Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Spring has sprung...but I still ain't feeling it

Old white pines in Miller's Head Peace Park
It's been six weeks since my last running-related post. There's a reason for that. My preparation for this year's Cabot Trail Relay hasn't gone well. I trained consistently through March despite lousy weather and a hectic schedule but it didn't have the desired effect. Maybe I wasn't getting enough rests between workouts, or maybe menopause was having a bigger impact than I realized, or maybe I just don't want to run the race badly enough. Whatever...last weekend I finally decided to give it a pass and let someone else tackle the damned mountain this year.

Of course, that doesn't mean I won't be running a race or two this spring/summer. I've no intention of letting all that hard work go to waste. I ran 17k on Monday, for goodness sake! Husband and I had already been chatting about a half marathon in Quebec City in August, but it would be fun to do another one or two before then. And of course I'm still pondering a last full marathon (my 10th) sometime this fall. Stay tuned!

In other news, work hasn't been going especially well lately either. The short version is I'm a "silly servant" and an election call is expected to come any minute. 'Nuff said. I'll just be glad when it's over so my colleagues and I can get back to accomplishing something once and awhile.

On the upside, we're getting a kick out of Jackie Blue, our new puppy, who's coming along nicely. I confess I was worried I would quickly lose patience with her, but it's hard to be annoyed with such an adorable critter. Even Nemmie the cat's being slowly won over. The amazing thing is how quickly Jackie's grown. Seriously, compare these two pictures taken just three weeks apart!

The weather on the weekend was warmer than expected so we spent much of it outside - walking at Peace Park and Risser's Beach, hanging out on our back deck, and wandering around our the yard making plans for this year's garden.

There aren't many flowers in our yard yet - but it won't be long until the shrubs are doing their thing. In the meantime, I have to be content with the odd crocus bravely fighting its way through fallen leaves.

So that's the news from our wee corner of the world. Hope spring has sprung where you are!

Happy running and writing!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Theatre review: Eating Peanuts in an Elephant's Graveyard

Last night we had the good fortune to attend a special performance of Dartmouth Players’ latest production, Elephant’s Graveyard, written by George Brant. Based on our sneak preview, I highly recommend you buy tickets asap so you don’t miss out. The play runs from March 30th to April 15th with evening performances Thursday, Friday and Saturday and matinees on Sunday.

I admit to feeling some trepidation as we walked to the theatre last evening. I knew the play was based on the true story of a circus elephant’s death in a small Tennessee town in 1916, and that events leading to her death reflected the darker aspects of human nature. But I needn’t have worried. Though the story is terribly sad, this Dartmouth Players production is as emotionally and psychologically compelling as it is visually beautiful.

To begin, let me congratulate the team responsible for creating a near perfect setting for the play. Set design (Ray Lefresne), costume design (Pam Wood), and lighting design (Richard Bonner) worked together brilliantly, contrasting brightly costumed circus performers against drably attired townspeople, and highlighting key action and dialogue. More congratulations must go to music advisor, Greg Simm, and musicians, Evan Toth-Martinez (drums) and Jacques Robear (guitar and vocals) for their contributions, which did much to support the dramatic arch of the production.

Not including Mary the elephant (who never appears on stage though she is palpably present throughout), the cast comprises fourteen performers, many of whom remained on stage for almost the entire play (which runs to 90 minutes with no intermission). Under the superb direction of Tamara Smith, they delivered a series of interrelated monologues – interspersed with short choral pieces – that could, in less capable hands, have left the audience dazed and confused. But that never happened, no matter how crowded the scene.

Given the size of the cast, there isn’t space to comment on each actor individually, but, without exception, they delivered powerful, engaging performances that fostered understanding and sympathy for even the most despicable characters. From the disappointed New Testament preacher (Matthew Myers) to the sad and avaricious ringmaster (Roy Ellis), their performances will remain with me for a long time.

Though all the cast did well, I must make special mention of Sharleen Kalayil, whose depiction of Mary’s trainer was gripping and sensitive throughout, Christine Gerogiannis, whose portrayal of an exuberant youngster struck all the right notes, Sean Mott, whose impassioned soliloquy on American greatness sent familiar shivers through the audience, Des Adams, whose weary and laconic observations on Mary’s death and the recent lynching of a black man in the same town shone a light on the grim values that underpin much of American (and, some would argue, Canadian) society to this day, and Brad Morrisson, whose regret-filled closing lines provided some small measure of redemption.

Of course, no production can succeed without a lot of hard work and experience behind the scenes. Elephant’s Graveyard was ably produced by Holly Irving, a long-time member of Dartmouth Players, and stage managed by Nikki Beaulieu-Belliveau (Stage Manager) and Tippy Scott (Assistant Stage Manager.)

As for the peanuts – well, you’ll just have to go see the play to understand what that’s all about. I strongly recommend you do!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Introducing Jackie!

So...this happened last week.

Husband and I have been talking about getting a dog for ages, so he goes to Cape Breton, meets an 8 week old Jack Russell terrier and decides she'd be a good birthday present for both of us. Next thing I know, life is all about when the puppy pees, how much she sleeps and whether she's had enough exercise to behave herself and sleep through the night. It's insane. But also pretty darn fun. Too bad the rest of life is busy as well. There's not much energy left for writing these days. Or for running, as it turns out. Hoping the weather improves this week so I feel more motivated to train. On the other hand, once she's big enough, little Jackie's gonna be a fantastic running companion! We just need to survive puppyhood somehow!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Running lessons: Tough times make us stronger

Another week of training gone and, with just 12 weeks until Cabot Trail Relay, I'm beginning to feel a tad nervous.  So far, I've managed to complete all the long weekend runs on my schedule but I've been much less consistent about midweek runs. 

Last week, for instance, I only ran 3k on Tuesday evening before slowing to a walk because I was feeling woozy. I'm not sure what the problem was - maybe tired from all the running the week before (37k in total) or maybe fighting a bug of some kind. Thank goodness my energy returned to normal this weekend - especially given the challenges posed by the weather. 

Let me back up. The weekend before last was fantastic for running - spring-like with mild temperatures, little wind, and fog no less! I had to strip down to my running bra at the midpoint of my 8k on Saturday morning fun.  Seriously!

Since the weather was so mild, Husband and I headed down river for a walk on Risser's Beach in the afternoon. There wasn't much to see but it was mellow wandering along listening to the waves and shaking out my legs in preparation for my long run the next day.

Sunday morning, I crawled out of bed earlier than usual and headed to Prince's Inlet to join my buddy David's for a favourite run out to Second Peninsula and back. This is Dave at our turnaround point at Bachman's Beach. I didn't bother to try to take other photos since it was still so foggy.

The run was "easier" than some I've done lately because the weather was so lovely and there were many fewer hills involved but, at 17k, it still felt challenging - maybe because we ran early enough that I didn't have time to stretch properly first. In any case, it was - as always - great fun running with David and catching up on his news.

By contrast, this past weekend's runs were much tougher. Husband and I set out after breakfast Saturday morning, intending to do 8k up river and back, but the wind was so strong and cold we turned back after about a kilometre and finished our run in Peace Park, where we could be out of the the wind for the most part. By the time we'd finished two circuits of the park, Husband had had enough so we headed back to town, where he dropped me so I could run a last few kilometres back to the house before calling it a day.

The forecast was for calmer weather yesterday but, unfortunately, the forecast was wrong. We woke up to only marginally warmer temperatures (-7C) and even stronger wind. I couldn't imagine tackling my planned workout, which would have involved fighting heavy headwinds for six 500-metre climbs up Logan Street hill. Instead, I opted to do my hill repeats on a 500 metre stretch of Aberdeen Rd., which was mostly out of the wind.

Even with little wind, those six hills felt hard. After completing just two, the gremlins in my head were having a field day - loudly insisting I was too damned old to run North Mountain and might as well throw in the towel now, walk home and plop myself down by the fire for the afternoon. Fortunately, after training for nearly 30 long distance races, I've learned a few tricks for dealing with the little blighters. "First off," I growled under my breath, "I am not too old!  Second, every one of these climbs will only last 3 and 4 minutes - which is no time at all. Third, plenty of people have way worse things to deal with than this - illness, depression, addiction, breakups. If they can deal with their stuff for weeks and months at a time, I can most certainly run uphill for half an hour! So bugger off and leave me alone!" Which they did.

Of course, it helped that I could feel the training starting to pay off. The hills felt easier than they have in a few of years. If I stick to my training plan, there's every reason to hope I'll be strong enough to run leg 9 in a reasonable time. I just need to be patient and keep working.

Ahhhh...there's another of those wonderful lessons that resonate in the rest of my life. The reality is that many of the best thing in life only become possible through concerted and consistent effort - fulfilling relationships, satisfying work, and good health - to name just a few. Of course, you might be lucky enough to have some of those things drop in your lap but mostly you have to work for them.

Another lesson is that it's often the tough times that make you stronger and happier in the long run. Sure, I might have preferred mild, calm conditions for this weekend's runs but the cold and wind made for more intense workouts overall and forced me to confront my gremlin so, as training runs go, they were actually pretty awesome.  In life it's the same. Shit happens and you can't imagine  you'll ever get through it, but you do. And usually you end up wiser, stronger and more confident because of it - which is also pretty awesome.

And, with that, friends, it's time to curl up by the fire to read a bit before bed.  Hope spring is in the air wherever you are. Happy running and writing.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Five ways to tell if your training is going well

It’s February, the toughest month in many Canadian runners' calendars - when the weather outside is frightful, we've put on extra weight as a result of eating too many holiday goodies, and we're just ramping up our training for spring races.  

When our bodies feel sluggish, we're still getting into a good training groove, and there's little to show for it yet, motivation can be hard to find – which is why it’s important to recognize and celebrate even small shifts that tell us we're training well.  Here are five of my favourites:

1.  I sleep soundly and wake up refreshed.

When my training is going well, I get just enough exercise to go to bed physically tired but not so much that I'm over-training - telltale symptoms of which are insomnia and a failure to recover fully between workouts.

2.  Walking down stairs feels good.

Pushing too hard and not taking time to stretch and cross-train often leads to muscle tightness and joint pain that can make it hard to walk down a set of stairs. Training well means getting enough rest and doing what's needed between workouts to keep my joints and muscles limber and pain-free. I know I've been stretching and resting enough when I can do a long run one day and walk downstairs easily the next. 

3.  I can put on my socks without sitting down or leaning against a wall.

To run well, you need good balance and flexibility, as well as a strong core. When I can balance on one leg to put on my sock, I know my body is balanced, strong and flexible enough to run well. Yoga, stretching and core exercises help keep it that way.

4.  I look forward to being outside.

When my body's revved from training, I like to be outside as much as possible - even in cold, stormy weather! I look forward to participating in winter activities (like skiing, snow shoeing, sledding, and skating) while soaking up some wintry sunshine. Reminding myself that "winter runs make summer bodies" doesn't hurt either. 

5.  I crave healthier food.

My body's smart. When I pay attention, it tells me what to eat so that it's properly fueled for training. Fruits and veggies seem more appetizing, junk food and alcohol far less appealing. I crave healthier options that will make me stronger, lighter and faster.

What about you? How do you know when your training's going well?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Blogging's felt hard lately, though I can't say why exactly. There's plenty to write about - running, politics, food, travel, photography - but somehow I don't feel motivated - which is why, in an effort to get some creative juices flowing, I decided to revisit a blog prompt from last year

Time and place...
Tuesday evening after the long Heritage Day weekend, I'm wrapped in a warm blanket, sitting by the fire, sipping red wine, with husband reading contently beside me.

Not at the moment, but I cooked lots over the weekend - homemade biscuits for breakfast, pork tenderloin with mustard and wine cream sauce for supper on Saturday, squash and risotta cakes (to accompany husband's yummy BBQ lamb chops) on Sunday, and lemon and thyme "beer can" chicken on Monday. It felt good spending time in the kitchen for a change.

A city crew to haul away the snow piles in front of our driveway after the last week's monster storm. It's a good thing we don't need our second car, since it's still completely inaccessible. These photos were taken after the big storm but before a second one, which dropped another 20 cms. The pile in front of the car is at least two feet higher now.

A strange mixture of fear, sadness, anger, determination and euphoria in response to the spectacle unfolding south of the boarder and people's responses to it.

Working on...
So. Many. Things. For starters, various projects at work, which has been more hectic than usual lately. Also, my training for Cabot Trail Relay, which was interrupted by a nasty flu last week, and knitting a wool hat to replace the one I lost last winter. Oh, and selling our country house, and working on a special birthday present for Husband, and figuring out what I want to be when I grow up... amongst other things... 

Several books at once (as usual). I'm nearly finished Virginia Woolf's Orlando, and just started Laura Bates' Everyday Sexism and Margaret MacMillan's Paris 1919. Last week I finished Donna Morrissey's The Fortunate Brothers, which I highly recommend. Next, I hope to reread Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Orwell's 1984.

Listening to...
A wood fire crackling in the fireplace. Also Nemmie the cat, who's more talkative than she used to be - and somewhat more willing to having her picture taken. I grabbed these shots while she was lazing on our bed last weekend.

Warmth and sunshine. It's hard not to with so many friends posting snapshots from their vacations "down south", but I'm determined to stay strong and save my vacation days for later. If the country house sells quickly enough, we'd like to head back to Europe in the summer or fall.

All things Trumpist - here in Canada as well as in the US. And, yes, I do mean Kevin O'Leary, Kellie Leitch, and their nasty little friends. 

The hope, optimism and determination that's springing from the ashes of the US election. Need proof? Check out this video, and this article. And there are plenty more where they came from. Here's hoping love and compassion triumph in the end. There are millions working hard to make it happen.

Also, the mild weather we've been having. It was so runny and warm on Saturday, we stopped to sunbathe for a bit after snow shoeing at Risser's Beach Provincial Park. It was glorious!

A provincial election call. No one knows when it will come but the government seems anxious to return to the polls asap. Also, a long weekend in Prince Edward Island to celebrate Husband's 65th birthday in March. We haven't been to "the gentle island" in a couple of years so are keen to get back and visit some dear friends there.

My waistline. I'm determined to drop a few more pounds before tackling my fifth Cabot Trail Relay in May and, so far, my efforts seem to be paying off. Reducing my alcohol consumption, eating fewer sweets and more leafy greens, and running regularly appears to be having an impact.

The causes that matter most to me - environmental sustainability, feminism, social and economic justice, human rights - on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and this blog. And, no, I don't care if it makes people uncomfortable. As a species, we're headed in the wrong direction and running out of time. Many more of us need to take a stand - fiercely, peacefully, and with openness and compassion. 

Thinking too much about CTR - now just 13.5 weeks away. On Saturday, I managed to run up and down Logan Street hill 5 times but it felt harder than I hoped it would and I took more walk breaks than I intended. I'd like to think it was because I was still recovering from the flu and running conditions weren't ideal, but the reality is I'm a long way from ready to tackle North Mountain. Here's hoping 13 more weeks of training will be enough.

And what about you, dear readers? What and how are you doing...currently?

Monday, January 23, 2017

And now the real work begins...

On the running front, I got serious about training for CTR this week - increasing my distances somewhat, adding regular hills and stretching more consistently in an effort to keep my hip flexors from becoming too tight. By yesterday afternoon, I was feeling the effects. My last run of the week - an easy 5k with husband - felt harder than it should have, which reminded me that I'll need to pace myself. There's a long road hard between here and Cabot Trail Relay, so I'll need to be smart and strategic to avoid burning out before I hit the start line.

Which is a nice metaphor for what lies ahead for all who participated in the Women's March on Saturday. It was wonderful to see so many people take a stand against Trump and - more importantly - for progressive change, but now is when the real work begins.

As I scanned my Facebook news feed this morning, I was reminded that one of the big challenges will be healing wounds within the women's community. There are a myriad of divisions based on race, ethnicity, economic power, social status, gender identify, union membership, etc. that need to be acknowledged and addressed as quickly as possible - both because it's the right thing to do and because it's the only way to move forward together.

And move forward we must. The agenda that Trump, Putin and the like are pursuing in an entirely self-serving one that's bound to make things worse for most people - not to mention the planet. The one thing that inspires some optimism is that so many people seem to understand the danger and want to do something about it. Here's praying that all who participated in a march - or even just cheered from the sidelines - will get involved (if they're not already) in working on one or more issues they care about. March organizers are providing practical advice to those who may not know how to begin through an initiative they're calling 10 Actions in 100 Days.

Here at home, things seem slightly less grim - but I've no doubt there are people who are angry and cynical enough to try playing from Trump's playbook in order to get themselves or their candidates elected. Hopefully, my fellow Canadians - Harper fresh in their minds - won't fall for it, and our concerns about what's happening south of the border will translate into action here at home.

My friend Keith posted a wonderful rant on his blog this weekend, which I highly recommend. He's right. We need to remain hopeful, and get busy doing what we can to make the world a better place.

In the weeks ahead, I'll try to blog regularly about my CTR training for those who are interested. So far, the weather has made training relatively easy this winter (see photo at the top of this post) but, as February approaches, I'm braced for colder temperatures and a lot more snow. I live in Canada, after all.

In hope and solidarity,

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Because it's there...

I've just done something that may turn out to be very, very foolish. I volunteered to run Leg 9 of the Cabot Trail Relay at the end of May. Here's how the organizers describe it:
17.84 km Rating 5 (start time: 1955hrs) Time to put on the reflective vest! This leg makes Smokey look like a piece of cake. North Mountain in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park climbs 385 km & reaches the top at 6.2 km then falls back to sea level. The route then levels off to finish at Mountain View Motel & Restaurant on the right at Pleasant Bay. Night will have fallen completely. The restaurant will be open and there will be two portables in the parking lot.
The road in the photo at the top of the post is a portion of the route. You can check out the elevation chart here.

I watched my friend David and 69 other runners complete Leg 9 in 2013 in total awe. How, I wondered, could anyone run up such a steep grade for 6.2 kms? Even more impressive were the downhill portions of the leg - more than 6 kms in length and just as steep. I was so damned proud of David. He did fantastically well and returned the next year to tackle the even tougher Leg 10 to the top of MacKenzie Mountain.

I've already run CTR four times - completing legs 1, 5, 12, and 14 - and my plan is do it just once more in honour of my 55th birthday in March. Given that it's likely to be my last CTR, I figured I might as well make it a good one, and running one of the mountain legs been on my bucket list since my first time out. I can't say why really. To quote George Mallory, "because it's there", I suppose.

That said, I confess to a moment of panic when the email arrived saying I'd been slotted in to run North Mountain. I've not done much hill training the past couple of years, and I'm a long way from being in top condition so it's not going to be easy. However, this isn't the first time I've taken on a big challenge. In the fall of 2013, I completed Cape to Cabot, the "toughest race in eastern North America". Comparing elevation charts for the two races, C2C actually has more ascents overall. And I ran C2C just five weeks after completing a full marathon, which made it more challenging.

Of course, the reality is that the hills on the C2C route are more spread out and I was three and a half years younger. Also, I ran it more slowly than I plan to run North Mountain. On the upside I've got nineteen weeks to train and three more years of racing experience. In addition, I'm determined not to let my teammates down.

I spent some time this week sketching out a training schedule. The goal is to run 4 times per week and include hills in nearly every run. For instance, two nights this week I changed my usual route so I could run up and down a long steep hill I normally avoid. I'll also do plenty of structured hill training as well as regular core workouts and yoga to keep everything in balance. I found some new strengthening exercises I'd like to build into my program as well.

For the rest of this month, my plan is to focus on solidifying my base and enhancing my diet to include more leafy greens and proteins. In early February, hill and speed training can begin in earnest. If the weather isn't cooperative, I'll hit the gym instead. Stay tuned for regular updates once I get underway.

In other news, Husband and I just spent an awesome weekend with two of our darling nieces. The girls live in the country and only get to the city now and again, so we had great fun showing them around and introducing them to the joys of public transit, the Museum of Natural History, the trampoline park (Get Air), the Emera Oval, and beavertails. They seemed to enjoy their time with us, but truthfully we enjoyed it more. They're at such fun and interesting ages, and were so appreciative of all that we did together. 

I offered to put her hair in a ponytail but she preferred to let it go wild
Showing off her gymnastics moves on the trampoline
With Husband on the ferry
First ride on a city bus
Littlest who skating on her own!

The weather here hasn't been too cold and miserable so far this winter. We've had a few brutal days here and there, but there have been lots of mild mornings like this too.

Hope winter's going well, wherever you are. Happy running and writing!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Happy New Year!

Here we are then - a few days into 2017, hoping against hope that this year will be better than last - though, given there's a dumb, climate change-denying, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic narcissist is about to be sworn in as President of the US, it's hard to imagine how it can be. :-(

Determined to think about things other than the sad state of the world, I've spent the better part of the past week contemplating my running goals for 2017. I'm certain I want to participate in the Cabot Trail Relay one last time if my team makes the cut again. We should hear soon. And I think I'd like to run another marathon - my 10th - to mark my 55th birthday - though I confess the idea doesn't hold the appeal it once did. Still, I stopped at the library this week and picked up a couple of books on marathon training, which I hope will inspire me to train more seriously this time around. If I'm going to run another 26.2, I want it to be faster than my last one.

On the nutrition front, Husband and I are kicking off the new year by abstaining from alcohol for the month of January. We did the same in 2015 and found it tough, but it feels easier this time around. I suppose both my body and my mind were ready for the break after a wine-filled holiday season.

Husband suggested (and I agree) that one thing I need to focus on this year is sorting out my work situation. I haven't been terribly happy in my job for awhile so it would be good to change things up somehow. Truthfully, what I'd like to do is retire - from full time work at least - but I'm far too young and another few years of working full time could make a significant difference to our long term financial security.

On a happier topic, Husband and I are still mulling over what we'd like to do to celebrate our 30th "first date" anniversary in February and his 65th birthday. We're thinking about another trip to Europe but haven't settled on where. France and Ireland are possibilities. So too are Spain, Portugal and Greece. And, if we decide to cross the pond, we hope to spend at least a few days visiting friends in the Netherlands.

I haven't selected my word for the year yet either. I've been trying to come up with something positive but - truthfully - the word that feels right is "fierce" - as in strong, powerful, determined, and passionate. I suspect I'm going to have to be fierce to deal with the personal and professional challenges that lie ahead.  

As for my New Year's intentions (not resolutions, for the reasons I explained last year), I'm continuing to work on the ones I first articulated in 2015: read more, eat better, run more, train smarter, banish clutter, and put first things first. To help me stay focused, I've begun keeping a simple bullet journal and am logging my runs again.

Bullet journals are something I learned about only recently and I love the concept - though the beauty and complexity of some I've seen online makes the idea intimidating. Mine is a simple version since I haven't time for anything else and, so far, I'm finding it helpful.

Logging my runs is something I haven't done for awhile. For the first decade of my running career, I kept detailed records of training plans, workouts and race results but I gave up being data-obsessed a few years back and have recorded little since. In the past couple of years, the only time I've kept track of anything is in the 14 to 16 weeks leading up to a race, when typically I rough out a training plan then amend it as and when travel, work, injury or other factors intervene to keep me from sticking to it. At other times, I maintain a straightforward 3-4 day/week maintenance regime. Though I still wear my Garmin Forerunner 305 on most runs, I rarely transfer the data it gathers to my computer. Adopting a scaled back approach has worked okay because I haven't attempted to achieve any ambitious time goals. However, given that I'd like my last marathon to be a reasonably quick one (for me), I'm determined to do a better job of tracking my progress in 2017.

My other major intention for this year is to spend more time with my camera, paints, and quilting tools. However, since we listed our country house for sale today, it's possible life will intervene to prevent me from creating as much as I'd like. The real estate market's been slow in this part of the world so we don't expect to sell the house quickly, but who knows?

In any case, since 2017 is still so shiny and new and full of possibility, I'm determined not to waste time worrying about "what ifs". Provided I work hard and stay focused and positive, I'm bound to make some progress.

To close out this post, here are a few pics from my 10k run this morning. (There's another at the top of this post.) It was a perfect day for running - with light winds, comfortably cool temperatures, and a fresh blanket of snow that made everything look more beautiful. Wherever we end up living next, I hope it's close enough to visit these trails now and again.

Happy New Year of running and writing!