Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Running lessons: There's no shame in starting over

The good news is that I'm getting back into routines and slowly organizing my life again. There's still lots to do as I recover from the chaos of the past few months but the light is finally visible at the end of the tunnel.

The bad news is that the chaos left my training in tatters. As I mentioned in my last post, I've only run once or twice a week since the end of May - not enough to maintain the level of fitness I worked so hard to achieve last year - so running feels pretty tough at the moment. My long run on Sunday (a mere 10k) was embarrassingly slow and felt quite uncomfortable. Granted, the first 3kms were mostly uphill and I was tired after a busy week at work, but it's been a long time since running 10k felt so challenging - which was discouraging, to say the least.

Can it really be the case that I ran a full marathon and the "toughest race in eastern North America" last autumn, and am so hopelessly out of shape now? Apparently.

Which leaves me with a choice - either I give up on the idea of ever running distance again, or I take a hard look at my current condition, prepare a sensible training plan and get to work.

The choice should be easy. After all, I love running and know it's one of the best things I can do to stay physically and emotionally healthy. And yet...and, yet...there's a quiet voice just behind my left ear whispering that I'm too old to run, that perhaps it's time to accept the inevitable and forget about running long distances, that it's embarrassing to start over.

The last point particularly smarts because, truthfully, it is embarrassing. How did this happen?!? I intended to "run less" this year, but I never intended to let my fitness level drop so far.

My running buddy David emailed a few days ago to ask if I wanted to go running with him next weekend and I almost refused because he's in awesome shape these days and I know it'll be a struggle to keep up with him. But - dammit - running with David is one of my favourite things so I'm determined to try.

Between now and Sunday, I'll just keep reminding myself that there's no shame in starting over, that I should be proud of how far I've come in the 12 years since I started running, and that the last few months have been a chance for my body to recover so that I'm better able to train. At this stage, I just need to be patient and trust that, with a few months of consistent training, running will feel as easy and fluid as it once did.

Here's hoping anyway.

Happy running and writing, friends.

P.S. Husband and I spent much of last weekend attending the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival, where we were introduced to several groups we'd not heard of before, including these guys, The Steel Wheels. If you ever have the chance to see and hear them, do! They put on one heck of a show.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Lonely, lazy days

I managed to get myself out of bed this morning in time to go for a 5k run before work but I can't say it felt good. My body was achy and sore after so many weeks of relative inactivity. Don't get me wrong, I've been running occasionally (1-2 times per week), walking a fair bit and doing some gardening. But I've not done any serious training in nearly ten weeks and my body is feeling it. The next few weeks will be busy at home and at work but I need to find more time for running if I'm going to be ready for Rum Runners Relay on September 27th.

Unfortunately, everything's feeling harder these days because I'm missing Her Majesty so much. She was a huge part of my life. From the time I woke up in the morning until I crashed at night, she was there - demanding food and snuggles, lying on any clothes I dropped on the bed or in a chair, settling into my suitcase when she caught me packing, "talking" about whatever was on her mind. I see her shadow from the corner of my eye dozens of times a day, and some part of me still thinks she's in the country with Husband and will be home in a few days.

I know that letting go of people we love deeply is one of life's toughest challenges. I've dealt with many such losses over the past few years and it never seems to get easier. I may go weeks at a time thinking I'm finally over it when something happens to remind me of the person who's missing and the grief and pain come flooding back. The same is true when I remember that Ranee now lies buried in our garden in the box Husband built for her.

I've been struck this week by how some people totally understand how I feel about Ranee's death, while others have no clue whatsoever. For the latter, I suspect pets are just "things" - to be owned and enjoyed for so long as they're convenient. But that wasn't how I thought of Ranee. To me, she was a constant companion who loved unconditionally and always wanted to spend time with me, however grumpy or upset I might be. It isn't hyperbole to say that she tethered me to life on my darkest days - through the challenges of law school and my early legal career, the times when Husband and I were on the verge of separation, difficult moves, professional disappointments, family issues, and lost friendships. No one - not even Husband - has been the guardian of so many confidences. So - yes - I miss her. The house feels desperately empty without her small but mighty presence. I know it will get easier in the months ahead but I still feel weighed down by grief and loneliness whenever I think of her.

Fortunately, when I finally went running this morning, I was reminded that, although it's sometimes hard to get myself out the door, running is one of the best things for dealing with sadness. It reminds me that, despite everything, there's a big beautiful world out there - where birds sing, children laugh, and light bounces off the surface of the lake - and I'm fortunate to be fit and healthy enough to enjoy it. In time, I hope that it's my happy memories of lost friends I will recall rather than the grief of losing them.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The saddest month so far

Two angels

There's a reason I've been so quiet for the past month and a half. It turns out there are things that are simply too sad to share - in the short term, at least. Dealing with Laura's death was hard enough, but it was closely followed by two more goodbyes.

First, my beautiful mother-in-law passed away at the end of June after a tough battle with cancer. Then, our dear old cat, Ranee (aka Her Majesty), became so ill that we had to put her to sleep just a few days later. (The photo above is of the two of them, taken in April when June last visited us.)

My heart is aching and I dissolve into tears at least once a day wondering how I will get along without them. Laura, my new friend, with whom I shared so much. June, the best mother-in-law a woman could ask for - kind, patient, encouraging, forgiving.  Ranee, a gentle presence who accompanied and comforted me through so many difficult days. My life was immeasurably better with them in it.

June was a woman of faith and conviction. She loved unconditionally, gave freely, and pursued her passions. She was a woman who told you what she thought and made no bones about it. When Husband and I announced our plans to marry, her response was to lean back in her chair and say firmly, "Oh, Janice, love him, live with him, but don't marry him!" I didn't take her advice, of course, but I always appreciated the fact that she cared enough to warn me.

And, as it turned out, she needn't have worried. As unreliable as Husband may have been in his youth, he'd already learned the secrets of a long and happy marriage from his parents - patience, forgiveness, humour, and devotion. Two weeks before her death, June and her husband celebrated 65 joyful years of marriage. Sixty-five years - a lifetime of love.

When June fell into unconsciousness, I flew home to work and see to our cats and Husband remained in Ottawa. Soon after I arrived back, I noticed Her Majesty was picking at her food and sleeping more than usual. The Thursday evening, when June died, she followed me to bed and lay on my chest purring and licking the tears from my face but, by the weekend, it was clear she was really ill - though she was still purring and following me around the house as usual. By Sunday, she wasn't eating so I called the vet and arranged to take her in.

The diagnosis, when it came, wasn't unexpected. We'd known her kidneys were failing slowly for years. Blood tests revealed they'd stopped working altogether and there was nothing more the vet could do to make her more comfortable.

More than anything, I wanted to take her home for a few days so that Husband could be there to say goodbye but June's funeral was still five days away and it would have been selfish to let Ranee suffer so long so I made the decision to euthanize her immediately, then held her and talked to her quietly while the deed was done. She died peacefully in my arms, for which I'll always be grateful. When I brought her home, I spent a little more time holding her and saying goodbye, brushed her fur carefully, then wrapped her in one of my running shirts for burial.

It's not surprising that it was so hard to say goodbye to my little friend after nearly 17 years together. She wasn't "just" a cat. She was my confidante and companion, my comfort in hard times, a constant, loving presence. I miss the way she greeted me in the morning then snuggled into my lap to be petted while I sipped my coffee, her determination to interfere with my effort to make the bed, her quiet purr as she lay with her head on my shoulder at bedtime, her habit of following me around the house, and most of all her reassuring company when I awaken in the night and can't get back to sleep. I know for sure that I'll carry her in my heart and mind forever.

Since returning from June's funeral in Ottawa, life's been a joyous blur of travel, friends, family and work but I feel as if I'm in the final stages of a marathon with two more busy weeks ahead. By mid-August, I hope to have more time for running, writing and quiet reflection so that I can begin to come to terms with all the loss and get back to a more normal routine.

In any case, I'll do my best to start running and blogging more regularly soon. Thanks for sticking with me while I sort it all out.

Happy running and writing, friends.