It’s not the training that’s tough

There is a selfish luxury to being able to train hard. I used to envy the lives of elite athletes who could justify planning their days and lives around their workouts and recovery. Although now that I look back through the lense of age, I can see that I used to live a life not too far off theirs. At least intermittently (I wasn’t always the most consistent trainer). However, there were times when I would look forward to going to bed early and eating a good dinner in preparation for a long, hard workout the next day. I’d wake up and ease into it, fueling with coffee, breakfast and the newspaper. Then, mentally and physically ready, I would hit the road and really give everything I had to my workout. I would leave nothing behind, and come back home exhausted and content, and in much need of a day filled with napping, refueling, and generally recovering. I recall specifically when I was training for the Ironman in 2004 I had some weekend morning workouts consisting of a 2 hour indoor training ride of hard intervals, followed by a 9 mile run with 3 x 10 minutes at tempo pace. I would finish those workouts so depleted that I’d spend the rest of the day on the couch. Reading and napping was all I had energy for.

My ideal afternoon after a hard workout

My ideal afternoon after a hard workout

These days I may have the mental and physical energy to complete a tough workout like that, but the recovery piece is glaringly absent. As soon as I get in the door from a run, I am in demand. I’m lucky if I can grab a quick shower and snack before dealing with kids’ needs, although often I start cleaning up a mess and making food for people before I have a chance to strip off my wet clothes. And then our day begins with various adventures on bikes, in pools, to museums or zoos. I can do these things (and even enjoy them) with a smile on my face if I’m a little tired. But I can’t manage it if I’m in the pit of exhaustion that extremely hard workouts induce. When I’m in that state, if one thing other than a nap is requested of me I turn into a bear and snap and rage, and no amount of coffee can make me human. My kids who are often faced with a happily endorphined mom who probably lets more slide than she should, are suddenly faced with the opposite extreme as I come close to tears when requested to fix a “bumpy sock” for the tenth time, and lose it when someone spills juice on the floor. I just don’t have the energy to deal.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining. I signed up for this parent gig and I love it. I just have to be mindful of my post-workout energy reserves these days, and make sure there is enough leftover after a workout. I’m careful not to go over the edge because the consequences if I do are way too hard on me and my family. Do I miss the feeling of working out that hard? Maybe a bit. But I’d never trade it for the feeling of sharing laughs and adventures with my family.

Knee deep in post-long run adventures

Knee deep in post-long run adventures

A little self hate goes a long way in running

Are runners generally happy people? Maybe after their runs. My anecdotal evidence tells me that many of us are self-medicating through running. Recently a friend was talking to another friend asking how she pushes herself so hard in workouts and why she herself couldn’t seem to. The friend’s reply: “you just don’t hate yourself enough”. I totally get it. Usually I need a little bit of self-imposed suffering in order to feel balanced.

This isn’t always the case with me, but mostly it is. There have been times in my life when I’ve felt generally at ease and happy. Usually these times coincide with vacations (coincidence?) which is why I think it’s so hard to keep up training while on vacation. When I’m not feeling anxious or a little unhappy with myself I can go for runs. I really enjoy them. But I don’t run extra hard or extra far. I don’t feel the urge, so I don’t do it. I’m reminded of the line from the Barenaked Ladies song which goes, “she’s like a baby, I’m like a cat. When we are happy we both get fat.”

Happy Fat Cat

Happy Fat Cat

Some people seem to tolerate pain better than others, and we know that that tolerance can be trained. You can learn to accept pain. But why would you? There is definitely a subset of people who relish the “cleansing” or “absolving” nature of self-flaggelation on the roads, track or hills for purposes other than simply running a fast time in their next race. The race is actually just a socially acceptable way to justify our need for ritualistic masochism.

This is just a better tool ...

This is just a better tool …

... than this

… than this

So the question lies – if you’re a generally happy person who doesn’t hate yourself enough to train hard enough for that next PB, how can you harness this secret power? My running buddies and I had a good laugh about that the other day. Want to run faster? Try bombing a big presentation OR pick a fight with a loved one where you’re clearly in the wrong OR binge out on all your kids Halloween candy when they’re in bed. Whatever will make you feel guilty enough to dig a little deeper on that extra mile repeat the next day. I’m not sure if you can replicate the exact same twisted torment of self-hate that plagues the hardest working runners, but worth a try, right?

Run Parenting

I’m a runner. I’m also a mom. I’ve been a runner for over 25 years. I’ve been a mom for just over 8 years. I could write many books over on running. I don’t think I will ever feel like I’m “doing it right” in parenting. And that is why it is so hard to know what to do when these worlds collide.

I would love it if my two kids (6 and 8) decided they would like to go for runs with me and train for races. I can do that! In fact we have gone for the odd run together, mostly with great results, but the truth is, going for runs really isn’t their thing right now. They’d rather be playing on the monkey bars or skateboarding in the ally, and to be honest, as long as they’re doing something they love and are getting exercise, I don’t really care. In fact, I truly believe that being a great runner in elementary school has very little bearing on whether they will be good, or more importantly whether they will enjoy it, when they’re older. I cannot make them train, I cannot make them love it and I cannot make them want to do well in a race. The only thing I can do is mess it up by putting pressure or expectations on them.

A few months ago my 6 year-old’s best friend decided she wanted to train for and run a kids’ fun run. If her friend was in, so was my daughter. I asked her a few times whether she wanted to go for a jog with mommy to get ready and she always said ‘no thanks’. The race was 1K so I knew she could complete it – it would just be more of a challenge than if she’d trained. So be it – I’ve entered races under-trained as well. The result was she ran it, was shocked by how hard it was, but was happy with her t-shirt and medal. And that was it. No “what was my time?” No “I want to do better next time” It was purely a one-time experienced influenced by peer pressure. But I was proud and excited for her.

Going for it in her first ever race

Going for it in her first ever race

The next weekend my 8 year-old’s best friend was running a 5K which he’d been training quite seriously for. My son decided he wanted to do it with him. Again, my guy had decided not to train, despite many offers by me to do so with him. He did not want to train but he was determined to race. I had absolutely no idea how it would play out. I decided it could be a disaster but at least it would be a great life lesson. It wasn’t a disaster; he stuck with his friend until the last kilometer where he fell a bit behind, but tried his hardest and ran the whole way finishing in just over 27 minutes. Again, I was proud at his determination and work ethic in the race. Mostly I loved how happy he was afterwards and how great he said he felt.

Feeling great after his first 5K

Feeling great after his first 5K

The school cross-country race is tomorrow. They both say they’re competing although my younger one goes back and forth and it will depend on whether her friends are. Mostly she wants the morning off school. My son is also doing it with his group of friends, although I think he’s a little more personally invested. I’m trying my hardest to remain impartial. They can go if they want. Of course I really want them to go and really want them to try hard and have great races! But I have to remember I only want this for them. I love it when they feel confident and great. Just because my vehicle for these feelings is running doesn’t mean theirs will be. Chances are they’ll find completely different outlets and sources of confidence and I will try to cheer and care as much about those (skateboard tricks? moves on the monkeybars?) as I do about the results of running races. In the end, the only way they will ever love anything is if they are doing it for themselves – not to please someone else. And there is nothing I can do but sit back and watch.

Identifying members of our tribe

Many runners these days refer to themselves as being part of a “tribe”. The tribe of runners. The interesting thing about being part of this tribe is the instant recognition of other members. Most runners can spot another runner across a crowded room in seconds. I’m not sure what it is that identifies us to each other – sometimes there are dead giveaways like the wearing of a race shirt, but most of the time you just sort of know.

However recently, I discovered that my “runner identification antenna” is not as finely tuned as I’d thought. I spent just over two weeks in a town in Hawaii called Paia Town. Paia is located on the north shore of Maui which is considered the windsurfing capital of the world. The best windsurfers from around the world arrive on the north shore in the summer to sail the waves, and if it’s not windy, or when the day is done, you can find most of them hanging out in Paia. I see these muscly, tanned, athletic people walking around shirtless, and I have an instant flash of tribal recognition. But then I notice no sock tan-lines and their upper bodies are slightly too muscular to be runners. They also carry themselves with an air of “cool” vs. “runner-geek”. No, these people are not of my tribe.

It's possible he's not a runner. Maybe I should take a better look to be sure... Photo - Pierre Bouras

It’s possible he’s not a runner. Maybe I should take a better look to be sure…
Photo – Pierre Bouras

Not only is Paia full of windsurfers, but it is also a popular destination for hippies. Since the 1970’s, Paia has been known as a “back-to-nature” town where hippies have come to live off the land and share in the free living communal vibe. Many live in yurts up in the hills, in vans, or even maybe under trees on the beach – I’m not really sure. But during the day they mostly hang out in Paia. They are often built like runners – thin and wiry, and their gaunt, bearded faces aren’t that different from some of the hipster distance runners around. They are also surrounded by a whiff of body odour reminiscent of race starting lines. But then I notice the piles of dreadlocked hair which no runner would weigh themselves down with and the dangly, cumbersome necklaces and I realize that these people are not part of my tribe either.

Pretty sure he's not a runner.

Pretty sure he’s not a runner.

There is a third group of people who walk the streets of Paia – the tourists. Unlike the hippies or windsurfing locals, these people wear high-tech running shoes and brand name technical fabrics. While sitting down having a coffee I notice a pair of asics walk by. I look up expecting a fellow runner but that is where the recognition ends. Most of the tourists are either pasty or sunburned and just a bit too doughy to be runners.

Runners meeting for a group run? No, wait...

Runners meeting for a group run? No, wait…

I’ve come to realize that Paia just isn’t a runners’ hang-out spot. It’s not that I’m actively looking for them, it’s just that I’m used to spotting one or two around and the dearth of runners leaves me confused and thinking I spot them where they’re not. It doesn’t really matter to me though – whether you’re a windsurfer, a hippie, a tourist, or a runner, if we make eye contact I will smile and say “Aloha”.


The right to be proud

There is definitely a phenomenon you may notice if you follow runners on social media. Runners tend to post a lot about their daily runs, including much information about the times and distances that they’ve trained. In depth details are shared from how many hill repeats, how many miles run, and the fastest pace attained. Many runners also post pictures of their physiques, sculpted from the hours and miles they’ve spent training. Maybe they’ve lost a few pounds, gained some muscle, or are just plain proud of how they look. To all of this I say … Keep it up, I love it!

I love seeing the pride people take in themselves and their accomplishments. I find it very motivating and inspiring. I also find it touching. Most of the runners I follow are not Olympians or models. Someone might have just run a personal best 5K which is over 10 minutes slower than the world record. They don’t care. They proudly put their time up there and show their pride. Or they may have lost 10 lbs or have muscly thighs from miles and miles of running. They proudly post a pic even though they’re not cover models. They don’t care about the odd wrinkle or lumpiness – they are proud of their bodies. And they should be! I say “congrats” to all who are out there and proud of and sharing their accomplishments.

Personally, I’ve never tended to share my training days or race times because I tend not to be very proud. I always think I could do more, and if it’s not my absolute best, and I post it, it will look like it was a big deal to me. For some reason I’ve never wanted to look like I cared too much. But something has just changed. Tomorrow I’m turning 40. Actually, by the time you’re reading this I’m probably already 40. This means I’m most likely not going to be getting any faster. Or more ripped. Or post longer or speedier workouts. But screw it – I don’t care. I’m going to be proud of what I do from here on in. Also, since I’m now 40 – I no longer care what people think (or so I’m telling myself). So, I’m going to start sharing what I’m proud of more. I know people are faster and do more work and look better, but I don’t care. I love seeing and sharing in the pride and accomplishments of others so I’ll add mine to the pile. Follow or un-follow as you see fit – this is me at 40.

What I’m proud of this year:
I Ran 36:41 in the Yonge St. 10K
I Ran 18:29 a 5K
I Ran 30:53 in the Harry’s 8K

And I like my abs today. (I don’t always and won’t always, but I do today so I’m posting it – sweat and all).


Bad hair day

Like everyone else who juggles their work, parenting and running commitments on a daily basis, I would consider myself fairly busy. For everything to run smoothly, it works best if I’m very well organized and have a strict routine. Unfortunately, my love of spontaneous activities coupled with my belief that I work better on tight deadlines, can sometimes leave me in less than desirable situations. Yesterday morning was one of those instances.

I hadn’t woken up at 5 a.m. to run because I was planning on run-commuting to and from work (4 miles each way). I love being efficient! I did however wake up with enough time to get kids’ breakfasts and lunches ready, eat my own breakfast, help them find their outfits for the day, and fire off a few work emails. Feeling accomplished I sat down and sipped my coffee when I suddenly looked at the clock and realized I only had 15 minutes to get myself showered, a shirt ironed, my outfit and work bag packed and all of us out the door. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem (see my belief in tight deadlines above) – but functioning like this leaves zero room for things to go wrong. They sometimes do.

When I hopped in the shower I realized I’d forgotten to buy shampoo and we were completely out. I scrambled through a drawer and found a sample – one of those single-use packages. As I opened it and tried to pour it out I found it was thick and gooey – more like a paste than a liquid. I thought maybe it just needed water so I smeared it across the top of my head. It did not lather or turn into a liquid. It just clung like wax to my hair in clumps. I had no time to fight with it so I got out and tried to brush it through. Then I realized it was not only thick and waxy – it stunk! I tried to blow-dry (while also ironing my shirt and getting my kids to brush their teeth) but the main top chunk remained stubbornly wet, dense and oily. At this point I had to call it “good enough” as we had to get out the door or we would miss the school bell. I power walked to the school with my kids jogging beside me to keep up (if they ever end up being runners they will thank me for these early years of development training) and hoped my hair would dry slightly on the way. It was then that I realized I’d forgotten a hair elastic.

It definitely says "shampoo"

It definitely says “shampoo”

I ran into work with my thick wad of waxy hair flopping up and down. I usually try to run in slowly so that I don’t get too sweaty and can do a quick change into work clothes to appear professional in minutes. That plan was a write-off, so I ran in quickly and showed up sweaty with a helmet head. I’m not really sure if people noticed. Maybe they were just too polite to say anything. But in the end, I figure I won. I made it to work, got my kids to school on time fed and clothed, and I got 8 miles of running in. Sometimes vanity has to take a back-seat to the more important matters.

I took this picture so my sister could laugh at me. Notice how big the helmet is.

I took this picture so my sister could laugh at me. Notice how big the helmet is.

My running crew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a tapering cliche

I’ve turned into a cliche. I know all about “Taper Madness” but it’s not me. I love tapering. As much as I love running, I also sometimes love not running. I’ve raced hundreds of races in my life, and I know how to get to the starting line ready to go. So what’s this? I’m running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon this weekend. And suddenly …

– I’m stressing over little aches and pains that have suddenly popped up
– I can’t tell if I’m eating too much or not enough
– I can’t seem to focus on my work and keep flipping to the race website to double-check details
– I’m not sure if I’m running too much – or not enough
– I go out with a friend and have two glasses of wine. Wait – was that smart 3 days before my race?
– I’m not as tired as usual with less running, so I’m not going to bed as early. Am I getting enough sleep?
– Should I stop doing core exercises 4 days out? 3 days out? At all?

Good grief! I didn’t know I cared that much about my performance here. Truth is I’m going for a PB, but I always am and will always be disappointed with less than that, even if it’s not realistic and I haven’t put in the training (which may be the case in this one.) Logically I’ll fall anywhere between my goal time (1:21) and 2-3 minutes of it. I’m straddling the line between being logically realistic and being optimistically confident – the two are not perfectly aligned. I know I’m over-thinking this and there’s nothing I can do now but show up on Sunday ready to give it my all. A glass of wine and 25 sit-ups aren’t going to make a difference either way. Deep breath, stop thinking, … here we go!

Let's just try to relax and enjoy this

Let’s just try to relax and enjoy this

A running adventure … and a new friend

I love running when I’m away from home because it gives me new experiences; different terrain, sites, sounds, smells, and weather turn each run into a refreshing break from my old routine.

The other day, I had a very unique experience running while traveling. The weather reports had been talking about a tropical hurricane for some time, but it had been continuously downgraded and eventually became what we thought was just some rain and a bit of wind. A few kilometers into my run, the drizzle turned into rain which then became heavy rain. As I continued it started to become fairly windy. I was about 5 kilometers along a road lined with sugar cane fields when I noticed a dog standing in the middle of the road about a hundred meters ahead of me, just staring at me. I had to think about what action to take. It was early in the morning, there was very little traffic, and most of the dogs here have some Pit Bull mix in them. There was no sign of anyone else around. I slowed down so that I didn’t appear threatening. As I walked up I realized it was not a menacing looking dog at all but a cute floppy-eared Pointer. I looked around and asked him where his people were and then decided to continue on. The wind was picking up and the rain was starting to hit me sideways. The dog seemed a little nervous and disoriented, bounding from one field, across the road, to another field and back to me as I continued along my way. A lone car drove by and the dog clearly had no traffic sense as it just missed being in the road at the same time. I tried not to engage him as I did not want him to follow me – I was almost at the halfway mark of my loop and would end up 6 kilometers from where we were. The dog had other ideas however, and bounded along beside me as I turned down a more remote cane field road. I began to think this was no ordinary storm as the wind gusts were blasting rain sharply into my face and at times would blow me sideways nearly off my feet. My buddy was clearly terrified of the storm, as every blasting gust would drive him either into the cane fields only to return behind me a few seconds later or directly into my body as he sought comfort. (I later learned that the wind was blowing at 50 km/hr with gusts up to 80 km/hr.) At this point I realized we were in it together and there was no getting rid of him, so I patted him and offered him some comforting words as we continued along. Tree branches and debris from the storm were littering the road, and I ran the last few kilometers with my arms at my head to protect myself from whipping debris.

my tree-lined route on a nicer day

my tree-lined route on a nicer day

status of many branches after the storm

status of many branches after the storm

We finally made it back to our rented cottage and I left my poor shaking friend outside while we called the animal rescue shelter.
waiting trustingly - he'd clearly put his faith in me to get him safely home

waiting trustingly – he’d clearly put his faith in me to get him safely home

It was a bit sad to drop him off – we’d shared an adventure together, but I knew his people were probably anxiously looking for him.

saying "good-bye"

saying “good-bye”

Sure enough, within ten minutes of leaving the shelter we received a call that his owners were on their way to pick him up. I’m happy that my friend found his home, but strangely, even though I was with him for only a couple of hours, I miss him. Maybe it’s time to get a dog…

How to: Selecting the perfect wine

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