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.

 

 

 

Saying YES

Is it too early for New Year’s resolutions? Because I have one which I’m trying out. But maybe it’s not so much a resolution as a philosophy. It’s not an “all or nothing” philosophy, but more of a changed approach to how I view opportunities, invitations and experiences.

Have I mentioned I’m now 40? (Actually I think I’ve mentioned it in every post I’ve written since turning 40 in July.) Turning 40 hasn’t changed me overnight, but there’s no denying it’s a milestone age which has brought with it a little self-reflection and called up the questions of what I am doing with my life. What am I seeking or striving for? When will I know when I’m there? What does “success” mean? What is the meaning of it all? (heavy, I know!)

I think the biggest insight I’ve gleaned from this milestone is that I am living my life NOW. In my teens, 20’s and 30’s, most of my goals, aspirations and dreams were all based in the future. One day I could train hard and run fast if I wanted to. One day I would carve out some time write a book. One day I’d slow down and enjoy people’s company more. Meanwhile for the past few years at least, I had been living my life on fast-forward automatic pilot, doing what needed to get done, putting new experiences on hold, rarely stopping to talk or have coffee with a friend or acquaintance, not taking risks with veering outside my comfortable routine.

But suddenly, at 40, there was a shift. If I was going to do something or be someone, I needed to be doing it now. Instead of seeing my future self as an almost fictional person to whom I could indefinitely forward my “to-do” list, I’ve suddenly caught up and am now that person.

So what does this mean? To me it means I’m making an effort to say “yes” to opportunities and experiences. It definitely takes more effort to go to every holiday party, make running and lunch dates, sign up for out of town races, plan new family adventures, try a new sport, take on new work projects, etc… But if I’m not doing these things another year will pass me by in another unremarkable blur. When I have new experiences, I feel alive. I feel I’m at a pinnacle where there are two choices: growth or decay. There is no standing still.

Here is what happens when I say ‘Yes’:

  • This past summer as I cheered on my husband as he competed in dozens of paddling races I thought “why am I watching and not doing?” So I jumped into a new sport, competed in numerous races, and have loved the experiences and community around it.
My first ever 10K paddle race.

My first ever 10K paddle race.

  • I recently ran Nationals X-Country in Kingston Ontario. Not because I was in great shape or because I love cross-country. I did it because I got to see people whose company I enjoy, challenge myself, and create a new experience. I’m so glad I did it.
So great to reunite with this crazy crew.

So great to reunite with this crazy crew.

  • I’ve been working this season on being more social and going to more holiday gatherings and informal get-togethers. It’s an effort for me, for sure which usually involves planning and scheduling, not to mention actually getting off the couch and out the door! But talking to people and engaging in ideas is interesting. Sharing a laugh is energizing. Meeting someone new with a different world view is enlightening. And reconnecting with old friends is some of the best fun you can have.
Hanging out with some good friends.

Hanging out with some good friends.

So going forward, when a new opportunity comes up, unless I have a very good reason to say ‘no’, I’m going to take a chance on saying ‘yes’. This is me living my life at 40.

When wine and racing come together

No, this is not a post about a new event – The Wine Mile. Although now that I’ve retired from the Beer Mile that could be something to consider…

I’m talking about what happens when you relax with a glass of wine or two and you happen to be online and suddenly your attention is seized by an upcoming race.  This is exactly what happened to me earlier this week. I somehow got onto the Nationals Cross-Country site, and was looking at the date and location and who was running.

If I had had no wine, my thought process would have played out like this:

“Wow, those girls are tough. I remember cross-country. It was a long time ago and it never didn’t hurt. It was always cold, hilly, long, painful and exhausting. I wonder if I’ll ever race cross-country again? Probably not. Anyway, this is Nationals and I’m not in shape for cross-country. Also it’s in a different city which is logistically difficult. I’ll be sure to check the results though – looks like it’ll be a good race.”

However, I happened to land on the page while sipping my second glass. So my thought process was more like this:

“Wow – Nationals! Exciting – look who’s racing! I want to be a part of the action. And it’s not even that far away! I deserve a night away from the kids. Also I’m super tough and what if I have a great race and totally surprise myself and everyone else and do really well out of nowhere? It could totally happen. Awe, remember the glory days of cross-country? It was so much fun! I’m totally doing it.”

Although the next morning my enthusiasm for racing cross-country wasn’t nearly as strong, I did remember the thoughts and feelings of excitement I’d had the night before. I mentioned the idea in passing to a few people. But in a non-committal “I had this crazy thought the other day” kind of way. Strangely, everyone I brought it up to thought I should do it. It’s possible I need a new advisory board since they seem to come to the same conclusion as myself after two glasses of wine, but too late to argue now. I’m registered and doing it.

I’d love to say I’m excited and ready to go. In reality I’m slightly terrified and dreading it, but deep down I know I want to do it.  Still, I think I’ll stay away from race sites next time I’m in a wine mood.

The "Glory Days"

The “Glory Days”

If 8 year-olds were in my run group

It’s official. I’m old. Not because I just turned 40, but because I no longer understand the words my kids use. At least not in the context they’re using them. I had an experience with a group of eight year olds recently which confirmed the fact that they and I have very different understandings of what certain words mean. It led me to imagine conversations if my morning running group were comprised of eight year olds.

Me: “Ok guys, we’re doing 5 hill repeats.”
Eight year old: “Random.”
Me: “it’s not random at all. We’re rebuilding our strength for our winter base building phase.”
Eight year old: “Wow – rare.”
Me: “???”
Group member shows up with a new, flourescent jacket.
Eight year old: “That jacket is so awkward!”
Me: “What are you talking about? It’s not awkward at all. It’s the opposite of awkward. It is in fact extremely functional and sensible.”
Eight year old isn’t listening because I’ve already talked for too long.
The workout commences.
Eight year old: “This is LITERALLY the steepest hill ever.”
Me: “Actually, it’s not. It’s not even figuratively the steepest hill ever.”
Eight year old: “You’re making no sense right now. Literally.”
Me: “I don’t think you’re using ‘LITERALLY’ correctly”
Eight year old: “Awkward.”
There is no possible reply to this so we continue doing hills.
The workout finishes.
Eight year old: “That workout was Legendary!!!”
Me: “Actually, we were starting again with 5 hills. We’ve done up to 9 before. So this one wasn’t actually ‘legendary'”
Eight year old looking at me funny: “What is wrong with you and why don’t you understand anything I’m saying?”
Me: “Ditto.”
We run home in silence.

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When goal races go bad

Not all runners run races. I don’t need to race in order to enjoy my “training”. I enjoy running hard in order to feel good and to generally stay fit and fast. But every now and then I like to measure my efforts with a race, and sometimes I need to have a goal to help motivate me and keep me honest in working hard. I also like testing myself and putting it all on the line in a big performance. I love racing when I feel well prepared and fit and ready to go. I don’t feel the need to do this too often (because it is hard and stressful) but usually once or twice a year I’ll train for a big “goal race”.

This fall I decided it was time. For about eight weeks I ran weekend long runs with pace specific work, Wednesday morning interval workouts where I tried to get faster and fitter each week, did running specific strength training with core work included and daily runs to hit my mileage targets. I was doing all this to get ready to run a fast half marathon. I was getting excited to get out there and see what I had.

But then I got sick. I was still hopeful that I’d recover right up until the night before. But as I lay under the covers with the chills and body aches I knew I wouldn’t be able to race a decent race, so I decided not to go.

sometimes this ...

sometimes this …

... takes the place of this.

… takes the place of this.

Big goal races are like that. Of all my current network of runner friends, I would say that for big goal races for this fall they were about 60/40 for being happy with their races vs. not. And in the ‘not’ category are those who got injured, sick, or just had a bad race below expectations. It is really hard to put a perfect training block together and have everything come together perfectly for race day. The odds, although slightly on your side, are not great. It’s anything but a sure thing. We’re up against work stress, family circumstances, physical injury, poor weather, cold and flu viruses, poor nutrition choices (ok, that last one might be within our control). To add to this, training plans are not sure fire recipes for success and adapting perfectly to a training plan without over or under-doing it, taking all your other stressors into account, is a fine art which I think has a lot of luck written in.

This is not to say we should give up and stop trying. It is just a reminder not to beat ourselves up when we land in the 40% who didn’t reach their goal. I’m finally there. I’ve been doing this for long enough that I don’t feel mad or upset that I didn’t race. There will be more, and I will enjoy training towards a goal, and if it all comes together I will realize what a special thing it is and celebrate with all my heart. And then I’ll go out and buy a lottery ticket.

Like having the perfect goal race.

Like having the perfect goal race.