Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Singing the no bling blues

I learned last week that the Bean There, Ran That Marathon doesn't offer a finisher's medal. Seriously? I understand why there are no medals for shorter races but - call me superficial - when I make the effort to train for a half or full marathon, I expect a medal. The organizers say they've opted to forgo medals because the event is a fundraiser for the local hospital and they want to keep costs down. Which makes sense, I guess, except that they'd probably attract a lot more runners if they offered some bling.  Like it or not, many runners are like me and prefer to run races that offer medals when they can.

The event does offer a pretty nice technical t-shirt but, as you can see, I've got plenty of those. In fact, I've got far too many. The largest drawer in my dresser is reserved for running gear and I haven't bought a new shirt in years. I just wear the ones I've collected at races - which makes me wonder why running stores bother to sell shirts at all.

Over the past year, I've done my best to get rid of stuff I no longer need, starting with unused running gear. Typically I run just 3 to 4 times a week so, even taking seasons into account, I need fewer than half the shirts in my drawer. The trouble is I find it difficult to part with any of them. Good or bad, the races I've run over the past 13 years are important markers along the road of my running career and I treasure the swag that helps me remember them. Even the worst races (Johnny Miles in 2011, for instance) made me a better runner by teaching me lessons I needed to learn.

I feel the same way about finisher's medals - but even more so. Most years, I only bring home 2 or 3 but they are affirmation that, against all odds, and despite thinking of myself as a non-athlete for much of my life, I am a runner - which is particularly important on  days when I don't much feel like one. (Most days lately, I've been wearing the finisher's necklace I earned running the Nike San Francisco Women's Marathon in 2011. As I struggle to get back into a more comfortable running groove, that bit of swag around my neck and this pic remind me of all the great reasons I run!)

Last year, I participated in only a handful of events, none of which offered medals, so this year I'd like to add at least two to my collection - which is why I've finally decided to sign up for the half in Barrington next month. Even though I'm not running especially well at the moment, I need some motivation to keep training while I work with my doc to figure out what the problem is. And I need a new bit of bling to remind me that (hopefully!) my running career's a long way from over. With a little luck, by the time fall rolls around, I'll feel more like myself and be able to run a stronger second half (maybe even a full) marathon.

What about you?  Do you pitch all those race shirts or wear them proudly? What about finisher's medals? Do they help keep you motivated, or do you just pitch them on the floor in your closet?

Happy running and writing friends!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

In my happy place

I didn't do a long run today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe.

Happy running and writing, friends.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Summer Solstice Blues: To run or not to run a marathon

Risser's Beach last weekend
Usually the longest day of the year is a happy one for me. I savour the many hours of sunshine and look forward to hot summer days ahead. But this year I languished in a deep funk I couldn't find seem to shake. The weather didn't help - it was raining cats and dogs on Sunday - but I think maybe the problem was deeper than that.

I've always been pretty sanguine about getting older. After all, there are definite perqs that come with being 50+ and - as the old joke goes - it's better than the alternative. But dealing with so much death in the past year has brought home just how finite and unpredictable life is and, as a result, I can't help feeling that every decision is that much more important.

Husband and I are currently grappling with some big ticket issues: Where do we want to settle for the latter part our lives? How much money will we need to sustain our lifestyle? How much longer will I have to say employed full-time to make those dreams a reality? Aside from saving money, what else should we do to make our retirement what we hope it will be? Just writing the questions down makes my head hurt.

My angst even extends to my running. Early in the spring, I drew up an ambitious training plan determined to train properly, modify my diet and (with luck) run a personal best in Barrington next month. Now, with the race five weeks away, I'm forced to admit that I failed in that quest. Though I've run regularly, I haven't done the hill and speed work I planned to do and, at 120 lbs, I'm still carrying the extra 4 or 5 pounds I needed to lose. Added to which, a visit to my massage therapist this evening made it clear my body's not happy that I forced it to complete two long runs for which it wasn't prepared. The upshot is there's no way I'll be ready to achieve a PB in five weeks' time.

So what?  Rationally, I know it doesn't matter to anyone but me if I run a slow marathon, run a half instead, or don't run at all. Unfortunately, my inner perfectionist is frustrated as hell by my lack of discipline so isn't making the decision to walk away an easy one. As she reminds me (viciously and repeatedly), I'm not getting any younger and, when menopause strikes, I'll find it even harder to train than I do now. Given that, if I ever want to achieve my goal of running sub-4:30, I'd best get off my butt and apply myself!

But, why do I want to run under 4:30?  It's hard to put into words. I guess because, based on the races I've done over the past couple of years, I think it's do-able and I hate giving up on something I feel sure I can do. Heck, based on my performance at Cabot Trail Relay, I should be able to run something closer to 4:20 - in theory, at least. In reality, I know running a full marathon is a lot harder than running two halves so I'd settle for 4:30.

Okay, then. Now what? My realistic options are to run the Barrington full marathon anyway and be satisfied with something like 5 hours, run a half marathon instead and hope I can run a fairly fast race (anything close to 2 hours would do), or skip the event altogether and run Bean There, Ran That Marathon in Yarmouth in August or the Maritime Race Weekend in September instead.

At some point over the weekend, I came up with the idea of running 4 half marathons between now and the middle of November, which might have satisfied my inner perfectionist, but would have put a major crimp in our summer plans. In all good conscience, I can't ask Husband to commit so much time to driving me back and forth to races when he's already got so much on his plate.

Perhaps, the best idea is to rework my plan as if I'm running Yarmouth in August and see if, by backing off a bit now and rebuilding more slowly, I can get to the point where I feel ready to run the full. Yarmouth's a more challenging course, with 6 or 7 kilometres of ascents in the second half, but at least I'd have another month to prepare. If I still didn't feel ready, I could switch to the half and/or register for Maritime Race Weekend instead. It would certainly be more sensible than pushing my body to do something it's not ready to do.

Sigh. This should be an easy decision, so why am I making it so hard? Clearly, despite all my efforts to make peace with my "perfectly imperfect" life during the past few years, I still struggle to accept "what is" and act accordingly. Goodness knows, there's nothing new about that. I've clung to far sillier notions much longer than I should have, hoping - despite obvious evidence to the contrary - that people or situations were different than they appeared to be.

Fortunately, in my personal and professional life, I'm finally getting a grip on that. Perhaps, it's time I did the same in relation to my running.  In that spirit, let me finish off with a few helpful quotations about accepting what is:
My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations. - Michael J. Fox 
Acceptance of one’s life has nothing to do with resignation; it does not mean running away from the struggle. On the contrary it means accepting it as it comes… To accept is to say yes to life in its entirety. - Paul Tournier 
Sometimes people let the same problem make them miserable for years when they could just say, So what. That’s one of my favorite things to say. So what. - Andy Warhol 
Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery. - J.K. Rowling 
For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain. - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 
Happy running and writing, friends!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Running lessons: You never know how strong you are until strong is your only choice

My long run two weeks ago didn't go well - I suppose because it was warm, humid day and I was still tired from Cabot Trail Relay the weekend before. I intended to run to Lahave 15 kms away to meet Husband for brunch at the Lahave Bakery but only managed a little over 9 kms before calling for a pickup.

My goal last Saturday was the same - LaHave Bakery - but I hoped to get there via a longer route through town and down the east side of the river. According to Google maps, it's 20.5 kms from our house to the LaHave Ferry dock at East Lahave. My plan was to run to the dock, arriving in time to catch the 11:45 ferry to LaHave, where I'd meet Husband for brunch at the bakery. What could go wrong?

As I headed out the door, I was optimistic the run would go well. It was raining steadily but it was warm enough to be comfortable and my legs felt strong. I set a moderate pace and focused on enjoying the scenery. 

For the first 16 or 17 kms, everything did go well. I was a worried Google may have underestimated the distance so didn't dawdle to take pictures the way I usually do. In any case, with all the rain there was little chance of capturing the improbable shades of green I saw at every turn.

At the 18 km mark, my plans fell apart. I'd seen a sign indicating there was a detour ahead but assumed I'd be able to pick my way around or over whatever was blocking traffic.  I was wrong.

Short of swimming to the other side, there was no way I was going to make it to the ferry terminal so I called husband and asked him to pick me up. I told him I'd turn around and run back towards him, figuring I could run another 2 or 3 kilometres before he reached me. Brunch would be a tad later but, on the upside, we could stop at the house on the way and I could grab a shower.

Thirty-five minutes later, there was still no sign of him so I called him on his cell phone.

"Where are you?" My voice was tinged with panic. Having already run more than 22 kms, I was tired and the rain felt colder and harder than when I set out.

"I have no idea", he replied. My heart sank. Husband has many gifts but a well-developed sense of direction isn't one of them.

A few questions and answers later, I realized he's missed the turnoff and was 15 km down river from where I stood, on the far side of the detour. Tersely, I explained where he could find me, then carried on running in an effort to stay warm while he found his way back to me.

Needless to say, I was relieved when our car finally came into sight. My Garmin read 25.68kms and my clothes were so wet I stripped off a layer before climbing into the passenger seat. Husband was distraught at having let me down - though, in truth, he shouldn't have been. I'd not given him proper directions, it was pouring rain, and there was no sign marking the turnoff so it was an easy mistake to make.

By the time we reached home, my legs were aching and I was ravenous, so we skipped brunch at the bakery and cooked up a late breakfast of eggs, ham, toast and baked beans instead. As tired and sore as I was for a couple of days afterwards, I was pleased to realize that I was stronger and fitter than I thought I was.

I hadn't run longer than 20 kms in a couple of years and, at some level, I suppose I was worried my marathon training days were behind me. But, when it was forced to, my body rose to the occasion, performing well and maintaining a relatively even pace even as I tired.

Thinking about the run this past week, I was reminded of a Bob Marley quotation, "You never know how strong you are until strong is your only choice." The fact is we don't know how strong we are or how much pain we can bear until we've no choice but try. This past year, Husband and I have borne more grief in a short time period than we ever expected to. It wasn't easy but we've come through stronger and more appreciative of all we have. We also learned a lot about what's most important and who's really there for us when the going gets tough.

The lesson's important too in terms of reminding me that I sometimes need to try things - even when I'm not sure I can do them. Like many women, I too often let a confidence gap prevent me from "putting up my hand" in circumstances when a man with similar training and skills wouldn't hesitate. My own experience is that few men doubt their ability to tackle new challenges, while far too many skilled, talented and successful women suffer from "impostor syndrome". The truth is we're usually capable of much more than we realize, and we'll never know what we're capable of unless we try.

Tomorrow, my friend Nancy is running a marathon in Liverpool, England. Three years ago, I'm sure she'd have said she could never run 10k, let alone 42.2. Now, not only is she doing it but, over the past few years, she's raised tens of thousands of dollars in support of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada and mentored dozens more to do the same. I know she'll do great tomorrow but, whatever happens during the race, I hope she'll take pride in and celebrate everything she's achieved getting there.

That's the magic of running. It surprises and inspires us by showing us we're how much we're capable of achieving, how much we can overcome, and how much pride we can and should take in our accomplishments.

Happy running and writing friends. And good luck tomorrow, Nancy! I'll be thinking of ya!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Missing Laura

A year ago, I awakened early to find a message in my inbox telling me that my good friend Laura had died the previous evening.  She was just 50 years old so her sudden passing was completely unexpected.

I remember reading the message over several times, trying to make sense of it.

Laura dead? It wasn’t possible that her warm, bright spirit could be gone so suddenly and so completely. She’d commented on a photo of a cherry tree I'd posted on Facebook only the day before. I’d sent her a message shortly before I'd gone to sleep, for goodness sake! 

But she was gone. And, when the reality of that awful fact finally sank in, I cried for days. She was a wonderful friend - one who listened patiently, offered sensible advice and encouragement, challenged my assumptions and inspired me to be more appreciative of others’ perspectives. In short, she was the sort of friend one rarely has the good fortune to meet. I knew my life would be a great deal poorer without her kindness, wisdom, humour, intelligence, warmth and compassion. 

A year later, I still think of her every day. Her smile beams at me from a photograph on my desktop. On most days, I walk to work past the cherry tree she admired the morning before she died and I think about her and her family – particularly, her brother and teenaged son. I miss her contributions - often humourous, occasionally fierce, always thoughtful and full of insight - to discussions amongst our Facebook friends. More than anything, I wish I could chat with her once more so I could tell her how much I loved and admired her and how hard I'm trying to be the person she thought I was.

If the pain of loss is a measure of one’s love, then it seems I (and many others) loved Laura more than words can express.

Rest in peace, dear friend. We'll carry you in our hearts and minds forever.