Friday, November 18, 2016

Now what?

There’s no way to sugarcoat it. It’s been a hellish couple of weeks. To be honest, with the awful environmental news lately (global warming appears to be accelerating, Greenland is melting), I was struggling to hang on to hope and optimism before the US election. Trump’s victory was the last straw. I’ve spent the 10 days since trying to get my head around what it means and how I might want to respond.

There’s no shortage of pundits telling us how the US got to this place and, to some degree, they’re all right. My own view is that Trump and his cronies won by exploiting people’s (understandable) anger with an oppressive economic, political and social system, then fanning flames of racism, misogyny, xenophobia and homophobia and misleading the electorate regarding the causes of and cures for their suffering. It didn’t hurt that a large number of holier-than-thou Democrats was prepared to condemn the world to a Trump presidency because they didn’t like the way Sanders was treated by the DNC. (Cynically, I suspect the majority of them were white men of a certain age and class who knew they'd never pay a price for that decision.)

Whatever. The US is where it is and it’s not pretty. Some argue we shouldn’t care what the US does – particularly, if it makes them less likely to interfere in the affairs of other nations – but I don’t buy it. So far as I can tell, Trump is just another in a string of right-wing and nationalist leaders taking the helm around the world – and it terrifies me to think how much more difficult it will be to coordinate positive international action - particularly around environmental protection and human rights. Seeing the hate that's been unleashed in the US and elsewhere has me especially worried.

So, now what? I have to admit that I sometimes wonder if the answer is to become a survivalist. I’ve a dark enough view of human nature to think it might be the only solution that has any chance of even limited success. But when the environmental shit hits the fan, having a two year stock of food and water isn’t going to do anyone much good.

Fortunately, I've plenty of reasons to stay engaged and try to contribute to positive change in the world - not least, these two cuties, my sister's daughters.

Husband and I got to spend a little time with them last weekend, which helped raise my spirits enormously because they reminded me we human beings aren't born nasty, selfish pieces of you-know-what. On the contrary, we enter the world loving, trusting, and accepting of others. We owe it to our young people to make some effort to clean up the godawful mess we've made.

The challenge is to figure out what to do. Personally, I believe there's a time and place for righteous anger but we also need to act positively to protect the progress that's been made. It occurred to me last weekend that part of the difficulty is structural. Humans have an intense instinct to preserve our own skins that makes it relatively easy for men like Trump to manipulate our fear and anxieties to the point our reptilian brains take over and we don't think clearly anymore. What's worse our fear is often generalized. We may not be afraid of individual Muslim/gay/black/communist/Evangelical Christian neighbours, but can still be fearful of Muslims/gays/blacks/communists/Christians in general.

By contrast, our love and compassion tend to be more focused on individuals and small groups to which we're closely connected. Rationally, we may know we should care about people on the other side of the planet, but we're often not as emotionally engaged with them as with members of our own families and communities.

So what the answer? It seems to me there are a few things we can and should do.

First, we can get out and connect with people who are unfamiliar to us - people of different faiths, cultures, political views and socio-economic groups - with the goal of finding some common ground upon which to build compassion, empathy and trust amongst individuals and communities. 

Second, we can commit ourselves to being more generous and walking more lightly on the planet. The truth is none of us is "entitled" to the lives we have. The manner in which each of experiences the world has far  more to do with where, when and how we were born than our individual efforts. As George Monboit has observed, If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.”

Third, we can recognize that our individual actions matter. A child who sees us bullying learns to bully. When we consume more than we need, we waste opportunities to model responsible behaviour, support local producers and protect the environment. When we fail to confront misogyny, racism and others forms of injustice in our daily lives, we condone and encourage them. When we spend all our free time indulging ourselves, we have no time left to build better relationships and communities. Even if we can't change the whole world, we can make some piece of it a little better. 

Fourth, we can be courageous in words and in deeds, however uncomfortable or fearful we are. Evil won't be stopped by silence or inaction. I came across this video the other day that talks about how to disrupt racism when we witness it. It seems to me the same strategies could be useful in disrupting misogyny, homophobia and other forms of hate. I must say I've been pleased to see so many Canadian politicians (including Conservative MPs in the House of Commons) speaking out strongly against the racism that's erupted north of the border since the US election. 

Finally, we can work on staying optimistic, which is hard - really hard - at the moment. But we have to try because we'll never succeed in creating a better world if we don't first believe it's possible. Personally, I find it helpful to remember how much what we do now matters to future generations and to read stories of people who have demonstrated courage, strength, determination and resilience in overcoming great challenges. Seeking advice from elders can be helpful too. Often, they remind us - as Dr. Martin Luther King once did - that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. We just need to keep believing and working for positive change - however grim the situation seems at the moment. 

Of course, running helps too - as it nearly always does. On that note, you might want to read this blog from one of my favourite bloggers.

Take care, friends. And remember to hang on to love, hope, empathy, compassion and optimism wherever you find them. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Race Report: Legs for Literacy Half Marathon, Moncton

Soooooo...thing's didn't go exactly as planned. My last few weeks of training were fine. I completed nearly all my scheduled workouts, got as much rest as I could given various work and family commitments, and ate well. Traveling to the race Saturday morning, I was optimistic a new PB was within reach. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas.

I arrived in Moncton around noon on Saturday, after a tough drive through heavy winds and rain, picked up my race kit, and grabbed a quick lunch before checking into the official hotel - the Delta Beausejour. My room was super quiet and comfy with a nice view of the river, which I appreciated.

I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, swimming and eating well. There may have been stops at a couple of pubs (including the Tide and Boar, pictured below, where I had lunch) but mostly I spent the time reconnoitering in preparation for our next visit to Moncton.  ;-)

A little before supper, I headed back to the hotel intending to tackle some work but soon got distracted by the stunning double rainbow that appeared outside my window as the sun was setting. I hoped it was a good omen.

By 9:00, I was tucked into bed reading and turned the lights out soon after, then slept soundly until daybreak.  

Upon waking, I got up, made coffee, ate breakfast, pinned my bib on the shirt I planned to wear, and stretched gently to work out the kinks. Things seemed to be going according to plan as I made my way down seven flights of stairs headed for the start line, located in a courtyard just outside the hotel. 

When I arrived in the lobby, I realized that, despite checking the weather forecast, I'd badly miscalculated. I was wearing shorts and a short-sleeved t-shirt while everyone around me was dressed in tights, long-sleeved shirts, jackets and hats. A few even wore gloves and toques! I made my way outside to see just how cold it was, then rushed back to the elevators. Fortunately, though they were completely jammed on the way down, they were empty going up so I didn't have long to wait. Back in my room, I changed into peddle pushers and a long-sleeved shirt, and re-pinned by bib before heading back down the stairs. As I reached the fourth floor, I realized I'd forgotten my garmin so turned and climbed three stories back to my room to retrieve it before finally making my way to the start line. Needless to say, I was nicely warmed up by the time I arrived. :-)

Since I was hoping to run beat my previous personal best time of 2:06, I lined up behind the 2:00 pace bunny to wait, chatting with a local runner, Camille, who was also hoping to break two hours though he'd been up late the night before celebrating his 40th anniversary with family and friends. It was cool and breezy but conditions seemed okay so I still felt confident. Unfortunately, as I was soon to discover, I'd just made my first significant mistake. 

When the horn sounded a few minutes later, I made another. As we got underway, I almost immediately realized the bunny was setting too fast a pace but assumed she was just putting some distance between our group and the one behind, and would soon slow down. I was wrong. In fact, she maintained the same hard pace for the next two kilometres and I (foolishly) stuck with her before finally coming to my senses and slowing to my goal pace.

At about the same time, I became aware of my earlier mistake. Being a "woman of a certain age", my body warms up quickly when I run so, despite the cool breezy weather, I suddenly felt completely overdressed. Stepping off the trail out of the way of other runners, I stopped long enough to shed my long-sleeved shirt and tie it around my waist. Fortunately, I was wearing a respectable sports bra so no one seemed too shocked by my wardrobe adjustment.

The next 9 or 10 kms went more or less according to plan. I stuck to my goal pace and felt reasonably good since the wind was mostly behind us and the course followed level, groomed gravel trails along the river. Things changed however when, after our second turn around, we were once again running into the wind, which had become noticeably stronger. My heart sank. With so much headwind, I knew a 2:00 half was out of reach.

Still, I persisted, knowing we'd soon cross a bridge and change direction again. With the wind  at my back, I thought I might still be able to make up enough time to finish in less than 2:06. As we approached the bridge, the sun broke through the clouds to reveal another rainbow, which I hoped was a good sign, and at 15k I was still on track for a PB - which is when the wind became even stronger, buffeting me from the side and back in a way that wasn't at all helpful. (I learned later that it was blowing at a steady 40k/hr, with gusts to 60k/hr, at that point.)

It was then my confidence and enthusiasm plummeted. I knew I'd be running more or less directly into the wind for at least the final two kms making a personal best time impossible. My heart sank. So much training and hard work and so little to show for it. It was all I could do to keep going. When I finally stumbled across the finish line, I posted a photo to let folks back home know I was okay, then made my way back to my room to stretch, shower and pack. Rationally, I knew I'd done okay in light of the conditions, but the time on the clock as I crossed the finish line - 2:12 (for a chip time of 2:11:41) - was deeply disappointing.

Fortunately, a few days later, I'm more satisfied with my performance. Was it ideal? Nope. Are there things I can improve for next time? You betcha. Who knows, if I dress properly and don't go out too fast, and the weather's a little more cooperative, perhaps a sub-2:00 half is actually do-able.

Now what? I'm not sure. It's been a busy week so I haven't had time to think much about it. The one thing I know for sure is that I'd like to be fit enough to run my fifth Cabot Trail Relay next May. The way my body's been feeling lately makes me wonder if I should get more serious about cross-training - perhaps swimming, weights, yoga, hiking, even dancing - to loosen things up so I feel more comfortable in my skin. Much will depend on what kind of a winter we have. Forecasters are saying it could be a nasty one, which will make it challenging to train for a spring race. In the short term, my plan is to go easy for a few weeks and recover fully before I make any decisions. If I opt to tackle another marathon, I've plenty of time to prepare.

In closing, kudos to the race organizers and volunteers who did a terrific job and raised $90,000 for literacy programs. The course was beautiful, the volunteers were friendly and helpful, the hotel was comfy and convenient, and everything worked like clockwork as far as I could tell. Nice bling too.

If you're looking for a friendly and relatively small race, I'd highly recommend Legs for Literacy and look forward to running it again one day.

What about you? Are you finished racing for the season? What are your plans for 2017? Are you happy with how things went in 2016?

Happy running and writing!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Running lessons: Life happens...

Woah. September was intense. Not bad. Just incredibly busy. I can't remember when I last felt so pulled in all directions. Fortunately, the road ahead looks less congested, but I'm overdue for some rest and looking forward to a relaxed Thanksgiving.

This period of frenetic activity has reminded me that life has a way of interfering with even the best laid and executed plans.

I've been training all year in hopes I'd run a marathon in a personal best time this fall. And I might have if life hadn't gotten in the way. But work travel, family celebrations, a funeral, and new job responsibilities meant I didn't getting the rest I needed to recover properly between workouts. As a result, training didn't make me stronger - just more and more tired. By mid-September, I was totally discouraged despite completing most of my planned workouts - including a couple of hot and hilly 26k runs.

At my lowest point, I had an appointment with my chiropractor, Eric Helson, who patiently listened to my tale of woe and reminded me that (a) marathoners always feel beat-up as race day approaches and (b) people of a certain age need more recovery to see any real progress. Rather than give up on my goal, he suggested I reduce the frequency and intensity of my runs for a couple of weeks, then see how I felt.

I took his advice and ran just a few times in the past two weeks in an effort to give my body time to catch up. One was the "glory leg" of the Rum Runners Relay last Saturday. After months of running in hot, humid weather, it felt wonderful to race in cool, crisp fall air. And despite being tired from a busy work week and a long day on the road, I completed my leg in a respectable time - making the mat with time to spare. I was relieved and happy - not least because my teammates all ran well and I was worried I'd let them down. (One of our teammates took the fun photo at the top of this post.)

Today, I tackled a long slow 18k in near perfect conditions. It was a grey and drizzly but temperatures were ideal and I felt strong for most of it. I faded in the last 3 or 4 kms but I suspect that may have been due to dehydration since I didn't take much water with me. Overall, the run went well enough that I feel ready to register for the Moncton half marathon in a few weeks.

That's right, I said half marathon. Despite feeling much better, and having nearly enough long runs under my belt, I've decided not to attempt another full this fall. It would have been nice to complete a 10th marathon before my 55th birthday in March but I've no interest in posting another slow finish time. When I next go the full  distance, I want to run a personal best, and that's not realistic right now.

What is realistic is a personal best half marathon. At RRR last weekend, I averaged 5:41/km over 11 kms, despite a hilly course and nasty blister, so I'm hoping I can manage something close to that in Moncton. If I succeed, I'll easily beat my best half marathon time of 2:06, clocked in New Glasgow more than a decade ago. Fingers crossed.

So that's the news from here. I'm still hoping to write posts about the rest of our vacation, my recent visit to the Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, and other bits and pieces soon, but life'll have to calm down some first.

In the meantime, here are a few photos. It's too bad life intervened to keep me from tackling a full marathon this fall but at least the past month's been fun and interesting.

Happy running and writing!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Vacation report: Week #2 - And still more beaches

Husband's goal for this vacation was to make sure I got to the beach so often I'd get sick of it. (Riiiiiight. Like that's ever going to happen.) And, fortunately, the weather's mostly cooperated. It rained last Wednesday but we were in the city to spend time with a friend visiting from Yukon so didn't mind at all. And, as it turned out, the rain let up long enough to show him around and have supper outside! Otherwise, most days have been perfect for beaching - though some have been a bit breezy.

We spent the majority of our days at Risser's Beach last week but we made it back to Hirtle's on Sunday, when we had friends visiting from the city, and I rode Patti there again today after touring Mahone Bay and Lunenburg. The waves were terrific both days. We had a blast body-surfing on Sunday, and I snapped these photos of some adorable beach faeries during a long walk up the beach and back. 

Husband and I also spent an idyllic day at Cherry Hill Beach last Friday. It's only about 15 minutes down the shore from Risser's but I hadn't been there in years. Now that we've been, I can't understand how we forgot about it. What a gorgeous spot! And we had the beach almost entirely to ourselves for much of the day.

Unfortunately, all the warm humid weather has made marathon training more challenging. I managed to complete most of my workouts last week but at an abysmally slow pace. If I don't pick it up soon, there's a good chance my next marathon will be slower than my last - which is not what I was aiming for. Given that the forecast for this week and next is more of the same kind of weather, I'll focus on making the most of my hill and interval training in hopes I'll be in shape to run faster when temperatures drop a bit. 

So far this week, I've done a hill training session (7k, including 7 hills) and an 8k easy run. Tomorrow is interval training and on Saturday I plan to run 26k to Risser's Beach. I know from past experience that I'll enjoy cooling my legs in the ocean when I get there and the route is gorgeous so there'll be plenty to keep my mind occupied if my body gets cranky about the hills along the way. Assuming all goes well, I'll take the plunge and register for the Valley Harvest Marathon early next week. If it doesn't, I have some hard thinking to do. The Legs for Literacy Marathon in Moncton takes place a two weeks after VHM and is considerably less challenging so it might make sense to run it instead. However, I've really been looking forward to VHM because much of the route is along roads I traveled regularly in my youth. I'm hoping the happy memories will distract me from the pain in the final kms of the race. Stay tuned!

All in all, it's been a great second week (and a bit) of vacation. At the moment, it seems inconceivable that I'll be ready to return to the office on Monday but I suppose I'll cope. 

Hope you're enjoying the last gasps of summer too. Happy running and writing!

P.S. I almost forgot to mention that, of course, we've been eating ridiculously well this vacation - another benefit of staycationing. Last night, we whipped up a yummy bumbleberry made with blackberries from our own garden, local rhurbarb and strawberries. Yum!! And there's been tonnes of hodge podge (new potatoes, beans, peas, cream and butter) not to mention fresh corn steamed on the BBQ. My goodness, I love all the lovely fruits and veggies we get this time of year! 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Vacation report: Week #1 - Beaches and more beaches

Week #1 of our vacation is over and I have to say it's been good so far. There's been plenty of good food and wine, a reasonable amount of exercise, lots of reading and relaxing and even a bit of painting. The best part has been hanging out on the beach of course. The weather's been nothing short of perfect almost every day.

Of course, I'm happy to be on a beach, whatever the weather. Frankly, people who only like beaches when the weather's warm and sunny aren't serious beach people in my books. Sure, beaches are nice in the sunshine but that's something truly magical about them when the weather's less than ideal and you have them mostly to yourself.

We definitely didn't have them to ourselves this week. The weather's been stunning. We spent the first couple of days at Risser's (have I mentioned lately that it's my favourite place in the world?)...

Then sauntered half an hour down the other side of the Lahave River to spend a day on Hirtle's Beach...

Before making a somewhat longer trek to Summerville Beach just outside Liverpool...

And returned to Risser's for several hours today - until a thunderstorm chased us home.

All three are fabulous for different reasons. Hirtle's has the most spectacular waves...

... and is located near the entrance of a terrific hiking trail that circles Gaff Point. In fact, it was the opportunity to go for a hike that drew us to Hirtle's this week. We were feeling the need for more exercise after a couple of days lounging at Risser's.

Summerville has welcomed American tourists for generations - and for good reason. It's over a mile long with soft, white sand that sparkles in the sunshine. Seriously. It sparkles! Plus, it has a decent restaurant at one end. Husband and I really enjoyed sitting outside on the deck listening to waves crash against the rocks below as we sipped local beer and wine.

Clouds arrived later in the afternoon but that was fine too since we needed a break from all the sunshine and they offered some interesting photo opportunities.

Risser's is...well...Risser's. It's an excellent beach with good waves and lovely walks behind the dunes and across the marsh, as well as down the beach...

But it's true appeal is hard to articulate. I just love being there! And, apparently, I'm not alone in that.

For those who may be wondering how marathon training's gone this week - well, pretty well, all things considered. The fall I took last Sunday exacted a bigger toll than I realized at first. I was quite sore all over for three or four days and my arms are still feeling cranky. Nevertheless, I completed a couple of decent training sessions this week (including hill and interval training), as well as an energetic hike around Gaff Point, some "swimming" (aka playing in the waves) and a couple of good yoga sessions.

Truth be told, I may have overdone the yoga a bit yesterday. In my defence, it was hard not to. My yoga spot on the back deck is lovely - shaded by the house with a ideal view of the garden and bird feeder. It was wonderfully mellow watching the birds come and go while I did my thing. Honestly, I was tempted to stay there all day! My body felt terrific when I'd finished, but a little less so when I woke up this morning. It turns out all the downward dogs made my calves and hamstrings grumpy. I'll have to be a tad more sensible tomorrow.

The workout I enjoyed the most this week was the one I did this morning. I read about it in a NY Times blog a year ago but forgot about it until it popped up in my Facebook newsfeed yesterday. Like many people, I find it hard to do speed work consistently. In theory, the workout described in the blog - called "10-20-30" - minimizes the duration of the pain while improving overall running performance. The idea is to run 30 seconds at an easy pace, 20 seconds at a moderate pace and 10 seconds all out repeatedly for a total of 12-18 minutes. The good thing is that it's fun and the hard bits don't last long. The bad thing is that it's quite a bit tougher than I expected so I can't honestly say I'm looking forward to doing it again - though it's certainly less daunting than a 6k tempo run in 30C temperatures!

That's it for week #1 of our vacation. Looking forward to an easy run tomorrow morning and a long run on Sunday before we head over the mountain for a visit with friends in the Annapolis Valley. Next week, we plan to spend more time at the beach and visit with a few more friends and family - though we're determined to keep our program light so we get plenty of rest too. Of course, I'll be continuing to train as well.

Hope you're enjoying these last weeks of summer as much as we are!

Happy running!!

Monday, August 8, 2016


Sitting on the deck sipping coffee and watching birds at the feeder while I write this. After a couple of hot days, this morning's air is fresh and cool - like early fall. It's day #3 and I still haven't fully relaxed into vacation mode - despite plenty of good food and wine. It's hard when there's so much I could/should be doing, but I'm determined to rest as much as possible - when I'm not marathon training, that is.

My training goals for the next few weeks are to run 5 times per week and do yoga daily in an effort to kick my marathon preparation up a notch. So far, the running's going okay but I haven't started the yoga routine yet and I'm not sure I will today either because I took a fall while running with my buddy David yesterday. I went down relatively gently but still managed to scrape one elbow rather badly and my shoulders, arms, and hands are sore from the impact. I don't think they'll be up to doing downward dogs for a few days. I'm luck to have gotten off so lightly since it really could have been much worse. I know people who've broken arms and gotten concussions as a result of similar falls.

David and I were nearly18k into our run yesterday when I fell. We'd planned to do 22-24k but it was 28C in the shade and humid by the time we hit 20k and my arm hurt so we called it a day. Despite everything, I enjoyed the run. David's good company and the route was gorgeous - from his house in Prince's Inlet, along a shaded trail to Lunenburg, around a loop that took us to Carter's Beach and back.  We didn't stop to take many photos so you'll have to take my word for it, but here's a sample.

Husband and I plan to stay close to the country house for much of our vacation but hope to make quick trips to the Annapolis Valley and Cape Breton to see a few friends as well. Once I've a little more energy, I'd also like to spend time with my camera. I'm determined to get a few decent shots of the birds at our feeder. They're fun to watch but move so quickly it's hard to capture crisp images. So far this summer, we've spotted woodpeckers, jays, sparrows, nuthatches, chickadees, doves, and goldfinches - in addition to the robins, ravens and eagles that visit our yard regularly. 

My other major project for this vacation is to start planning my (semi-) retirement. Husband and I have been batting around options for awhile and the time has come to make some decisions so we can start moving in our chosen direction. More on that when we've concluded negotiations. :-)

Hope you and yours are enjoying these last few weeks of summer!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Beautiful summer days!

Summer's here! And so far, we're really enjoying it. This was a long weekend in Nova Scotia, and the weather was hot and sunny for the most part, so Husband and I spent all day Saturday and Sunday camped out on Risser's Beach. We even went swimming a few times since the water was 18C and there were some lovely big waves on Sunday. The crowds were as large as I've seen them in awhile but it was still lovely and quiet at "our" end of the beach.

The weather made my weekend runs a bit challenging though. I slept later than planned Saturday morning and it was so stinky hot by the time I awoke that I opted to run 8k after we got home from the beach. Running on a stomach full of beer and chips after 6 hours in the sun wasn't easy but it was easier than the alternative.

This morning's long run was more comfortable. Once again, I slept later than intended but still managed to get on the road shortly after nine. By sticking to the Centennial Trail, I was able to remain in the shade for much of my 20k and there was a slight breeze so I arrived home feeling a good deal better than I did at the end of last week's 17k.

The rest of my training week was good. I checked off a hill training session on Tuesday and speed training on Thursday. Marathon training is going well so far but, of course, the toughest weeks are ahead.

Other activities this weekend included gardening, photography, retirement planning, cooking and reading. In short, I was "vacation hardening". Just four more days of work and I'm off for three weeks. Three weeks! Needless to say, I'm excited. It's been far too long since I had a proper break.

After two solid days on the beach, we were ready for a change of pace today so spent the afternoon in Lunenburg. After a lazy lunch on the deck of the Salt Shaker Deli, we wandered through town stopping at several local galleries and Ironworks Distillery to pick up a bottle of their award-winning Bluenose Rum.

We also caught a glimpse of the Bluenose, in port to pick up passengers for her next tour.

Back in the car, we explored the roads outside town, and stopped to take a few photos. Lunenburg is a UNESCO Heritage Site for good reason. It's ridiculously picturesque.

We'll likely make it back to Lunenburg for the folk festival next weekend - always a highlight of summer on Nova Scotia's South Shore.

Hope you and yours are enjoying a sunny, warm summer as well!

Happy running and writing!