Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Upside of Anger

Karen, Lyndsay, Jan and I ran Hamilton’s Road 2 Hope Marathon just over a week ago. Getting together for a debriefing of our running experience, we enjoyed breakfast.
It was a marathon of many firsts. Jan was the first to prove that you can actually finish a marathon in good time without much training (due to an injury, not choice). Lyndsay was the first to employ a new  very high tech motivational technique that I could see future Olympians using. While in the latter half of the race her sister Jessica ran beside her with an iphone, allowing Lyndsay’s other bed-ridden very pregnant sister Krista to cheer her on via video-conferencing and push her to keep going when she wanted to quit. And, of course Karen brought in a few first of her own. She was first of us women to finish under 4 hours but in my opinion, her most impressive first was to be the first of us to throw up on course (yay Karen!). I am a little jealous, actually. I think this esteemed position should have belonged to me as when it comes to running and upchucking, I feel  am somewhat of a champion. I am going to take a leaf from her book and possibly give this strategy a go next time--maybe if Iose my cookies during a race, I won’t need to during the after party!
Then, the topic of race anger emerged. And, when it comes to road rage, apparently Lyndsay is Queen.  It is sometimes hard for me to take her seriously--although I know she is serious--because she is the sweetest person alive. However, when she expresses anger, it is like seeing a three year old decked out in a skull and cross-bones bandana. You know it is a skull and cross-bones bandana, but somehow it just looks cute on a sweet innocent child.
As Lyndsay recounted her various pet peeves while running, one seemed to stand out. When she is in the upper kilometers of a marathon, the smell of body odour puts her into a rage. Unfortunately, body odour after running 30 kilometers is pretty much a given. So, needless to say, I am glad I wasn’t next to her for that part of her run!
I’ve found that I’ve been experiencing more than my usual dose of anger lately. It is with great hesitation and trepidation that I share this story. Please don’t judge too harshly. People who live in glass houses and he without sin and all that…
I was having a bad day to start with. But, I was running and running fast. I was pushing the limits and putting my soul into each step during a neighbourhood run when I ran by a large, scary motley gang of juvenile hoodlums. (Okay, it was a small group of what looked to be three clean cut twelve year old school boys.) They decided it would be fun to jeer out chants and screams of “Run, run, run…oooh, look at her go. Run faster.” The words sounded innocent enough but their tone was evil. I’m going to let you in on a secret. People who run do not want you to comment. And, by the way “Run Forrest, Run” is not funny, clever, new or remotely cool. It is just annoying.
What happened next is embarrassing and possibly a new base level to my existence. I am not proud. And, when I tell you, you will be shocked. Or, at least I hope you will be shocked. I shocked myself.
The flock of boys caught me on the wrong day. I sized them up. Judging by the general rotund nature of their physique, the velocity with which I was travelling, the fact that I was about to go downhill and, upon first glance, they didn’t look to be armed I made a snap judgement call. A bad one, but a judgement call all the same. They looked like the only exercise they got was picking on smaller children or tormenting toads, I figured I could easily outrun them.
Now, I should preface this event with some background. For 15 years I was a teacher. An elementary school teacher. In fact, for the most part I taught twelve year olds. I prided myself with being calm, level headed and nurturing. And, in 1994 I was even honoured with an award called the “Award of Excellence” where I was nominated by my peers for my classroom, school and community contributions to society. Ha! If they could see me know I’m sure they’d ask for it back.
It’s a good thing that I am no longer a paying member of the Ontario College of Teachers, because I am pretty sure I would have been stripped of my membership.
With one fatal motion, I raised my hand high right after passing the boys and then I gave them a gesture. Not a nice gesture. In fact, a rather rude gesture. A gesture that would have sent me to the principal’s office had I been twelve years old instead of someone who was thirty four years their senior and should know a whole lot better. This was a new level of low.
It was the fuel that ignited the intensity and volume of their jeers. I remember hearing myself speak to myself over the blaring of my ipod, “I can’t believe I just did that.”
Anger.
Then, about a week later there was the whole de-friending incident on facebook. One of my ‘friends’, an American (that alone should say it all) was quite hyped up about their election and was constantly posting rather opinionated political comments and links. I am not particular political and generally don’t get involved in debating or bashing. I do have my personal opinions but I attempt to stay respectful. To me, argument for argument’s sake is simply an ego feeding food that never satisfies. It is like high fructose corn syrup; feels good at the time, but just leaves you wanting more.
But, once again, that demon anger raised its head and I engaged against my better judgement. Unhappy with an article in The National Post my ‘friend’ commented that Canadians shouldn’t comment on U.S. politics and should stick to what they do best, hockey and maple syrup.
How wrong could that statement be? Doesn’t she know anything? We don’t do hockey well, we’re on strike.
I felt like a mouse looking at the cheese. It looks so good but you know as soon as you sink your teeth in it’s a trap. Did it any way. It went something like this:
     Me: Peter Jennings was a Canadian.
     Random Other American: Peter Who?
     I thought he was being sarcastic. He truly can’t be this uninformed
     Me: Not cool.
     Random Other American: Didn’t recognize the name.
     I realize now the dude is serious. He’s never heard of Peter Jennings. I see in his profile he is in the U.S. military. Oh boy.
     Me: link to Peter Jennings in Wikipedia
     Random Other American: Sorry, didn’t know who he was.
     Me:  Well, he was one of the most well-known U.S. political news anchors and he was born in Toronto…but what do I know. I’m just a Canadian commenting on U.S. politics.
My momentary high came crashing down when I realized what I wrote. Why was I engaging in this conversation? I deleted all my posts, sent a quick note to my ‘friend’ respectfully explaining that I did not wish to use facebook as a political platform, wished her love and then defriended her.
Why was I experiencing so much anger? I kept thinking about anger because I couldn’t see any upside to it. Why do we experience such an devastating emotion? Why does it exist? This past week I’ve been oozing, sweating it out with every breath. It seems to be so negative. It eats at my stomach, consumes my thoughts and makes me feel horrible.
Then, one possible answer came to me when most good things come to me, on a run.  I don’t believe we are meant to live with anger. However, to everything there is a season and a purpose under the sun. And, I believe it exists for a reason and that reason is a temporary flag.
I came to the conclusion that anger is a bridge, a warning signal, a flashing yellow light, a transition emotion. I think it exists to get us to pay attention and let us know we need to deal with something. It is necessary to help us prioritize what requires attention immediately. It is the emotional equivalent to bleeding. As long as you have breath and a heart beat, the next order of first aid is to stop the bleeding. You can't live with profuse bleeding forever. It has to be curbed.
For me, anger doesn’t just dissipate all by itself. I can try to ignore it and simply replace it with happy thoughts but it bubbles up in the most inopportune times and then innocent children or facebook friends suffer…I don’t like feeling angry. In fact, I find it quite yucky (that is the psychological word for it). So, how can I get rid of this nasty, horrible emotion? Sometimes it feels as complicated as defusing a bomb…until I went for a run.
The way I see it, there are only 2 possible reactions. It may be over simplified, but I’m a simple person.
One reaction to anger is to view it as a call to arms and fight whatever you are angry with. But, this doesn’t make sense because you are just perpetuating an enemy…which in turn breeds more anger.  You have to be angry to fight and fighting makes you angry.
The alternate reaction is to accept whatever you are angry with and take action by focussing on the world of possibilities. As far as I can tell this is the only way to transition from anger to someplace new.
There are all these angry campaigns to fight war, discrimination, crime, terrorism, famine, heart disease and cancer. Instead, how about a call to see war, discrimination, crime, terrorism, heart disease and cancer as it is, then envision and focus on the great possibilities of peace, inclusion, kindness, tolerance, health and abundance.
Accept what is, and put your energy toward all the best possible outcomes. Because isn’t that what life is, possibilities? As far as I can tell, at least from how I see things today, this is the only upside to anger.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Blindsided

I received a call this week that took me by surprise. “Knocked me for six” as the cricket expression goes.
-----------------------------------
Our next scheduled marathon was coming up and I was blindsided in the peak of training with a horrible cold. In the previous marathon Karen was injured doing yard work during the height of conditioning. And now, I opened the email that almost brought me to tears. Lyndsay was hit with a torn meniscus. We knew her knee was hurting, but we kept rationalizing it away, coming up with every reason except the real one.
I called her.
“How are you feeling?”
“Ok.”
“What is the verdict?”
“Well, the doctor says I can run short distances and we’ll take it from there. But, there is a chance I won’t run the race.”
“Oh no.”
“But its okay. It is good to be blindsided, isn’t it?”
I am confused and glad that she can't see my face through the phone line because she would see me staring at her incredulously like she had three heads.
“Is it?” I obviously was the oldest but not the most mature in this situation.
“Yes, it helps you put things into perspective.”
Oh, that.
“I guess so.” I draw out my answer more of a question than a statement.
It doesn’t seem fair. You set your sights and state your goal, you devise a plan and stick to it. You train 6 months and something little like a cold, a slip in the yard and small tear in a ligament or a stomach bug can end the race before it begins.
Sidelined.
The past year has been full of sidelines. Karen lost her beloved cat, Harley and we lost our dog, Hank, exactly one month later. My roommate from university is helping her husband live with an unexpected aggressive cancer and my son’s girlfriend has lost her job. In my small circle of friends and neighbours, people are dealing with family breakups, loss of jobs, deaths, suicides and sickness. And, that is only the things I know about. Who knows what silent, intimate struggles people are battling in their hearts?
One man I know, Brad and his family got some crazy news a few weeks back I am sure no one saw coming. I’ve known Brad from the moment he was born. He was a couple years my junior and his grandparents and my parents were best friends. And, although I would never classify Brad as a buddy, he was more than an acquaintance. It was one of those weird relationships that couldn’t really be pegged. We never really played together as kids, we never hung out as teenagers yet he was ‘there’. New Years, family parties, get-togethers; he was a present, like a friendly wallpaper. As our lives continued I would hear about what he was up to via his Grandmother who kept me abreast of the major landmarks in his life. I’ve never kept in touch and have seen him maybe twice since we were adults but still consider him not quite family, not exactly a friend but more than an acquaintance—a really unique grey area. Currently he lives in Southern California.
I got an email from his mother…what started out as unexplained bruising ended up being acute myelogous leukemia. Surprise!
Recovery is a real and wonderful possibility, however, I am sure it will be a long road.  Couldn’t help but be touched by one of his facebook posts:
So, here I am in the hospital with a blood-based disease (AML type M3, you can google it). From what I can tell, I’m using way more than my fair share of Platelets, one of the blood components that contributes to clotting. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to donate blood due to the disease that I have, but I’d encourage any of you, my friends and family, to strongly consider making a small trip to a donation center and giving a pint of blood.
Don’t do it because it might save my life or someone else that you know and love, do it because it might save some random stranger’s life and they’ll be grateful for the opportunity that you have given them even if your paths never cross.
Anyway, I hope this didn’t fall under the “too long didn’t read” category for too many of you, and I hope that you all are having a wonderful day today. Here in Southern California beyond the walls of my room the weather looks to be wonderful.
Enjoy the day!
I’ve done some good things in my life. Given to charities, donated time, bought Girl Guide cookies. However, I am sad to admit I have NEVER donated blood in my entire 46 years. I am a little, shall we say, squeamish about needles or anything medical for that matter. But, if I can run 42.2 km surely donating blood can’t be that bad. This is on top of my to-do list after recovering from the marathon.
Brad’s post made me think. What if we’ve got it all wrong? We think that life is setting goals, then working towards them. Plotting a course then keeping your heading. But, what if the essence of life is the obstacles and our goals are simply avenues to getting blindsided? Maybe the real accomplishments are listening to a neighbour who needs to talk, making that platter of food for a funeral, taking someone out for coffee, helping someone look for a new job, sending an encouraging text….giving blood! Maybe running marathons, getting that promotion, obtaining that certification are simply the true examples of us getting blindsided from our real purpose. If that is the case, then Lyndsay was right. Being blindsided is good.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Real Deal



The trouble these days is things aren’t always as they appear. The hamburger in the commercial never looks that big in real life, the car price doesn’t really start at $14,000 and that free magazine comes with a subscription you pay for if you forget to cancel!

Recently, my cat Echo, after 10 glorious years of being an indoor cat, content and cozy living within the safety provided by the four walls of our home, has decided this beacon of security is now a prison of maximum security. Every time the sliding door to the back deck opens she darts with the ferocity of an inmate escaping from Alcatraz. Once out on the deck she hides behind the patio set, staring at me, taunting me with her big alien eyes when I attempt in vain to coax her back in.

This is where Temptations come in. Temptations are a cat treat featured on a popular commercial where, when the bag is shaken a cat jumps over a fence, through a yard, over floatation devices in a swimming pool, back to the owner. The commercial is the Real Deal. Seriously. Echo can be on a mission to be the next best escape artist since Houdini and I can shake a bag of Temptations and she will come bounding in before I can blink.  I don’t know what they put in that stuff, probably some type of highly addictive narcotic, but it certainly works. I may unwittingly be Echo’s feline drug pusher and not even know it.

For me, another Real Deal is the long run. My favourite training run is the speed workout, I tolerate hills and don’t mind tempo, however, the most sacred run of all is the weekend long run. I love it in the summer and fall when you can trade the confines of city streets, the relative safety of residential neighbourhoods and the monotonous repetitive routes for stunning rural scenery beyond the circumference of the city limits.

If the sun shines and the fields glimmer, my mind zones in and something very miraculous happens, usually about 20km into the run. For some reason it becomes a spiritual experience. Unless you have experienced it, I don’t think you can truly grasp it. I feel like I am floating. The movement of my body stills my mind. I become purely in the moment; everything else disappears except the beauty around me. All the cares and worries of my life evaporate. I feel as though I am gliding, smooth and fluid with the beating of my heart.

I said that’s how I feel, not how I look. I am experiencing all this bliss on the inside only. For someone watching, it would look like a stuggling, middle-aged woman shuffling along, slumped over enough to make the Hunchback of Notre Dame look like the exemplary poster child for the Canadian Chiropractic Association. I am gasping air like I have advanced emphysema and am moving barely faster than most people walk. However, none of that matters to me because I am not looking in. I am looking outward.

It occurred to me that this is true well beyond the scope of running. When we stop looking inward and instead look outward at all the amazing beauty and goodness that surrounds us, quieting our minds and moving to the rhythm of the earth, we become real; the Real Deal.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

I am, I said


A few months back I was chatting with the new owner of a massage therapy chain. I had just finished my treatment and I was mentioning my purpose for massage.

“Oh, so you jog.” He mistakenly remarked.

“Pardon?”

“You jog?”

“Pardon me?” There was nothing wrong with my hearing but I refused to listen to this nonsense. He obviously wasn’t picking up on the social cue I was desperately trying to relay.

“You like to jog?” he tried one more time.

I decided to put him out of my misery.

“I am a runner.” It was a declarative statement, like the sky is blue or gravity keeps us attached to the earth. Not that there is anything other than syntax separating the word ‘jog’ from the word ‘run’, it just feels like one comes across as a hobby, something you might do casually for fun. The other, something you are.

So when did I move from someone who jogs to someone who is a runner? It isn’t something I do; it is something I am. But, isn’t that what all spiritual growth is about? Moving from simply a state of doing to the bliss of being?

Prompted by a very funny story told to me by one of my running friends (all names and circumstances have been changed to protect the innocent—I only make fun of people I don’t know…), I have given contemplation to the signs and symptoms that show that you have made the stride (pun intended) from jogging to becoming a runner.

You know you are a runner when:
  • You have thrown up at least once before, during or after a run.
  • You plan all holidays, dates, medical appointments, and kids’ birthday parties around the training schedule.
  • You happily set your alarm clock for 5:30 am on a Sunday morning so you can run double-digit kilometers before it gets too hot.
  • You have had a blister on a blister on your foot
  • You have lost at least one toenail.
  • You own a watch that easily uses GPS technology to tell you how fast you are going, but don’t know how to get it to tell you the time of day.
  • You own more running shoes than all other types of shoes combined.
  • You have more specialized gear than an astronaut.
  • When you hear the words ‘body glide’ the first thing that comes to mind is a petroleum based product to prevent chafing.
  • You have used your kitchen rolling pin to roll out your calves at least once.
  • You know what IT (and its not information technology) stands for and can locate it on your body.
  • While the general public is warned about the over consumption of salt, you actually take pills of it on your runs.
  • You have had to deal at least once with dogs/horses/wild animals of some type.
  • You speak of food as fuel and specific foods never by their real names. Words like bread, pasta and potatoes are always referred to as carbs.
  • You know who Paula Radcliffe and Scott Jurek are.
  • You check the charge on your Garmin and ipod daily.
  • You have read “Born to Run” more than once.

And the final one…based on a true story
  • You have veered off the road into the woods—field—ditch—fill in the blank—and emerged with only one sock—a sacrifice well worth it.

And that, my friend, truly shows that you have arrived.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Revenge of the Muffin


Ottawa Marathon Weekend is upon us and here is the plan: drive to cottage on Friday night, drive to Ottawa on Saturday and run a marathon on Sunday. Sounds simple with the most difficult part, of course, being running the marathon.

A small hiccup is my son and a couple other sundry people are moving into our basement in our absence. Having cave dwellers move in isn’t in itself a problem, but cleaning out the cave is.  It seems that I have enough stuff hidden down there to warrant me a guest appearance on “Hoarders”.

Some furniture needs to be re-located. My friend Karen who experienced back issues two weeks before the marathon while doing yard work hands out some strong warnings of caution. I move the furniture any way against my better judgment—and Karen’s. It all has to be done before I leave.

Kanoock needs a dog sitter, the cat needs someone to feed her, keys need to be cut for the new tenants. So much to do, so little time.

Somehow everything gets done, I am packed and we leave for the cottage late at night. Now, in long runs Lyndsay invariable has a story about some type of wildlife encounter.

“Hey, did anyone see the raccoon, baby ducks, wild turkey….fill in the blank?”

Of course no one else ever does so her sightings are completely unverifiable, although I am pretty sure the wildlife is real and not a delusion caused by long run exhaustion. She is like some type of ‘Wildlife Whisperer’ Shaman-like creature, beckoning the animal kingdom to appear to her during runs.  She has a particular fascination with moose. She didn’t see her first moose in the wild until last year, which in itself is a complete mystery as she is from North Bay.

I am currently jolted upright in the seat as the brakes slams on. I see something waddle off the road, “What is that?”

“Raccoon.”

“Good eye. Glad we didn’t hit it.”

Ten minutes pass. Once again I am bolt upright staring out the window.

Bambi.

A tiny little deer is in the middle of the road, looking the other way. We wait patiently until he slowly makes his way to the other side.

This is all too Lyndsay-like. I text her in my limited way.

     Me: We almost hit a raccoon and deer.
     Response: Oh, be careful. Watch out for moose.
     Me: Okay, will do.

Another ten minutes.

“What was that?” I almost scream. Something little scurries under our wheels.

“A mouse.”

The silly rodent commits suicide under my car. I feel bad and experience the need to tell Lyndsay about this situation. After all, she is the Animal Whisperer. Maybe her special powers have magically transferred to me.

Now, I am not a texting expert (see previous post). Some people are developmentally delayed, technologically delayed or emotionally delayed. I am ‘texting delayed’.  In my defense I would like to point out that there is only one letter difference between the word ‘mouse’ and ‘moose’. Luckily I sent a second correctional text before 911 was deployed…

Twenty minutes of peace. Phew.

Then a fox runs right in front of us. Luckily for us—and certainly lucky for him--we swerve and miss. 

The porcupine that followed, however, was not so lucky.

It was previously run over when our car bangs and clanks to finish the job. Being behind another car, we are upon it before we have an opportunity to miss it.

I feel my muscles tense and my neck seize up. A headache creeps over me.

I am so happy to arrive at the cottage in one piece.

In the morning my Dad offers me his famous muffins, homemade and healthy. Now, the general rule of thought is to avoid anything with significant fiber the day before a marathon.  So I query said muffin before digging in.

“Is this high fiber?”

“No, not really.” The statement is somewhat vague and a little bit sketchy. For some reason it reminds me of the phrase, “I am not a crook…”

I proceed with my line of questioning, “What’s in them?”

“Dates, nuts, whole wheat flour, orange.”

I am not sure what my father’s definition of fiber is but that certainly sounds like two bottles of Metamucil topped off with a helping of oat bran and a bucket of prunes. So I exercise the utmost of prudence….and only eat one…at a time.

The muffins are pretty good. Time to head out, my dad hands me 2 more muffins in a bag. Here are some for the road.

“Thanks.”

We leave just before noon and the drive to Ottawa seems to drag on and on. I am fighting a head ache and am getting hungrier and hungrier. The muffins are speaking to me. I resist for a little while but finally I cave and eat muffin #2.

Once in Ottawa we need to locate Lyndsay who is staying at a friend’s apartment to pick up my race kit.

     Texting
     Me: We’ll be there in 5
     Lyndsay: Great
     Me: Make that 30 minutes.


From Lyndsay’s I head to the hotel. I run in. 


“What’s your name?” the desk clerk asks.

No reservation. No trace, no nothing. I take on the posture of a deranged women. Actually, I am a deranged woman at that moment.

“Here, why don’t you try online to look up your reservation?” The calm attendant leads me to a public computer.

Nervously I search my email for my reservation. Aha! I find it.

Here it is.

My email lists the correct nights, but the confirmation code listed 2 entirely different nights. I am not prepared to travel back to the cottage tonight. Enough wildlife has been sacrificed for this run.

“No problem. We have extra rooms.”

I love you, I think to myself.

I am now pretty tired, fairly stressed and hungry. That third muffin stares at me. I can’t take it any more. I demolish it.

We spend the night at the market getting a bite to eat and relaxing. I have a splitting headache. I take advil, wake up in the night and take some more.

“I don’t think I will be able to run tomorrow if this doesn’t lessen,” I say to myself at about 4 in the morning.


But I will the ache away and am up and ready by 6 am.

I head out towards Karen’s hotel. 

Karen’s husband Jan looks at me, “What’s wrong?”

“I forgot my waffle.”

Athletes, even amateur just for fun ones, have routines and rituals that they feel help them perform better. And, mine is I eat this type of cookie/waffle about 15 minutes before a race or long run. I have left it in the hotel room. And, Jan says the kindest thing anyone could possibly say to me at that moment, “Don’t worry. You don’t need it. It would only make you feel sick anyway.”
Those are the best and smartest words ever. I relax.

The race starts and it is wonderful. The crowds are amazing, the weather perfect and the scenery breath-taking. Running is the easy part. There is no real stress – no traffic, no wildlife, no parking, no hotel reservations, no hunger. Just pure running. Simple, focused and fun. Poetry in motion.

I feel amazing for the most part, until km 28. This is the moment the muffins take flight. Up until today I have never visited a porta potty during a race, but today is to be a first. I cut someone off as I dart into the rectangular plastic blue cubicle. Maybe 3 muffins was a bit excessive. Two minutes is a small price to pay to avoid a life time of embarrassment.

Things improve until km 35 when my stomach acts up. I have a gravol for post race as I sometimes (always) have stomach issues after long runs. I make an executive decision and take the medication early.

Now, if I am ever approached to be the gravol poster girl I would do an excellent job of promoting their product. However, there is one side effect I do suffer with—sleepiness. Sleepiness is probably not the most desirable quality to possess at km 36 in a 42.2 km run. But despite my ever declining pace, I manage to make it over the finish line without curling up in a ball on the side of the road to take a nap.

The race weekend is amazing and the exact opposite of what I expect but exactly as it should be. Ironically, the easiest part of the entire weekend was running the marathon!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Need for Speed?

Without measurements, it’s hard to notice improvements. However, upon completing a long group training run before the first half marathon of the 2012 season I ran hard and realized I was the first female in the group to complete the 21 route. A stranger came up to me and said something that made my knees feel weak and my face turn 3 shades of red. He said those three words that every woman who runs dreams of hearing, “You are fast.”
This year, my running goal was to get a little faster. It’s strange that we have this insatiable ‘need for speed’.
Hank, one of our border collie/Australian shepherd crosses also had this crazy need for speed. Everything he did, he did with all his might. At the mere sight of his lead he went into a frantic jumping/whining frenzy, earning him the nick name ‘Jerry Springer’.  Walking him required the upper body strength of Mr. Universe.
Hank was the first in the car. He was also the first out of the car. The first out the door and always the first in. He loved everyone, jumped on everything, licked anything, ate his dinner in lightning speed and had three favourite words as well: din-dins, walkies and cottage. He was truly joy in a fur casing.
Hank’s flamboyant personality wasn’t without its challenges.  He barked too much, played too rough with baby rabbits (RIP), doves (why he left only the head I don’t know), porcupines (twice, which may say something about his IQ), and the skunk (luckily I was on vacation when that one occurred, leaving the rest of the family to deal with it). I wanted to put a sign on the gate to the backyard saying, “Warning Wildlife, Enter at Own Risk, Hank Lives Here”.
All the neighbours knew Hank for various, and not always pleasant reasons, but none so much as the family behind us who own the chocolate lab, Tucker. Hank learned how to jump the back 5 foot chain link fence. Actually, it was less jumping and more climbing. So, at his discretion, he would randomly jump the fence to play with his friend Tucker.
I was always yelling at him, “Hank, get back here.” Sometimes I would have to go get him. Then, he found another set of dogs in the next house and would jump our fence, then Tucker’s fence and thus began his life of crime.
I started to notice that he would jump the fence when Tucker wasn’t out as well. Raw hides, bones and toys became to spontaneous sprout in our back yard. Mr. Robber was waiting for when Tucker was inside to go pillage. This had to stop.
And, thus, the 6 foot wooden fence was built. Upon its completing, Hank looked at it long and hard. He backed up all the way to our house, then turned and ran at it with all his might. It was like watching a cartoon—or a car crash. You could see what was coming next but it was too late to do anything about it. He hit the fence about half way up with a splat and, plastered against the fence, slid down like Wiley Coyote in the Roadrunner. Unlike the porcupine incidents, he never tried again.
Hank’s need for speed was actually a natural outgrowth for his pursuit for joy. Joy overflowing personified, or caninified if you will.
****
We scattered some of Hank’s ashes at the cottage this week. It’s so quiet now. Kanoock, Hank’s brother, the one left behind, is more cultured and well behaved. There is no one to chastise or chase after.
What a lesson Hank was. Joy first. Everything else second. Do what you love with all your enthusiasm and might. Be in the moment. That was Hank.
It’s one week to the Ottawa Marathon. This will be the anniversary of my first marathon ever. Initially in the season I had a time goal but life has dealt my training partners and I various obstacles. Denise just had a new baby girl! Karen said good bye to her cat and recently hurt her back doing yard work. Last week Lyndsay’s ankle mysteriously swelled up. We lost Hank and it is supposed to be really hot next weekend—less than ideal conditions for obtaining a personal best time. Personal issues, loss, injury, and weather—all things we have little control over. Joy, however, is a decision.
Whatever this weekend holds, I choose joy.
Thanks Hank!
Hank Fraser
2001 - 2012
Joy in a Fur Casing

Saturday, February 11, 2012

No finish Line

Sometimes running can be absolutely magical. The planets align, you get your stride, you experience an almost out of body experience, gliding kilometers upon kilometers, your breath keeping cadence with your heart. And then there was today…
To say that I had a bad run would be an understatement as I am sitting at the computer with three heating pads and one ice pack plastered strategically on various parts of my legs and buttock. I am so fortunate to live in Canada, a country strong and free. However, it is also the True North. And, today, it delivered splendidly. We have actual temperatures but we go one step farther. We have ‘feels like’ temperatures. And, today, according to the radio it felt like -24.
This alone will not prevent a run for any self-respecting enthusiast so Karen, Lyndsay and I went despite the cold. Everything started out fine, however, ticking off each kilometer brought something new to tick me off.
At about kilometer 9 we turned into a dreadful breeze, probably like an Abu Dhabi wind storm…minus the heat of course. My contact lenses felt like they froze to my eyeballs, like a couple of metal spoons were sitting on my cornea. Blink, Heather, just keep blinking. I read somewhere that eyes don’t freeze so I should be fine.
Challenge number two was the slushy snow. You have to change your stride and by kilometer 14 or so my entire right leg decided, starting with my butt, shooting through my calf and ending at my ankle to tighten up with the grip of a vice. I needed the jaws of life to release the tension. No worries, Karen was patient enough to let me stretch.
Things improved until Kilometer 18 rolled around with a new challenge. The water was frozen. You would need an auger and a fishing hut to cut through my water bottle. I tried to unscrew the top of the bottle, only to have some of the water spill on my hand. I took some gulps of the ice-infested waters experiencing a whole new level of brain freeze I didn’t know existed. I tried, unsuccessfully I might add, to get the top back on the bottle. It didn’t work so I ditched the rest of the water. I couldn’t unzip my pocket to get put the bottle top away and Karen rescued me by putting it in her pocket.
“I need to get my mitt on now,” I suddenly said. The water that spilled on my hand had frozen and I felt like I may be in danger of frost bite. Probably not, but that’s how I felt. I managed to ungracefully plunge my hand into my mitt and pull it up with my teeth.
I became painfully aware that I can’t hear my music. I ran for another kilometer then decided to press ‘play’ again on my ipod.  Nothing. Battery must be gone. I was not a happy bunny.
In 6 kilometers we approached the Running Room. I bailed. I started to walk, (well limp, really, thinking of appropriate expletives with each and every hobble) towards the heat and comfort of the store. I wanted water and I was tight and sore. It’s never a question of can you, but will you. And today I decided that I wouldn’t. Karen continued on and completed her 28 kilometer. Kudos to her for her tenacity and strength.
Every once in a while you just have a bad run. The great thing about bad runs is that it makes you really appreciate and savour the good ones. And, every time you have a bad run, you know you are that much closer to having a great one.
I could be upset with myself. There are truly no excuses. But, I chose not to be because I know as long as I am blessed with life and health there will be more opportunities to do better. Today was just one day, a necessary speck in an incredible and detailed ongoing journey. There is no finish line.
There are races, markers and mile stones but there is no end; at least not until I decide so. This is something I need to remind myself of often.
Blessings. Even the bad. They are all blessings.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sole Sisters

“so…ummm,” Lyndsay starts as we begin a weekend long run.
“I lost a toe nail yesterday”, she brags.
“Congratulations!” Karen hands out accolades.
“Good for you.” I add.
“Yeah, I’m hard core now. It turned black a long time ago and has just been hanging on. Then, yesterday, when I was cutting my toe nails I realized it wasn’t really attached to anything and it just came off.”
“Cool.”
“Wow.”
Now to normal people (aka non-runners) this may seem like a rather strange conversation, however, to women that run, this is nothing unusual. We don’t even bat an eyelash which got me thinking. Women who run may look like normal people when you encounter them at work or in the grocery store, but put a pair of Asics on their feet and a Garmin on their wrist and they turn into women with the heart of a cheetah and the strength of an amazon dweller.  So, today, I thought I’d do my civic duty and, in a gesture of charity, offer a personally annotated public service announcement to anyone who might be interested in dating, marrying or just befriending a women who runs and give you the inside scoop into the psyche of a ‘sole sister’.
Article 1 – Food
Although sole sisters sometimes look like they eat like a bird, they can actually eat an entire bird in one sitting--a pterodactyl or albatross. Most sole sisters can--and do--eat the equivalent of their own body weight within a 24 hour period. I know because I’ve done it.  And, they can do it with the voracity and speed of King Kong popping back the entire population of New York City. Don’t be deceived by slim figures or slight frames. It is simply a fa├žade. Food is their life and if you get between a sole sister and pre-race regiment meal, watch out.
Personal Note: Yesterday I secretly ate supper before my family got home. Then, we ate supper together (again for me). And, later, I had seconds---well, thirds but who’s counting. If that wasn’t enough, I still woke up from hunger at 2:00 am and found myself down stairs in the kitchen with my finger in the peanut better jar. I sometimes wonder if third world nations would be better off if I didn’t run.
There is an irony with sole sisters that is not worth questioning. In the month or so before a marathon, she will stay away from overly processed foods such as desserts and simple sugars, however, will then go on a long run and consumer 3 or 4 packets of pure glucose. This may not make sense to you, but I strongly suggest you don’t go there. This is one argument that won’t end sweetly.
Article 2 – Feet
Sole sisters’ feet are horrible. We have bunions, rotten toe nails, athlete’s foot, calluses, and cracked heels…and we don’t care. In the summer we simply wear closed toed sandals or paint our toe nails (or the skin where there should be toe nails) with very thick nail polish and hope no one is the wiser.
Article 3 – Weekends
The only slow and long thing a sole sister wants on the weekend is a run, usually upwards of 20 odd kilometers.  Deal with it.
Article 4 – Holidays
Sole sisters love spending time with their loved one at the movies, on holidays, going out to dinner or just snuggling up at home to watch TV—as long as it doesn’t interfere with the training schedule. All trips, vacations, birthday celebrations, anniversaries, births and funerals (well, not really funerals, but births for sure. Some of us are still trying to come to terms with Denise's 'I'm having another baby' stunt) must first be checked against the race schedule before they can be cleared. I have actually heard, “Well, we can’t go on the cruise that week because it is 2 weeks before the marathon…”
Article 5 – Demeanour
Generally, during non-running moments sole sisters are professional, upstanding citizens. Don’t be deceived by the cute little running skirts, or girly running tops. In certain running situations these women can swear like pirates pillaging an innocent wayfaring ship. Some of these conditions include but are not limited to:
1.       Bad drivers. Near misses with idiots behind the wheel who have no respect for running.
2.       On long runs when the battery dies on:
i.                     The ipod
ii.                   The Garmin
iii.                  Cell phone
3.       If she runs out of water, gel or if there are no washrooms en route.
4.       Any point in a race past the 32 km mark. No real reason required. All sorts of anger issues spontaneously surface. Note: Not a good time to propose marriage. Just saying.
Article 5 – Clothing
A sole sister will drive to Buffalo to save $50 on a pair of running shoes. She will salivate at the very utterance of “Lululemon” and would rather spend $100 on a new pair of running tights than a new dress…or at least she’d get more wear out of the tights. She most likely has her own drying rack for running gear and will not speak to you for a week if you put any of her running clothes in the dryer. She probably owns a pair of lucky socks. She actually wears running jewellery with pendants that are stamped with “26.2” or some such thing. If you really want to impress her—forget roses—think sports bra.
Article 6 – Digestive issues
Sole sisters often have digestive issues and they are willing to talk about them—with almost anybody. Don’t be offended or surprised. It is just a fact of running life and they think should understand. Post-race upset stomachs, or pre-race nerves, we need to share.

I hope this has given you insight into the running woman’s mind. As I am writing this, I am actually wearing a t-shirt kindly given to me from my friend Karen. On the front it says, “Sole Sisterhood” and on the back is says, “Friends to the Finish”. That just about sums it up really. If you can embrace that this is exactly what embodies a woman who runs, you can grow to love her! If not, I suggest you take up running—and  head in the other direction.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

What’s Your Number?

The Niagara Falls International Marathon is the only marathon in the world that starts in one country and finishes in another. So, naturally we absolutely must run it. And, by we, I mean Karen, Lyndsay and myself.
Since this is Karen’s inaugural marathon, her excitement and anticipation is bubbling over. And, since she is a people manager, and a very good one I might add, she makes all the arrangements for our accommodation and ‘night before’ meal.
Although I can operate high powered, top of the line graphic programs and know the difference between an eps, psd, pdf, png jpeg and ai file, have had my work appear in national newspapers, and designed billboards larger than my living room, I cannot, for the life of me, operate a cell phone. Since my running buddies are my juniors and very phone savvy, I make an honest attempt to learn to ‘text’ on my very old, number-pad only phone.
I’m so excited. My phone sings. I open it and there is a text message.
Ohhhh, what to do next?
I panic and press random buttons. It makes a strange noise and up pops a message, “Where are you?”
This is good. I can answer this one. We are on Highway 400. Oh, wait. This involves numbers. A cell phone only has to be 5 minutes old to be outdated. Like dogs, cell phones have their entirely own division of time. If a dog is two years old, we say he’s 14 in dog years. Well, my phone is probably a few years old…but in reality it’s at least a few millennia old in cell phone years. Fly backwards, skip the renaissance and land it in a puddle of dark ages. It has no key pad for typing, only numbers. Which is a little ironic because I can only make those numbers spell letters. I have no idea how to tell my numbers to spell, well, numbers. I begin that painful task of spelling out “h-i-g-h-w-a-y f-o-u-r h-u-n-d-r-e-d”. It takes me about 15 minutes, but I am able to press ‘send’. It is a horrible experience, but I take solace in the fact there is a slim to none chance there will be anymore text questions that require me to give a number in the answer. Phew. Relief.
In less than the tiniest micro-second, I get a response. “So r we. What time do you think you will get to the expo?”
Darn.
Double darn, there’s even punctuation in this one.
I sigh and painfully spell out ‘a-b-o-r-t t-v-o t-h-i-r-t-y.’
I know it’s misspelled but I am beyond caring. I press ‘send’.
I am now definitely sure I won’t have to spell out any more numbers.
I arrive at the hotel and settle in. The room is absolutely stunning. It is on the eighteenth floor, overlooking the falls. I jump on the bed, gawk at the Jacuzzi tub in the bathroom and I hear my phone again.
Text.
This time from Lyndsay.
“What’s your room number?”
I growl.
“E-i-g-h u (backspace) t-e-e-n o-h e-i-g-h-t u”
“1807” Miss Lightening Fingers responds. I am now jealous of her phone’s obvious superior capabilities. She’s next door.
I could text back, but it is quicker to go knock.

The morning of the run, we’re all up early and are chipper. One by one we appear in the hallway outside our rooms. Karen, me, then Lyndsay.
Our ‘people’ will be along course to offer fuel such as peanut butter sandwiches. We leave our entourage behind in their rooms, counting on seeing them en route.
“Guess what? My ipod didn’t charge. I had it plugged into my computer and nothing happened.” Lyndsay says.
“Is it completely dead?” Karen asks.
“No, there’s about half on it.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“You think?”
“Absolutely,” I say out loud. Inside I freak out. I can’t believe she won’t have an ipod. She’ll be lucky to last 5 minutes. I would die without an ipod in a marathon. I hope she doesn’t jump over the falls, driven to distraction by the lack of motivating music. How will she survive? This is absolutely the worse thing to happen ever!
So naturally I say, “It won’t be a problem at all, Lyndsay.”
Off to the bus. Karen’s mother, Jane, is kind enough to drive us to the meeting spot. We board. The girls head for the back. I feel like I’m in grade 5 going on a field trip all over again. Part of me wants to break out into a chorus of “The Wheels on the Bus”. But I refrain.
“So, what’s your word?” I ask Lyndsay.
“My word? What do you mean? You have a word?”
“Yes, my word is ‘believe’ and Karen’s is ‘fearless’.”
“It helps?” she asks.
“It helps me.”
“Hmmm,” she contemplates.
“What about ‘hope’?” I offer.
I can tell by her face that offer is refused. She wants something a little more raw, edgy and young like she is.
Karen comes to the rescue, “How about ‘toughen…..up’. Since this is a child-friendly blog I won’t give you the unedited version. But, Lyndsay obvious likes it. Now, we all have a word, or in Lyndsay’s case words.
The bus keeps driving and driving and driving...and driving some more.
“We’ve been on here a long time,” Karen notes.
Then it occurs to me. We’ve been on the bus for probably a half hour, headed to another country and the only way home is by running. Suddenly I’m terrified.
We get to the border and two customs officers enter the bus. I don’t know what was in their cereal this morning because they are actually pleasant, polite and somewhat cheerful. I could be wrong but I think one guy even smiled. After checking all our passports we head off to our point of destination—the Albright/Knox Art Gallery because isn’t that where all stretching, nervous marathon runners should hang out for two hours? A gallery filled with precious art that can easily be damaged if you fell against the wall.
We walk by a painting of a side of beef only to be upstaged by a picture of a whole bunch of Campbell’s soup tins. There seems to be a theme. However, one good thing that the Albright/Knox art gallery has is flush toilets, a serious upgrade from port-a-potties so we all take advantage of this creature comfort. Lyndsay is the last to return. She leans against the wall between two roped off areas and starts to stretch her quads. Now I don’t know how many art galleries there are in North Bay, but I’m pretty confident that the Mona Lisa doesn’t hang out there so I’m sure it never occurred to Lyndsay that a little pre-run stretch would be an issue.
“Mam, Mam,” a rotund scary looking woman who obviously hadn’t cracked a smile since the early 70s is coming after Lyndsay. I think she showed up at the wrong job location this morning – she should work for customs.
“Don’t lean on the walls.”
“Oh, oh…sorry.” Lyndsay moves forward. “You can’t touch the walls?” she whispers to us.
Eventually we head to the start. We’re off.
All three of us are together, taking in the sights and sounds of Buffalo. And, to my utter surprise, it is beautiful. The temperature is perfect, the sun is shining, and we’re winding through really pretty neighbourhoods. Who knew Buffalo has such pretty parts?
At about 900 meters in, a friendly American yells, “Great work, you’re almost there.”  I suddenly worry about the U.S. educational system. Apparently it is in more of a mess than I thought. Maybe they need to pour a little more money into their Math curriculum.
Before we know it we’re hitting the Peace Bridge. Shania is wailing “Today is Your Day” on my ipod. And, it is amazing. All three of us cross over. The view (and the run) is breath taking and it is hard to believe we are granted the opportunity to run over this border crossing—legally!
A man running with a “Running for Japan” t-shirt keeps stopping to take pictures of a stuffed animal.
“Look at that bear,” I yell to Lyndsay. He’s chronicling its run.
“It’s a moose,” he yells back to me. I didn’t realize he heard me!
Pardon me. I can’t believe I, of all people, did not notice that it was a moose!
Eventually we all lose each other, settling into our own paces. After the half way mark I am getting hungry. I keep looking for my peeps but I don’t see them anywhere. I want my peanut butter sandwich. I imagine they got lost,  over slept or had to park so far away they couldn't make it. I almost shed a tear for the sandwich I will never have. Then I spot Karen’s relatives.  I wave and keep running. Then I realize I can give them my gloves as I don’t need them anymore. I turn around and start running back to them and stop. Not only am I tired, but I am stupid. Who back tracks in a marathon?? I lay the gloves down and ask them to come and pick them up.
Several kilometers later I spot my entourage. I should be saying I am happy to see them but truthfully I was all about the peanut butter sandwich at that point. As I approach they start running, backwards, away from me, holding the sandwich out in front. I am a greyhound chasing the rabbit skin. I think it is funnier for them than me but eventually I get to eat my sandwich!
I pass a sign that makes me giggle “Chafing lasts for a day, bragging rights last for a lifetime.” After kilometer 30 I notice a dude with Isaiah 40:31 written on the back of his shirt, “…they shall run and not get tired.” Obviously I wasn’t consulted when this was written.
It is now a mental game. I look down at my watch, I am slowing. It hurts. I speed up. It hurts.  However, if I go faster, this will finish quicker so I keep my pace up.
I see Karen up ahead. I pass her. Now, normally I would stop to see how things are going but if I stop I probably won’t start again. She says something about stomach upset and gives me one of her eload discs. It isn’t long before she recovers and breezes by me again.
I finish. I am happy. Karen is already there with her family.
 Apparently it is supposed to speed recovery. People are kind of staring at me but nothing in me cares in the least. Lyndsay joins us soon sans tunes. The ipod had died quickly after she turned it on. Even without music, she managed her personal best for the half marathon split. Must have been her ‘word’.
We head home. Now, there are some things I know for sure. I know with certainly that gravity keeps us planted on earth, the sun gives us life and oxygen is necessary for breath. I also know, with the same conviction and certainty that after running 42 kilometers, I will throw up. What I don’t know for sure, however, is how many times.
Seven. It is seven. I throw up seven times. And, we have to pick up a friend in Toronto along the way home. I am stuffed in the back seat with my head in a bag. It is noted that I somewhat resemble a horse in a feed bag. I never regretted buying a car with standard transmission so much before in my life as I am lurched with each gear change.
“I hope you don’t mind,” it is said to the new passenger, “but she’s a little sick.”

That's the understatement of the century.
“I don’t mind,” Marcus answers, “as long as she doesn’t throw up on my bass guitar.”
Marcus plunks the guitar beside me. I put my head back in the bag and promise not to defile it.
“Turn up the music,” I yell from the comfort of my plastic bag.
“Why?”
Why? They have to ask? Here comes number eight.
Eventually back at home I recover. We all do in our own way. It is a great weekend. Certainly one for the memory books. Congratulations to Karen who is now part of the 42.2 km club! Something in her facebook quote the following week strikes me as being so true, and I paraphrase from whoever she is quoting:
The person who finishes the marathon is not the same person who started it.
So true! In my case, she’s a much sicker one!
*By the way, no bass guitars were harmed in the creation of this blog.