Friday, April 29, 2011

Running Lessons: Fragile flowers, weak women and other myths

On one of my runs this week, I came upon this patch of beautiful spring blossoms which had somehow survived battering, torrential rains the night before. They reminded me that fragile-looking flowers are often much tougher than they look. Purple irises are another good example. Even before the snow is completely gone, they push skyward in search of spring warmth and sunshine, much stronger and more resilient than their soft shapes suggest.

Given that flowers aren't really all that fragile and women aren't either, it's ironic that women are so often referred to as "fragile flowers" - the implication being that they need to be cared for by the men in their lives. Why do cultures around the world continue to propagate the myth that women are inherently weaker than men - physically, emotionally and psychologically - when so clearly we're not?  The sexes may manifest their strengths in different ways but women give birth, for goodness sake. Need I say more?

I suppose it's because I'm so irritated by the myth that women's achievements in ultramarathons thrill me.  A number of interesting studies have suggested women may in fact be capable of outperforming men in such endurance events, and women like Pam Reed and Ann Trason (two accomplished ultramarathoners) are testaments to that possibility. Though fewer women than men compete in ultramarathons, they're more likely to finish and routinely place in the top 20. Not bad for a bunch of fragile flowers.

Tonight, I'm imagining a world in which girls grow up understanding just how strong they are - that they're not fragile flowers but potential ultramarathoners. I think it might look very different from the world we live in now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Running Lessons: A writing runner, or a running writer?

It was a tough 26km long run today. I'm not sure what the trouble was. The weather was perfect, I was well-fueled, and all my bits and pieces seemed to be working well when I started out - aside from a little tightness in my hips. Unfortunately, as the kilometres ticked by, my hips and lower back continued to tighten to the point that running became downright uncomfortable at times. I had to stretch at various points and began to look forward to the uphill portions of the route because they seemed to relieve the discomfort to some extent.

Despite my body being less than cooperative, I still enjoyed many aspects of the run. The skies were mostly clear, the temperature was balmy and I had the route almost entirely to myself.  The high point was discovering another new section of trail that hugs the water's edge upriver from where I usually run. The picture above was taken at a particularly lovely spot along that section.  The peacefulness of the bend in the river made me yearn for a canoe or kayak in which to explore beyond it.

A leisurely paddle wasn't in the cards, however. Yesterday was for running and for thinking about what it means to be a runner and a writer.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy New Beginnings!

A dear friend posted this message on Facebook today: "Happy Easter! Happy new beginnings, happy getting through the tough times, happy being open to being surprised..."

I sometimes find it difficult to hang on to such optimism, hope and wonder. Even knowing life will feel more difficult without them, I let myself be caught up in the negativity that dominates our culture - the greed, pessimism, sense of entitlement and suspicion of others that feeds our egos, destroys our souls and makes it infinitely more difficult to tackle the challenges we face as a species. Today, however, was one of those days it was a bit easier to let go of all the nasty stuff.

I slept soundly for 11 hours last night (I can't remember when I last did that!) and woke up this morning feeling happier and more relaxed than I have in some time. Hubbie and I started the day with a leisurely coffee and a full brunch of bacon, eggs, beans, fried potatoes and toast, then decided we'd better head for our favourite beach (Rissers') to walk it off so we'd have room for an Easter dinner of barbequed moose steaks.

Normally, it would still be cool at Rissers' this time of year but, because the sun was shining so brightly and the winds blew offshore, it was a balmy 17 or 18 degrees celsius when we arrived. I immediately shed my shoes so my feet could sink into the sun-warmed sand as we walked.

About halfway along the beach, we settled ourselves to sit for an hour or so, talking quietly and drinking in the sights and sounds of the long rolling waves as they pounded the full length of the beach. (For a few more pics, click here.)

When it was time to leave, we walked to the far end and back before returning to the car, then drove slowly up the LaHave River, taking time to savour the lovely views that lay around every bend in the road.

Needless to say, going to the beach turned out to be a glorious way to spend this warm and sunny Easter - not to mention a great way to refuel our hearts, minds and spirits with positive and peaceful energy.

Namaste and happy new beginnings, everyone!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Running Lessons: Listen to your gut

Because I missed my long run on the weekend, I decided last night to add an extra 16km run to my training for the week. I managed to complete it, but it wasn't pretty. 

My original plan had been to run in the direction of Shubie Park, a favourite destination, but a friend asked me to stop by her house in Halifax to consult on a kitchen renovation so I decided to run in that direction instead.  My revised route took me across the "Old MacDonald Bridge" (as the locals call it).  I had no trouble running to Halifax. However, running back was an entirely different story.

By the time I'd stopped to see my friend and run a loop around the south end of the city, dusk was approaching quickly, the wind had picked up and I was being pounded by a cold, miserable rain. At the mid-point of the bridge (which is more than a kilometre in length), my face, ears and hands were completely frozen and I was fighting to keep myself upright with the wind driving me hard against the handrail. I could feel the deck of the bridge heaving beneath me with the force of the storm, and wind howled through the tension wires overhead at a pitch that made my heart pound. 

Of course, I could have avoided all that discomfort simply by listening to my gut. Leaving my friends' house, I'd noticed the wind had picked up and it occurred to me then to alter my route and run back across the bridge sooner. Alternatively, I could have hopped a bus for the return trip later. I certainly thought about it. But, no. Stubbornly determined not to cut my run short and prove to myself I was a "real" runner, I ignored my gut and stuck to the route I had planned. 

Fortunately, in the end I made it back to my apartment safely - cold, wet, and tired but none the worse for wear. I even completed the distance in a respectable time. But running across the bridge in those conditions is not an experience I care to repeat anytime soon, so I'll definitely be paying closer attention to my gut in future. 

The bridge in the calm after the storm

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

One Minute Writing: One way I haven't changed since I was 13

One of the blogs I follow is called The One Minute Writer. It challenges me to take one minute a day to try to write creatively. Today's prompt: "One way you haven't changed since you were 13."  Sometimes I don't have anything to say on a topic. Not so today.

Despite all the education and experience, all the reading and thinking, all the life lessons that should have taught me a thing or two, I'm still a total sucker for a sad story, just as I was at 13.

My mom tells me that, from the time I was a little girl, I was constantly dragging home "birds with broken wings" - both literally and figuratively - and that, no matter how lost the cause, I'd throw myself into trying to heal them and consider it a personal failure when I couldn't.

On the whole, I don't think it's a bad thing to be such a soft touch, but there are times when you just need to recognise that a cause is hopeless and move on to using your time and energy more productively. Goodness knows, there's no shortage of people who need love and support. And, sadly, some kinds of brokenness can't be mended by anyone except the person who's broken.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Running Lessons: Unexpected beauty

I was reminded tonight of one of the best things about running - how it offers such amazing opportunities to stumble upon unexpected beauty.

It was a lovely evening so I decided to run to and from the chiropractic clinic where I had an appointment. I'd never run there before and didn't have a lot of time so I took the most direct route across the city in order to avoid getting lost.  (Dartmouth is an old city that straddles a series lakes so even the most "direct" route often involves a series of twists and turns.)  After my treatment, I had more time to explore so decided to take a different, more interesting route back to my apartment.

Immediately after leaving the clinic, I saw a path through some trees that I hadn't noticed before and followed it to see where it would take me. I was delighted to discover it lead to an unexpectedly beautiful park that stretches for several kilometres along a nearby lake.  I say "unexpectedly beautiful" because the park is surrounded by high density housing, strip malls, and car dealerships that makes it invisible from the roads closest to it. Despite having driven by it dozens of times in the past few years, I had no idea it existed.

Buoyed by my discovery, I veered even further from the direct route home and headed in the general direction of my favourite running paths along Lakes Banook and MicMac. Unfortunately, getting where I wanted to go meant climbing a rather challenging hill, but the view of Lake MicMac from the top was more than worth the effort.

I spent the remainder of the run being grateful - for living in such a beautiful place, for spring, and for being able to run.

A last look back before I turned to run the final leg to my apartment got me thinking about how wonderful it's going to be to finish my marathon training sessions this summer with a quick swim in Lake Banook.  I can hardly wait.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Running Lessons: Accepting things you cannot change

Rissers back beach the day before the rain - a good place for "figuring it out"

I woke up this morning tired from another restless night's sleep and feeling like I might be coming down with a cold. Stumbling to the kitchen to feed Her Majesty and make coffee, I looked outside and saw it was a grey, damp, blustery day. A few minutes later, the skies opened and the view across the yard was obscured by thick sheets of driving rain. It was then that I knew "running long" was going to mean getting very wet and cold today. To make matters worse, I'd forgotten to check the forecast so didn't have the right gear for running in such miserable conditions.

Of course, the "type A" runner in me thought I should just suck it up and run my planned 26kms anyway. Fortunately, her more common sensical alter-ego kicked in before I made it out the door so instead I waited to see if the weather would improve.  It didn't, so I finally loaded up the car and headed for the city, figuring I might be able to run here with the right gear.

Alas, weather conditions only worsened as the afternoon wore on. Driving into the city, the wind and rain were so strong I could barely keep the car on the road. It was then that I finally accepted I wouldn't be doing a long run today after all.

Skipping a long run doesn't sit well with me - but there are days when you just have to accept that things aren't going to work out the way you want them to, and today was one of those. The combination of low temperatures, pounding rain and high winds created the perfect conditions for hypothermia so it would have been foolhardy to go running by myself on empty trails through the woods - particularly given that I was feeling under the weather and didn't have the right gear.

Of course, missing my run today means I'll have to find a way to squeeze in a long-ish one later in the week, but that's okay. The important thing is to be flexible enough to accept that there are some things I cannot change and switch to Plan B as soon as possible - which isn't a bad approach to life in general, as it happens.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Her Majesty

I was looking through my blog archives last evening and noticed a post a wrote nearly two and a half years ago when Her Majesty (aka Ranee) was extremely ill and we weren't sure she was going to make it. My husband and I spent weeks giving her daily injections of fluids and various medications until she recovered. Looking back, I can't quite believe she's still with us and living such a happy and active life. Sure, I have to cook her food from scratch and give her meds every day, but it's a small price to pay for all she's given us over the years.

She's taught me a few things too.

For instance, that you should never assume you know how life's going to unfold. Eight months ago, she was so stiff she couldn't jump on to the couch without help. Now, after six months of TLC and daily doses of omega 3s, she jumps up with almost as much grace as she always did - though, admittedly, she's still fairly cautious about jumping back down.

She also taught me that really loving someone means loving them at their worst. Ranee loves me most when I've just arrived home from a long run on a hot summer's day - so sweaty and smelly I can't stand myself - and seldom leaves my side on those rare occasions when I find myself sick in bed with a cold or flu.

Most importantly, she's taught me the importance of savouring the moment (as she did this past weekend when she lay enjoying the warmth of spring sunshine on our back deck). Not all of life's surprises are good ones, so it's essential to be as grateful as you can be for what you have. After all, you never know when the things you care about most will be taken from you.

"L'il pud" is at least 16 years old now, so I'm not sure how much longer she'll be with us - though, judging by how she well she seems to be doing, I hope it will be a good while yet. Waking to find her warm little self snuggled against my back is one of the great joys of my life.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Running Lessons: Spring has sprung! What happened to my legs?

Ah, spring, glorious spring. The season when every Canadian runner's heart leaps at the thought of running outside without risk of frostbite or a fall on icy roads.

Today was a balmy blue sky day so I was excited as I headed out the door for my long run. I figured the fact that I'd been taking it easy since my big race two weeks ago, coupled with my euphoria about the weather, would make the run a really great one. Alas, that wasn't to be.

Apparently, my legs don't appreciate being asked to run 22kms on a bowl of cereal (breakfast), and haddock chowder and bread (last night's supper). Cranky with me from the start, they got downright nasty during the last 3kms - to the point that I had slow to a walk for a bit. Lesson learned. I'll be carbo-loading more seriously before next week's long run.

On the upside, the weather was truly stunning. I ran my usual route along the river, warmed by brilliant sunshine and accompanied by bird song the whole way. I couldn't spot the singers perched high in the trees around me but their music was lovely.

I spent most of the run deep in thought about my newest writing project -which I'm currently referring to as "The Nanny Project" (coming soon). It was good to have something to distract me from how my legs were feeling, but I wonder if it also kept me from paying close enough attention to my pace. Data from my Garmin shows I was running faster than I normally do for much of the run - which may help to explain why they felt so tired by the end.

In any case, I won't let today's less-than-stellar performance discourage me. My next race (a marathon, if all goes well) isn't until the end of June so I have plenty of time to get my legs sorted out before then.

Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.
Envoyé sans fil par mon terminal mobile BlackBerry sur le réseau de Bell.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

On a dark and stormy night

As I write this, wind batters the windows of my apartment so fiercely I can't be sure I won't wake up in Kansas. There's a wild spring storm raging and I have a bird's eye view of it from my perch overlooking the harbour.

I love being able to watch storms like this one blow in, then feel the building dance and shake to the rhythm of rain against window panes.

If I hadn't already been running this evening, I'd be tempted to lace up my shoes, launch myself into the darkness and let howling winds carry me round the lake one more time before bed.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Running Lessons - Taking time to "just be"

Heading out for my "long" (8km) run today, I knew I would have to go slow and be gentle with myself.  After all, I kicked some serious butt last weekend at Around the Bay (video and photos here), and my aging body needs time to recover. Still, I had to remind myself repeatedly to run slowly and not expect too much - which was hard on such a beautiful sunny day on the south shore of Nova Scotia.

Fortunately, I had a couple of excellent reminders of the importance of taking time to savour the moment this weekend. I spent last evening with my niece. We went out for supper, did a bit of necessary shopping, played games, assembled puzzles and read books until her folks came to pick her up. There's nothing that brings you into the moment like spending time with a three and a half year old. Her complete engagement with the present was palpable. It was a joy to watch her mind whirring behind her big blue eyes as I taught her the fundamentals of dominoes, and to witness her glee when she won our first two games.

Then, this morning, Her Majesty (my elder cat, Ranee) climbed into my lap as I sat in a sunny window sipping caffe latte and reading a book. Petting her as she lolled there purring, I was struck by the sense that I was experiencing a perfect moment with my old friend and that, since she is getting on and I may not have her with me for much longer, my only goal for a little while should be to "just be" with her, enjoying her gentle presence.

Drawing on both experiences, and (admittedly) still feeling a little tired from last weekend, I gave myself permission to stop at the half way point of my run today (the bridge pictured below) to sit by the river for a few minutes drinking in the warmth of the spring sun, the sound of water rushing over rocks, and the brilliant blue sky overhead.

After many months of pushing myself to get stronger for my race and be more productive at work and at home, it felt good to just be - in my body and my life - to feel free of the pressure to train harder, do more, be better.  I think it might be a very good thing to spend a little more time in that space in the coming weeks and months.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Life is like monkey bars

"Life is like monkey bars. You have to let go to move forward." 
A friend posted this quotation on Facebook yesterday. It resonated with me, though I have to admit "letting go" is something I often find hard to do.

In middle age (and, yes, I am middle-aged now), I certainly find it easier to let go of some things - anger, disappointment, unrealistic expectations of myself and others, and the need to feel productive all the time, for instance.  But I still cling to other things - in particular, regret over decisions that can't be undone. It's as if subconsciously I believe I'll eventually find a way to make the impossible possible if only I think about it long and hard enough.

Rationally, I accept that it's best to let go of as many regrets as possible and focus on the future instead. However, I've also come to believe that some regrets perform useful functions. They humble me and remind me to learn from my mistakes for starters. And they inspire me to be more patient and understanding of other peoples' errors in judgement. Most importantly, they give me a greater appreciation for the many right choices I've made in my life.

Rather than trying to let go of all regrets, I think I'll try to carry with me just those few that are most significant to me - hopefully, with enough ease that they don't keep me from making my way across life's monkey bars. Realistically, I'm not sure it's in my nature to leave all regret behind in any case.