

I think I fall in the category of the majority over the holidays in that I’ve strayed quite far from my usual routine. More social get-togethers have meant more late nights. Kids are out of school so my days have few kid-free windows. Work continues; all the time for my husband, and for me where I can fit it in. I do love the holidays for the extra time I get to spend with people I want to see (yes – including my monsters!) but being outside of a dependable routine has definitely made running and working out more of a challenge.

Fortunately this is not part of my usual workout routine.

Fortunately this is not part of my usual workout routine.

This shakeup has gotten me thinking about the role that routine plays in running – and in life. The word ‘routine’ can easily conjure up the associations of ‘boring’, ‘rut’, ‘stagnation’. But I am a lover of routine. I can rely on my routine to move me forward and do difficult things without too much thought or effort. It takes some tinkering to find a routine which fits my life and workout needs, and every now and then something changes and I add or delete elements, but I find the consistency of a good routine can move me along nicely and get me where I want to go.

I can’t stay in the same routine for too long though. If I want to grow, change and adapt I have to shake things up a bit. One thing I’ve learned about routines is that when I do start a new one, it’s always tough. But at least I know I’ll adapt. I just have to force it at first and have faith that it will get easier. I recently added a weekly tempo run to my workout routine. I find tempos one of the most challenging workouts, so I normally avoid them. The first few were very hard. but 5 weeks in I can now get them done without too much mental effort. I’ve adapted as they’ve become a known quantity. The same thing happened when I started running at 5 a.m. I’ve learned that’s something I can’t do every day, but I’ve found a comfortable number of days that work well in my routine.

We all show up every Wednesday at 5:30 a.m. There is no arguing with the routine!

We all show up every Wednesday at 5:30 a.m. There is no arguing with the routine!

That’s how I think of my ‘routine’ in other areas of life as well. My family and I are facing some changes to our routines in the new year. Nothing ground shaking, but enough to slightly push us out of our usual comfortable schedules. It won’t be easy at first, I know. But, like the added tempos and 5 a.m. runs, we will adapt. What at first seems too difficult will become natural as we make changes and push ourselves in different directions. Our newly created routines will take us there, one foot in front of the other.