Friday, December 24, 2010

In the silence of Wisconsin

I spent this fall in a silent scream. The past two months have been the most emotionally painful of my entire life. These months starred soul-destroying conflict with supporting performances by terror, grief and more hours and dollars than was really reasonable spent on therapy. In the face of all of this, it felt very false to be blogging about amusing baby anecdotes, or the challenges of being a working mother, or a particularly satisfying work-out ... my usual fare. Also, to be honest, I just did not have the energy. I've occasionally felt down in the dumps, but I have never experienced mind-altering depression like these past months. I think in the face of conflict it is important for to examine one's own behavior, actions, ideas... let's say one's own ugly self. I have spent large swaths of time doing so these past few months, an exercise which, if done honestly and diligently, can be very draining and depressing.

A painful by-product of these past few months was the loss of precious time with la cocotte. During the last two months I was completely numb, moving in slow motion under 100 feet of water. Suddenly I have a toddler in front of me who is lively and active, has opinions and WORDS (bateau, soulier, nounou, bebe) and I have no idea how we got from here to there. It is as if someone hit fast forward and I missed witnessing two months of development. It is time I will never get back, and I mourn deeply that lost time. I think I am turning the corner due to various events and thanks in part to my amazing therapist and, also, to give credit where credit is due... to the very hard mental work I have been doing. Things are still very broken in my little world and I don't know the way forward but my moments of clarity are becoming slightly more frequent. And when I focus on la cocotte, I feel something that is perhaps a distant cousin to peace.

So, things are not where I want them to be but regardless I must function again. I have an amazing toddler who needs and deserves my affection and attention. I have a challenging job that taxes my little brain even when it (my little brain) is functioning optimally. My life is happening around me and I need and want to be present for it. I guess this post is largely an exercise in returning to me. To function again. Even if things are far from okay in some very important aspects of my life. I must be present. Now.

There have been some finite, good moments this fall. Now and then, at the end of a hard ten mile run on a crisp wintery day I could feel some of the old normal. La cocotte, as much as I feel I missed out on a ton, has been a source of goodness and sanity. How much do I love watching her accomplish a new task and then turn to me and ask for a round of applause or give me a high five. Mmmmonyka's huge 5 km PB was a very bright spot this fall; helping someone else run fast is a great anodyne to failing to do so oneself. It gave me huge pleasure to read about and be able to follow SLG's pregnancy. Reading about the birth of Karoline's first child. Speaking of pregnancy and children, I decided this fall definitively my own thoughts on having a second child. The thought is: yes, please. I don't know if it is in the cards or not given the difficulties we had the first time around however even if it does not happen, the end of indecision is a wonderful stabilizing force.

This isn't the cheery pre-Christmas post I would have hoped to write. It's an honest reflection of where I am at. But perhaps, in a nod to the season, I can leave off with a photo of Santa claus and Cindy Lou Who Who is not more than two:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Autumn in Images

Yes, an apple was harmed in taking this picture (harmed and stolen in fact!).
The owners of this produce stand were very, very patient.
Tired mom after 5 km, energetic toddler.
Our toddler's obsession with brooms made our choice of hallowe'en costumes very obvious.
Though of course on the actual night we had to canadianize (i.e. accessorize in canadian fashion) the costume with winter hat, polar fleece etc.






Saturday, October 30, 2010

Race Report: Provincial Cross Country Championships

Today was XC Provincial Championships. This is actually the 3rd XC Championship race I run this year if I count the two I did in Italy in February. Kind of ironic for a runner who dislikes XC. But today was a special event. Every year, satellite, erstwhile members of my running club band together and form senior women's team. This team consists of working women in their 30s and 40s with children. Lots of children. Today, the 7 of us toeing the start line on my team, had 8 children among us, We have been doing this for almost a decade, though I cannot claim to have participated in nearly that many. We rarely see each other all together outside of this race so there is truly a feeling of reunion and comradeship surrounding this event.

This is also an occasion for me to catch up with various people who have been in my running life for upwards of 20 years now. In particular one of my first coaches was there (in all, six of my former coaches were there). I had a really wonderful chat with him. I think he must be pushing 80 but just as enthusiastic if slightly less energetic than he used to be. He was lamenting how much thinner the fields are than they used to be among the young'ins. In the cadet boys category, a team consists of only three runners, the federation had to limit it to 3 in order to have a reasonable number of teams in the field. Where have all the young'ins gone? If they are off playing soccer or hockey or just out playing in the streets and parks instead of running, that`s fine but I suspect that is probably not the case. And I find that sad...

This race also acts as Quebec University Championships. As I jogged along the course to warm up, the university teams in their brightly coloured warm-ups, face paint and hair ribbons were unmistakeable. I was once one of those brightly coloured people too. Filled with nervous energy and lost in the importance of the moment. Now, as I warm-up chatting about working and children and life with my cohorts, it strikes me how very liberating it is to be in the situation where truly no one really cares about my performance but me. Also to have a whole three hours to go to a cross country meet is a rare treat and it makes me appreciate the occasion whereas in the past the delight of the event might have been lost in the nervousness of the moment.

My goals for today were somewhat arbitrary. But isn't that cross country in a nutshell: somewhat arbitrary? My goals were to first, to not finish lower than 3rd on any of the university teams in other words I did not want more than 2 members of a single team ahead of me. Second, brace yourself for the extreme cheesiness of it all, to have fun. I have been emotionally struggling with something enormous over the past few weeks and I wanted 5 kilometers of mud, sweat, heavy breathing, golden leaves and flying spikes as an outlet.

In pursuit of the second goal, I decided to go our very conservatively since fun = passing dozens of girls in the last 2. km, conversely fun does not = dying 3 km into a 5 km race. About 75 m into the race I remembered why going out conservatively is not an optimum strategy in  XC - 100 spike-wearing women converging onto a  6 foot wide course. So it went that I found myself in the last 15% of the pack about 500 m into the race with limited opportunities for passing. I told myself to be patient, that opportunities would present themselves to move up.

The course was fairly tough, an honest XC course with long, gradual uphills that inevitably bring a runner to her knees followed by very short, very steep downhills. The kind of downhills that are too steep to use as recovery. The kind of downhills that I descend with windmilling arms and the mantra "stay upright or be trampled" running through my head.

By the end of the first loop I had moved up into the top 40% (ish) of the field but I was also no longer feeling like I had really gone out all that conservatively after all. The second lap consisted of slowly picking off women one by one. With 1 km to go I was in extremis. My 15 minute timer went off to remind me that there was less than 5 minutes of running left and that I needed to find more bodies to pass... but instead all i could think was "don't let more than 5 people pass you between now and the finish." Ugh. Not the most uplifting end-race thought. But in fact I'm proud to day that after about the 2 km mark no one passed me.  Despite the fact that I was barely going backwards over the last km, no one went by me. I got through it in 100 m sections, looking up finding a landmark to run to and just concentrating on getting to that landmark and thinking of nothing else. It was ugly. I am sure I got no points for style but no one passed me. I also tried to remind myself that this was normal hurt and everyone else was hurting as well.

I had no kick, no grace, not much of anything in the finishing shute. I came home in 19:09. 7th woman in the non-university category and since 5 university women finished ahead of me I finished 12th overall. I feel that both of my pre-race goals were achieved. Lots of wonderful people to catch up with. The smell and sound of autumn leaves crunching under my spikes... a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Race Report: The out of the blue 5 km

So I spent a week not eating much, running too much, not sleeping much and being extremely stressed.
I had a 5 km race planned, which I had done a prediction work-out for (predicted 17:44), but could not wrap my mind around running it. I jogged 5 minutes towards the start line and then walked home.
Then I spent a week not running, eating some more, trying to be less panicked. Out of nowhere I decided to pop off a 5 km off and see what this situation (which looked somewhat like a large taper) would produce. 17:50.
I don't recommend this type of lead up to a race and plan never to repeat it however I am very pleased with the race itself and the time. I was incredibly mentally focussed which I absolutely did not expect. My marathon legs could not go out too fast as I usually do in a 5 km and as a result my first 2 km were actually the slowest (3:36, 3:40) then I actually ran 10:35 for the last 3 km. I had set my timer to go off 15 minutes into the race and I told myself that when the timer went off I would have less than 3 minutes to run and I needed to leave everything on the road. It worked. It really worked. I have never worked so hard in the last 500 m of a race. I want to feel that feeling again.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

My little space

I plan to make this blog private either for awhile or permanently. I believe blogger allows me to invite 100 readers. That is probably about 20 X the number of invites I'll need :)
If you would like an invite please either leave me a comment here with the appropriate e-mail address or if you prefer e-mail me at PiccolaPineCone-at-gmail-dot-com. Those of you who already asked, no need to ask again as soon as I make it private again, you'll get your invite.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Involuntary Experiment

First off, SteveQ, if you're reading - I really did not intend to plagiarize your last blog post, I just happen to be experiencing the same symptom at the same time. I lost 6 pounds this week. Unlike SteveQ, I know why I lost them but the "why" is not germane here.
All that to say, on Monday had I run a 5 km I definitely would have broken 18 minutes 17:45-17:55 I think. Now I am 6 pounds lighter, have not run since my prediction work-out on Monday (involuntarily but not related to injury) so here I am, light, tapered and pretty much in shape (at least I was 5 days ago) so - what effect does rapid weight loss have on race performance? Tomorrow I find out.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How did that prediction work-out work out?

No one is going to believe that I am as uber busy as I keep whining about if I continue to post this often. But I wanted to write about my prediction work-out because truly I am almost more curious to see how well this works as a prediction work-out than to see how fast I can run 5 km this upcoming Sunday. Here are the figures:

5.5 km warm-up easy
4 km tempo in 15:40, felt very controlled
5 X 1 km:  3:30, 3:33, 3:34, 3:35, 3:31

Total of 5 km times predicts a 17:43 5 km +/- 10 seconds, or so claims my off-the-top-of-my-head "formula".
I wouldn't have thought I was in sub-18 shape right now. I do tend to train better than I race unfortunately. I could believe 18:10, 17:43 seems faster than I can run right now. Interested to see which is correct, my gut or my not-so-scientific prediction work-out.

Monday, October 11, 2010

To have not

I can think of several compelling reasons not to reproduce again. Let’s start with our quality of life. I have commented here before about how incredibly busy I am these days. Some of the craziness is due to a rather intense deadline at work; I was warned before I came back that I would be returning to an intense, high pressure environment. Yup. True. So one could argue that the crazy pace at work is only temporary and that soon the speed on the treadmill of life will be lowered, but we all know it never really works out that way. Life is busy and when one project stops hogging all the time, something else slips in to replace it. Right now everything fits. Barely. I can work my demanding job, hubby can work his demanding job, I can run 80 km per week and write my blog, hubby can pursue his hobbies, we both get to spend quality time with la cocotte though often not together. It fits. Just Barely. It fits though the result is we have little sleep, a messy home, are living on take-out and frozen pizza, have laundry in various stages of doneness scattered constantly… you get the picture. I cannot see how another child fits in that picture without something having to go. Something big. Like running.  I know other people manage. Heck I have friends with four and five children who are runners and triathletes. But to borrow and slightly modify a phrase from any baby owner’s manual worth its salt: “All [parents] are different and develop in their own way.” I don’t know that I could make it work.

Then there’s the fact of me as a mommy. I think I am an okay mommy. I absolutely love the job and sometimes I do it fabulously and sometimes I could be more engaged, more patient, more imaginative, a better problem solver. I had an easy baby who turned into an easy toddler. I just don’t know how I would be with a more difficult baby. Perhaps I have been spoiled by this one. Yes, I had huge doubts about my ability to parent before la cocotte. I thought they would disappear with the appearance of the baby and yet, as I contemplate numero due I find myself with the same doubts and concerns about the role of mommy. But I wouldn’t be Piccola Pine Cone if I didn’t have grave self-doubts peppered with bout of low self esteem. Oh come on, who doesn’t?
Then there’s the exhaustion. I am still breast feeding 1-3 times per night. Last night it was four. I get up at 5.30 am to run. I’m exhausted. Constantly. I know it would only be worse with numero due on board and I don’t honestly know if I could hack it.
Now we come to the part that has nothing to do with me. No, not hubby. Yes, of course he has thoughts and feelings on this too but true to the occasionally bendable rules of this blog, I try not discuss personal stuff about others. No… I am talking about the bigger picture. There are many problems facing our society. Among the biggest – the looming energy crisis a.k.a. peak oil, the looming fresh water crisis particularly in areas dependent upon ground water which is being depleted at rates measures in tens of meters per year in some area, global warming, depletion of rare earth minerals. There’s many terms in which one can think of the problems facing humanity. Many lists of our biggest problems one could make. But here, really, is our biggest problem. Overpopulation. Overpopulation is essentially our only problem. All other problems can be thought of as symptoms of this larger issue. In the face of this, it just doesn’t feel responsible to me to have more children.
So that’s where I am. Perched between the yearning I spoke of previously and the gut feeling that having a second child just does not feel like the right decision.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Prediction Work-out & Fall Race Schedule

I have figured out my fall racing schedule and it goes something like this:

Oct. 10th - 4 km cross country
Oct. 17th - 5 km road race
Oct. 30th - 5 km cross country provincial championships
Nov. 13th - 10 km cross country
Nov. 27th - indoor track race either 1500 m or 3000 m
Dec. 11th - indoor track race either 1500 m or 3000 m

Wow, that's a whole lot of cross country for a woman who professes to hate cross country. I was asked by the president of my former club to run on their team again this year. They (we) have won the women's senior title for a gizillion years in a row or something like that. Although the level of competition in senior women's club level XC running is not what one could honestly call cut-throat, in my mind this is an impressive accomplishment because the women who have made this happen are career women in their 30s and 40s with one, two, three,  in one case four and in another case five children... who still manage to don our club's singlet, get into shape and run XC provincials. So yeah, I hate cross country, but this team is a pretty special thing to be a part of and I very much appreciate being asked. Since I made that commitment I decided I better get my cross country legs on by doing one race ahead of time on Oct. 10th. Oh, that was today. Ok, that part didn't happen. Give me a moment to give this another spin... Whatever. So provincials will be my first XC race of the season. Running is running no matter what surface it happens on.

The two indoor track races I included simply because the track is literally 1 block from our apartment. In fact I once timed myself from lying on our bed to being at the start line of the track in 3 minutes and 27 seconds (lots of stairs up to the track). So convenient so why not? Also I am morbidly curious to see if I can still break 5:00 for 1500 m. Me thinks the answer is not so much. Track is a young person's sport in Montreal and for the past decade I have felt distinctly out of place when I have toed the line against other females younger than the ketchup in my fridge and so I have done so less and less. But given the busy, disorganized state of my life, convenience now rules so I cannot give up the chance to race less than a block from home.

Which brings us to the 5km on the roads next week-end. The start line is a mere 3 km from our apartment. This race I am quite excited about because it is flat(ish) and fast(ish) and over a standard distance unlike many of the races I ran in Italy. So I am curious to see where I am at fitness-wise. I am also curious to see if the  prediction work-out I designed will accurately my 5 km time. I will accept +/- 5 seconds as an accurate prediction. Here's the work-out:

Proper warm-up, followed by 4 km tempo (half marathon pace), 3 minutes easy jog. 5 X 1 km with 90-120 seconds easy jog between. The sum of the 1 km repeats should predict my 5 km race time.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The elephant in the room (part 1)

 My road to reproduction was not straight forward. For many years (10?) I was completely undecided as to whether I wanted children. For as long as I could remember I felt that far too many people reproduced simply because they could not imagine doing otherwise, a reflexive act or even worse simply because it was expected. I was very ambivalent on the whole topic of having children. But then again it didn't really matter because I was a student, then I was single, then I was a single student... but as time passed I wasn't a student anymore and as more time passed I had a sense of financial security. More time went by and I wasn't single anymore but still I struggled with trying to figure out how I honestly felt about having children. I remained ambivalent and completely frustrated by my ambivalence; I felt that I should have a feeling one way or another.

For 3 years I involuntarily spent time each and every single day trying to figure out if I wanted children; my mind would inevitably wander over to this puzzle and try to reason it out. This decision seemed so obvious to others and yet I could not figure out how I truly felt. Then things shifted, subtly... now when I probed my feelings I realized that I wanted to want to have children. More months passed and I realized that now my want was no longer once removed. I wanted children BUT I couldn't figure out why. And that bothered me. I felt that I should do something as monumental as reproducing unless I had a clear sense of why. I felt I should be able to finish the sentence: 'I want children because..." More time went by. I realized I wanted children in a visceral and instinctual way that could not be boiled down to clear and rational reasons. My "reasons" were mushiness and goo and deep yearning and finally, finally I realized that was OK. Perhaps after all, this huge, life changing decision did not have to be level headed, analyzed and understood... perhaps I could go with the mush and emotion.

So we started trying and started failing. As an aside, it was at this time that I actually read my first blog - an infertility blog. Just as there is a vibrant, supportive community of runners, mommies and running mommies out here in blogosphere, there is an amazing network of infertile people who cheer each other on,commiserate, exchange information and offer virtual hugs. I was truly touched by some of the aching humanity I observed as I lurked on this network of blogs. Back to my own story, eventually with a little help from medical technology, we got pregnant and the result was, of course, La Cocotte.

I've previously declined to write about what a joy and wonderful life change La Cocotte has been because I truly feel it is beyond my limited gift as a writer. While I don't mind not doing justice to a marathon race report or a description of a great running route, it bothers me to fail so miserably to express the fullness in my heart that is La Cocotte. Having her is so very much more wonderful than I ever imagined it would be. My one English nickname for her is Goodness because I look at her and that is exactly how I feel. She is pure, untainted goodness and I will never, ever be finished being grateful for her existence.

The end.

Or is it?

Slowly I can feel the old obsessiveness and indecision creeping back in as I ponder the inevitable question - do we make another?  In the past year I have found myself mulling this over. Now that I am fertile again (took 13 months!!) there is a new layer of perceived urgency to the question. And there is urgency on other fronts as well. There are many factors in my life and philosophical outlook that speak both for and against. I will have to leave this unfinished post here for now - unintentionally symbolic of my current thinking on the topic: unfinished. I'll be back to mull this over more.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A day in the life

So, granted I have chosen to chronicle a tougher than average day-in-the-life, but for what it's worth, here was my Wednesday last week... this is a follow up to my last post in which I figured I could make it work.

5:00 am: alarm goes off, went to bed at 9 pm the night before but only slept about 6 hours total b/c of sick baby
5:15 am: out the door for my run, 14 km later wind up at work
6:25 am: shower, eat breakfast, change (yes, at work)
6:45 am: at my desk working
6:45 am - 4:15 pm: work
4:15 pm - leave work. decide to stick to my "body as car" philosophy and "drive" my 1974 PiccolaPineCone home, the PiccolaPineCone has 80,000 kilometers on her but she has brand new Reebok tires so the ride is pretty smooth.
4:35 pm - arrive home to relieve hubby who has been home all day with sick baby and has yet to do any work.
4:35 - 8:30 pm- play, fix dinner, feed baby, play some more, bath time, pajama time.
8:30 pm - return to work. contemplate "driving" again but am feeling pretty bagged so I take the bus.
8:50 pm - 11:10 pm - work.
11: 10 pm - take the bus home. don't even think about "driving".

Hours worked: 12 (compensating for the days I got almost no work done while taking care of sick baby)
Kilometers ran: 18.4 km
Waking hours spent with la cocotte: 4

The take home message is that as busy as things are when la cocotte is in daycare and we are both working, they are much more so when she is home sick, though it does give us more time with her which is nice in a weird way.

This was in sharp contrast to Thursday when it was my turn to take care of la cocotte. She came with me to work, attended a departmental meeting where she sat in my lap and hid her face for the first third, played near me for the second third and started toddling around for the final portion. After the meeting I took her to a nearby park until she was ready to nap and then we went back to work and she napped in a conference room for an hour while I worked. When she woke, we both went home and I had a great day with her (which included a blissful two hour nap together in the afternoon, necessitated no doubt by the endeavors of the day before - is there any guilty pleasure greater than a daytime nap on a weekday???). I feel a bit guilty for liking it when my baby is sick b/c I get more time with her... but it's not like she's miserable, just too sick to be admitted to daycare.

So, yes, I am figuring out how to be a working, running mom, figuring out the routine all the while recognizing that there is no such thing as a routine really with a baby on board. I am trying not to stress out about things not getting done - I'm doing the best I can and things will fall where they do (literally and figuratively).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

It's all good.

No Cheese Chase for me today. La Cocotte was up much of the night with frighteningly high fever. We spent much of the night nursing, so much so that I was tempted to volunteer myself at the milking competition that is part of Cheese Festival we are attending. Instead of the race, I went for a tempo run on the Badger State Trail which is an oasis of FLAT, soft ground in a rural sea of staggeringly hilly, asphalt roads. Is anyplace more beautiful than Wisconsin in the early fall? This trails cuts a linear swath through rolling farm land with gorgeous wild flowers and dramatic cloudscapes. Sure maybe some places are more stunning, like the in-your-face gorgeous Sierra Nevadas but Wisconsin has a quiet, modest beauty that moves me.

Anyhoo I took advantage of the tranquility to figure out how this next chapter of my life is going to work:

Running - I have to stop thinking of running as a way to burn off all the excess calories I don't need to be consuming in the first place. Sure I ran high mileage (for me) last year because I was preparing for a marathon but it also supported my terrible habit of eating WAY more than I need to. I was a stay-at-home mom, around amazing Italian food ALL the time and I picked up some horrible habits. Time to eat what I need. Eat when I am hungry and kick the food addiction habit. I am nursing far less. I will be sitting at a desk 8-10 hours a day and running waaayyyy less mileage. My daily calorie requirement is going to fall. I have to be cognizant of that and act accordingly.

I also have to consider my running goals. No marathon on the horizon. I want to run a sub-17:30 5 km and a sub-36:30 10 km in the next year. I don't need to run 100 km per week to accomplish this. I need to stop thinking of a 75 km week as a failure and consider it the new normal. Focussed, quality running is my new mantra. Also, "body as car". I simply don't have the luxury to just up and go for a run anymore. I need to use my body as a car to get to work, daycare, etc. that is how I will get my easy mileage in without sacrificing too much time.

Family life - no more crappy TV. I got into the habit of not watching TV in Italy because it was too much work. I need to maintain that habit and reclaim the pointless hours otherwise spent rotting in front of the TV. I only have 3-4 waking hours a day with la cocotte during the week (god that is so depressing to think about). Every single one of them has to count.

Work - New role. Have to wrap my head around it. The only way forward is with confidence. I don't have confidence so, time to fake it. People with self confidence and an authoritative manner succeed (provided of course they have genuine talent and ability to back it up). In the absence of confidence, I just have to fake it until I make it. Sounds like the slogan on a cheesy poster that hangs over a coffee pot containing foul-smelling, burnt coffee in the office kitchen (you know right next to the poster with the cat hanging from a bar by one paw with "Hang in there" written above). But kitschy though "fake it 'till you make it" may be, there is a great deal of wisdom therein.

So, to sum up: food as fuel, not as entertainment. quality, focussed running. 75 km as the new normal. no hours spent rotting in front of the TV, realize how precious every hour of family time is. fake confidence and the rest will follow.

Seemed much more insightful against the backdrop of the Badger Trail.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hello Wisconsin

I read somewhere recently that women tend to seek experiential blogs; that women love to read their story being re-told by another who is essentially living the same story. This works because let's face it, at their essential most people's lives are terribly common. This makes me think about the story I have been telling, initially it was new running mom discovering the wonders of her new baby and clawing her way back into pre-pregnancy fitness. Sure it was with the twist that I was also living in a new country that happens to be a country that seems to capture the romantic imagination of people around the world... but at its heart it was new mom loves and baby and tries to get back into shape.

Now my story has changed. Now it goes something like this: mother of one year old baby adjusts to the new reality of her life as a working mom at an incredibly demanding job while baby tries to adjust to daycare (and oh yeah whole family adjusts to being back in North America and mommy continues to try to run...). Ho hum... does anyone really need to hear this particular story being told AGAIN? Are any of the following truths/sentiments at all unique and worth re-telling: my baby is sick with daycare colds all the time, I have almost zero time to myself, I have no idea when I am going to fit in running, my husband and I have no quality time together, I feel like I am doing a crappy job at EVERYTHING. Should I even take the time to blog about all this when it is clear there are so, so many other things I should/need/want to be doing? (emphasis on the should and need). Well, I think telling the story keeps me sane. Not as sane as a ten mile run, but really is there anything more mind-clearing than a 10 mile? Ok. Maybe an 11 mile run.

I am still figuring out the experience that is my new life. Absolutely everything in my little world has changed. I feel myself, my reactions, my person shifting and squirming and trying to adjust. I am frantically trying to figure out how not to suck at all the various things I am trying to accomplish and be. I think I will get there. Where is there? Somewhere probably not too far from here but where I feel slightly more comfortably in my own skin. And where I do a better job at... my various jobs, even if only a slightly better job.

But, to end a rather heavy post on a more light hearted note, now all I am thinking about is - should I run the Cheese Chase 10 km tomorrow? I am in Wisconsin to visit family and attend a cheese festival and only found out today (after a very hard & hilly 11.5 mile run) that there is a 10 km run tomorrow. The entry fee is a little steep $30 - nothing small town about that price! On the other hand it goes towards youth hockey, as a Canadian I am essentially obliged to support them. Plus after coming to this town for the past many years, it would be kind of neat to actually a run race here. And the prizes, of course, are very cheesy.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Guess what we bought today.

Baby's first running shoes. My marathon flats are included just for scale.


Everybody all together now: "Awwwwwwwwwwww"

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Race Report: What happened?

Well first let me correct some misinformation. There are rumors circulating that I finished 4th and 2nd Canadian. Actually the "live" (now dead?) results are incomplete. I ran 3:08:14 which netted me 6th woman overall and 3rd Canadian. I am sure sportstats.ca will have the full & final results up soon.

I'm honestly not quite sure what happened. I felt okay for the first 14 km. I never felt awesome. I never had the feeling I normally get in the first 1/3 of a marathon where I have to consciously slow myself down. At 15 km I realized I felt far too tired for only 15 km. I was still hanging in at the 1/2 way point (1:27:28) and then things started to unravel. I took my first walking break at the 23 km mark and realized that a 2:55 and even possibly a 3:00 were not looking likely. I had a brief conference with, well, me. I tabled the proposition that we close up shop for the day and look for another marathon in a month when perhaps I would have a better day. This proposition was unanimously rejected. There is no way I will have time to train & travel to another marathon this month. I am coming off a 3 week taper and therefore fitness is declining not increasing. But mostly, it felt very important to me to finish this marathon. Even if it took 3:20 which was kind of the worst case scenario I was calculating at that point.
Decision made I soldiered on. La cocotte was waiting with hubby, parents and a friend at 26 km. Seeing them was a HUGE boost. I took the time for a quick chat and to kiss la cocotte. I figured 30 seconds was not going to be meaningful at the finish line at this point.

From 26 km - 37 km I had a hell of a time. I tried to only take walking breaks every 2 km. Sometimes I could go 4 km and sometimes I could only go a few minutes. I felt like an ass walking past the elite table at the 30 km mark and picking up my special bottle which had been so carefully transported there. To underscore the situation, mine was the last, sad elite bottle left. All the others has been long since picked up. All in all I walked 8 times for a total, I would guess, of about 12 minutes of walking. Eek. The thought of seeing la cocotte & family at km 37 kept me going. And they did not dissapoint! No easy task navigating from km 26 to km 37 on the Montreal subway with a sleeping baby!

I again felt like an ass at the 40 km aid station as the amazing volunteers scrambled to get me my special bottle when they saw bib #13 moving towards them at geologic pace. They couldn't find the bottle to their great consternation and I heartily reassured them it was okay. I was beyond the help of flat coca cola and gummy bears by this point. I did motivate myself a little with the thought that even if it took me 12 minutes to finish I could still break 3:10. Sigh.

The finish of the Montreal Marathon is a real treat as the last km is a huge downhill (4:15 - fastest one since the 1/2 way point) and then the last 200 m are run in the 1976 Olympic Stadium with HUGE crowd support. I managed to put on a show and run a 48 second last 200 m despite my calves which were cramping with every footfall.

So... what the heck happened? SLG suggests it was the move through 7 time zones. Steveq suggests that the nursing and also the move should be factored in. What do I think? Mostly I think I could really go for some take-out thai food but I would hate to disappoint Fast Bastard by not overanalyzing this.

Some possibilities:

1. Started out too fast - I went through 10 km in 41:00 which is 2:53 pace. It's quicker than realistic pace for me but not, I would have thought, egregiously so. I really feel that I did not do anything overtly stupid today so... REJECTED.

2. Hyped this up too much and therefore chocked - REJECTED out of the gate. I was relaxed and calm and really having a ball for the first 14 km. It wasn't nerves.

3. Weather - the temperature dropped 15 degrees between Friday and race day. Furthermore with the collision of two fronts, it was pretty darn windy out there (40 kph). And I was mostly alone, there being a dearth of 3:00 marathoners at this race. Maybe this might have caused a few minutes but others ran stellar races despite, perhaps they were more sheltered in the pack... I'll blame the weather, particularly the wind, partially.

4. Stomach issues leading up the race - the heat & humidity in the days before the race gave me absorption issues. My weight actually hit close to an all-time adult low a few days before the race. I was eating and drink loads to compensate but clearly much of it was passing through unabsorbed. But if this had been the problem I would have expected to feel low blood sugar and drained. This was not the case. I felt tight, tired and like everything was more effort than it should be. Similar but subtly different. Maybe this factor is partially to blame.

5. Training - Yup. It was all SteveQ's fault.
Ok. Obviously I don't feel that way. I was given a brilliant training program that was, as per my request, extremely flexible. Meaning that the work-outs were smart but there were loads to chose from and the execution of the training program was left up to me. Here are the mistakes I made: 1. too much mileage too soon, I think I was in better shape at the end of June than I was today. 2. Deficity of long, long runs. My longest were 36, 36 and 34 and two of these were done a little early in the progression. My weakness as a runner is endurance. I am naturally speedy but not endurant and I did not pay enough heed to that. 3. Not enough mileage overall. 4. Not enough running at marathon pace. SteveQ emphasized this both in his e-mails to me and on his blog and I did not pay enough attention to getting it done.

I'm done with the marathon for awhile. It is clearly not my strength, even disregarding today, my marathon performances are simply not as good as my 5 km - 1/2 marathon. The investment to prepare is too demanding given my current situation. I am thinking about what is coming next but it likely boils down to a massive reduction in mileage (maybe as low at 65 km per week) and seeing if I can run a sub-17:30 5km and a sub-36:30 10 km.

The strange thing is, I am not actually that dissapointed. More curious than dissapointed. I have very few marathons under my belt; today was #7. This is few enough that finishing still feels like an accomplisment.

So thank you everyone. I really appreciate your support & comments. And thanks SteveQ for the training program. I should have executed it better.

42.2 km is a long way to self-propel.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The field

There are five women in the elite field tomorrow of which I am one, which makes me want to put quotation marks around the word elite but I'll save the self-effasiveness for someday which is NOT the day before a goal race. Toe-ing the line are:

1. Irene Cherop, Kenya - last year's winner in 2:39:31. She is will no doubt be motivated by the $10 G for first place, $2 G for a new course record, $500 for fastest split at the half marathon and (this is my favorite) $20 PER SECOND under the current course record. Cool! Even if she runs one second faster than last year, she is potentially looking at a purse of $12,520. Not bad for a Canadian marathon. And I love the quasi-infinite cash potential of the $20/second bonus. It's a risky prize, 5 minutes translates to $6 G.

but she does not necessarily have it locked up as also returning is

2. Abrha Serkalem, Ethiopia - third place last year in 2:43:07.

3. Myriam Grenon - my former teammate from when I ran for a local club in Montreal. She is the super speedy local runner who beat me at the last 5 km I ran. She has a marathon PR of 2:48 run in May and was 5th last year at the Montreal Marathon in 2:53. She has set PRs in every distance between 5 km and the marathon over the last year including a sub-1:20 half and a sub-36 10 km. Oh, did I mention she has FOUR children? Yeah, she's a bit of a hero and inspiration to me. I don't think beating her is in the cards but it will be fun to run near her for a few kms.

4. Mystery runner who I cannot track down.

5. Moi

Now, here's the fun part. According to rumor, one of the international elites was "lost in transit". What does that even mean? How does that happen? I am not sure which of the 3 runners who are not Myriam and myself is lost. 

In  addition, Irene Cherop does not actually appear in the confirmed list of runners right now but the local paper claimed she was back SO this means that other fast people from last year could be back and they are just not officially listed yet. Anyway it doesn't matter *that* much to me, I just think it is interesting, adds an element of suspense.

Thanks everyone for your support and cheering. I will tie my shoes tightly, drink lots of fluids today, try to be intelligent (always a struggle when moving over 14 kph) and have a little fun along the way.

Friday, September 3, 2010

All systems reporting GO.

My legs are heavy.
My hamstrings are tight.
I am exhausted, drained, totally low energy.
My stomach is upset.
I have what feels like constant ovulation pain.

Sounds just about right for the final week before a marathon when the massive reduction in volume makes me sluggish, irritable and prone to obsessive self-monitoring. Honestly if I felt energetic, had springy legs and was raring to go, I would be concerned.

The temperature is still predicted to drop by 11 degrees from today's daytime high of 31 to tomorrow which will give me two nights of sleeping in cool temperatures before the marathon on Sunday. All systems are reporting GO.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Scenes from a transatlantic move with baby

Standing at the check-in counter of Swiss airlines in the Venice airport in front of incredibly patient and kind airlines employees with our 108 kg of checked baggage divided into 6 pieces, our 4 carry on pieces which clearly exceed weight limits and our carry-on stroller. No, not a dainty umbrella stroller that collapses with a flick of the wrist. The Bob. To add to the mountain of baggage and chaos, we brought the Bob as our gate checked stroller. I wanted to affix a sign to the top of our mountain, actually mountains because 11 pieces of luggage do not fit onto one luggage cart, stating "moving home after one year abroad" lest people think this is how we pack for a 2-3 week vacation.

Walking the aisle of the Swiss airbus 320-300 over and over with la cocotte who, not surprisingly, did not want to spend 8 hours on mommy and daddy's laps. Watching the same aisle-dwelling people, patiently and repeatedly moving their legs, elbows and drinks out of tripping, poking and swiping range of la cocotte.

Feeling dumbfounded when the Canadian Customs guy asked us what we were bringing back from our "trip". How does one sum up a year's worth of acquisitions in 10 seconds as the rest of the airplane waits behind us (because baby privilege dictated that despite being last off the plane, we were moved to the front of the line - LOVE the baby privilege). Chocolate, coffee, some books, a car seat and 14 extra pounds of baby made of the finest Italian food.

Not remembering how to say the address of our apartment in french to the taxi driver.

Walking into our tidy but dusty apartment and feeling oddly disoriented. 24 hours later seeing same apartment with aforementioned 10 suitcases spewing their contents from various frantic searches everywhere.

Realizing just how incredibly un-baby proof our apartment is.

Heart attack at the grocery store when we saw the cost of food. Seriously I felt like I was in one of those time-travel Hollywood movies where the heroine wakes up and 15 years have gone by because $50/kg for cheese? Really? Not even yummy cheese, the cheese I buy because it normally doesn't require taking out a second mortgage on the house. All the lovely, affordable food that la cocotte has grown to love in Italy is, well, less lovely and way less affordable.

Not having every person on the sidewalk stop and admire our toddler. Those who do, seem strangely shocked when I engage in conversation with them, almost as if they are thinking "I was talking to HER not you lady, I don't KNOW you.".

Melting in the 32 deg C heat (40 deg with the humidex everyone LOVES to proudly add as if it is some kind of accomplishment) of a late summer Montreal heat wave.

8 visits to see different daycares. 3 trips to IKEA. 1 trip to Babies 'R Us. 2 trips to Beau Bebe.

Living surrounded by university students and the inevitable noise. Seriously, what are these people thinking making god awful noise at .... oh.... 8:30 pm. I guess expecting pin-drop silence in the student ghetto at 8:30 pm is setting the bar a little high. Somehow though the evening bark on our street in Trieste was more palatable.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Arrivederci

I don't have much to say, rather I have volumes to say but not the time nor coherency of thought to get it out in a comprehensible way. However we are about to pack up our modem, one of the last items to go into a box. We get on a plane in 26 hours. I wanted to have one last post, even if only token, from Italia.

Arrivederci Trieste! Mi Mancherai.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Running the numbers

A very quick post (since I am supposed to be packing up to move across the ocean) which will be almost entirely numbers (since I am a quantitative freak). The work-out I have done most often since coming back from pregnancy is 5-6 X 1600 m with one minute rest. I thought I would take a quick look at my progression on this work-out over the past year as a way of assessing (again) my fitness for the marathon:

Oct. 13 - averaged 6:21 (6 repeats)
Oct. 16 - averaged 6:14 ( only did 5)
Nov. 11 - averaged 6:10 (only did 5, last big work-out before running a 1:23:50 1/2 marathon)
Jan. 24 - averaged 6:07 (only did 4)
Jan. 28 - averaged 6:04 (only did 5, last big work-out before running another 1:23:50 1/2 marathon)
Mar. 27 - averaged 6:05 (only did 5, sick with head cold)
Apr. 21 - averaged 5:53 (hello! did 6. last big work-out before running a 1:20:49 1/2 marathon)
July 8 - averaged 6:10 (did 6, heat wave - 35 deg C. ugh)
Aug. 19 - averaged 5:55 (did 6)

Wow, that must all be staggeringly dull for anyone who isn't, say, me. But what I glean from these numbers is that first, I most often did 5 repeats, bummer I thought I usually did 6. There was predictably steady, consistent improvement after the pregnancy until April where I hit my peak fitness. The blip in July was caused by the heat wave and can be disregarded, in fact may be an even better work-out than the one previous. But, most important, I have more or less achieved the same fitness as I had in April, the difference  between 5:53 average and 5:55 average is within the noise of the signal itself I think. Does 6 X 1600 m predict well for a marathon. No. But it predicts well for a 1/2 marathon I think. So I think I am in about 1:22:45 1/2 marathon shape (adding 2 minutes to the 1/2 I ran in April to compensate for the huge downhill). That predicts a 2:54:36 marathon BUT, one more caveat, I am a better runner over 10 km/half than I am over a full marathon. Why bother to predict if I am going to throw in all these if ands buts and caveats? To procrastinate from packing of course. But it's good food for thought.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Montreal Marathon Preview: A Risk Management Approach

I did my last pre-marathon long run today. For me this is the moment to pause, introspect and puzzle out my marathon fitness. Here are the basic stats from today's long run:

Distance: 36.4 km
Time: 2:38:47
Pace: 4:21.7 (3:04:02 marathon pace)

Optimistically speaking:
-This run was done at "altitude" 3,412 feet, okay, it's not that high but considering I am a sea-level dwelling creature I think the altitude definitely had an impact. Certainly I felt the altitude on the easy runs I did in the days before this long run.
-I was not completely ruined after the run. I was able to go on an easy hike (okay stroll) with hubby and la cocotte and play a round of mini golf in the hours following. This is far more than I can manage after running a full 'thon all out, so this was definitely not an all-out effort.

On the other hand:
-I took some breaks. I took 60 seconds at 19 km to drink, a 6 minute break (mostly due to logistics) after 24 km, a two minute break after 34 km to drink. I also took a one minute walking break in the 33rd and 34th kilometers because I was hitting the wall and then some however the walking breaks and the 34 km coca cola stop revived me enough to finish in style. Also, as a point of interest, those one minute long walking breaks only slowed my per km time by 30 seconds.
-I took the day before this run off and did ZERO work-outs this week (though 100 km of running, just no quality).

Now is the moment to be painfully honest with myself, disregard any fantasies and figure out in an emotionless, calculating manner what I am capable of running on Sept. 5th. 

Marathoning is all about risk management. One must weigh the risk of going out too fast against the risk of not running to one's potential. My feeling is that things can go horribly wrong in a marathon, to wit, I have gone from running 6:30 per mile to 12:00 per mile within 3 miles one time when I went out too fast. However, it rarely happens the other way. With the exception of one's first marathon, athletes rarely run FAR faster than expected. If that does happen inevitably it is because the runner was either deliberately setting low expectations or didn't know their body very well. To figure out how to maximize performance and manage risk, the runner must realistically assess how fast she can run on race day. Also the runner must figure out what her true goals are in undertaking the distance to determine how risk-friendly or risk-adverse her approach should be.

When I ran my two fastest marathon times (2:54:37 Boston 2006, 2:54:11 Chicago 2006) I was feeling risk friendly. I had already broken 3 hours once (2:59:16 Chicago 2005) and so the mystique of the 3 hour marathon was gone. I was interested to see how fast my body could possibly go. I felt that I had a 25% chance of breaking 2:50 based on a 1:20:50 half marathon in the build-up to each and I was willing to risk blowing up for the chance of running sub-2:50. In each case I went through the half marathon in 1:25 and slowed by 4 minutes in the second half. It was a great outcome, I gave myself the opportunity to run a sub-2:50 but still scored a 5 minute PB.

This brings me to my motivations for Montreal. I am not in PB shape and certainly not in PB shape on the Montreal course which is a toughy. Here is the kind of shape I think I am in - the estimates below all assume no injury, no adverse weather conditions and no adverse stupidity on my part. I can with:

-100% certainty run sub-3:07
-95% certainty run sub-3:05
-85% certainty run sub-3:02
-80% certainty run sub-3:00
-70% certainty run sub-2:58
-50% certainty run sub-2:56

So, a PB is not in the cards. Though I would of course like to run as fast as my fitness allows, it is more important to me NOT to blow up than it is to maximize performance. In other words, I am feeling rather risk adverse. Risk adverse - it is certainly not an exciting or glamorous approach. It's not "go hard or go home" mentality or "second place is the first loser" or "pain is only temporary, pride is forever" or any of that obnoxious commercial drivel. It is, however, how I am honestly feeling. I think I can accept going out on a pace that I can, with 80% certainty handle and therefore 3 hour pace it is. So if I can manage to not be stupid on race day, let's put that at an 85% likelihood :), sub-3 hour it is.

 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wings

Last Sunday la cocotte and I went for an airplane ride. This in itself is not unusual. In her short life, la cocotte has done her more than her fair share of cruising at 37,000 feet. What was noteworthy about this flight was that our pilot was none other than hubby! La cocotte and I were his first passengers with him as the pilot in command - to be clear he has flown other people whilst still a student with the instructor present however this flight was all him. Hubby has been working on his pilot's license on and off for close to two years, he got sort-of close before we left Montreal and then there was a bit of lag time while we were finding our bearings here, didn't have a car and he slowly searched for a new flight school. Long story short, he has been working on his license out of a small airport in Divaca, Slovenia and about two weeks ago, he got his wings.

It's a strange thing when someone close in one's life makes an important life change, be it a positive, negative, obvious or subtle change. It can take awhile for those close to the change-maker to intellectually absorb and accept the change. So even though hubby has been coming home 1-2 times per week with stories of his flying lessons, studying flight manuals and taking online courses for the past almost two years, I still had not quite absorbed the change. As we backtracked down the runway to get into position for takeoff, hubby in the pilot seat, me behind him and la cocotte looking utterly non-plussed in her car-turned-airplane seat next to me, I was hit by a very brief but very strong moment of panic where it suddenly occurred to me that we had left the pilot behind. It was utterly surreal to only be the three of us in an airplane that was about to be airborne.

But as the wheels left the ground and hubby continued to do all the pilotey things that one says and does while climbing to 3000 feet, the panic subsided very quickly and I found myself being amazed and proud that hubby had learnt to fly a plane, learnt it so well in fact that the officiating body in Slovenia (Transport Slovenia? that can't be right) had given him the legal right to do so. I was impressed that he was even able to act as a tour guide pointing out various sights of interest as he tooled us around the sky.

The flight was short by design. Hubby's instructor suggested that a short flight was in order to see how well la cocotte and I took to being flown by him. La cocotte had a good doze and I had an incredibly gorgeous scenic flight over a beautiful country, flown by my husband, the pilot.

Despite the short flight, there was a beverage service.


Stop reading the user manual and fly the plane! Fly the plane! 


Gorgeous, green countryside of Slovenia.


Striking sinkhole in the landscape caused by underground cavities (caves) that sometimes collapse when they are close to the surface.


Walled, hillside city (don't know the name), despite the lack of perspective you can tell it is on a steep hill by the shape of the road leading up to it in the bottom of the picture.


Under wing mountain.


Our handsome pilot.


Our blasé baby.

Gorging on the scenery

This is a long winded and winding post. If you don't make it through the whole thing I would ask you just to scroll down to the last paragraph where I have a question for any runner reading. If you have a thought, please leave it in the comments. Grazie!

My last two long runs have been spectacular thanks to my new friend M whom I met through my less new friend K (also K). M takes joy, fortunately for me, in showing Trieste newbies around this gorgeous part of the world that he calls home. Yesterday I was fortunate to see some gorgeous sights on the carso (the uplifted area above Trieste) on a near perfect day that, dare I say, made me realize autumn is just around the corner. It's still hiding to be sure but it occasionally peeks its shy head out and breathes a puff of air before scurrying back.

So we started out along the gravel road that connect Baso Vizza, Italy to Sezana, Slovenia. This road, for me, is quintessential carso with stone lined fences and rolling terrain. It is not in-your-face gorgeous like the Alps but there is a subtlety to its beauty that speaks to the Canadian in me.

As we ran along I learned that M has a blog about energy conservation and peak oil related issues. I learned that it currently costs one barrel of oil to extract 70. M defines peak oil as the time when it costs one barrel of oil to extract one barrel of oil. Perhaps I misunderstood (moving, as I was, at about 13 kph), to me 1 barrel per 1 barrel  would have to be well beyond the point of peak oil. Peak oil, as I understand it, is the moment at which we are extracting the greatest rate of extraction and beyond this point the price irrevocably rises. I also learned during this stretch of the run that when insulating one's home, it is best when the option is available, to insulate the outside rather than the inside otherwise there can be problems with mold and heating/cooling cycles.

This road crosses the Italian/Slovenian border without any ceremony whatsoever. There are very few souvenirs of the time when Slovenia was not part of the EU let alone the time when Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia and I did not actually realize when we had crossed the border.

Then we turned left onto a paved road into the Slovenian town of Orlek which is a tiny, picturesque place where I believe I managed to take the least flattering picture possible in the history of picture-taking in Orlek but I include it anyway as proof of having passed through.
I believe it was somewhere around here that M applied the second law of thermodynamics to strategies for efficient energy use. As I understand it, it is most efficient to use primary sources of energy i.e. use the energy source directly do not first transform it into something else. So, for example, one should heat one's home or power one's oven with gas. Heating via electricity is inherently inefficient because to do so one must transform a higher quality energy, electricity, into a lower quality energy, heat. I guess this scenario is even worse if one's source of electricity is coal based as then one burns coal to produce electricity to produce heat and with each transformation, particularly from a low quality energy like heat to a high quality energy like electricity there is great loss. Or something like that.

This makes me wonder about Quebec though. In my home province we have an abundance of hydroelectric to the point that electricity is so cheap it is the most method of heating homes (not a trivial thing in Quebec) and cooking. In this case is it still best to heat using a primary energy source? And I guess the answer depends on one's goal. If one desires to save money, probably yes. However if one is thinking in energy conservation terms, then no. This also makes me wonder, on a more abstract level, if one of the consequences of peak oil and the energy crisis will be to bring individual goals more in line with what is best for society and the environment? As a side note, by environment I mean the environment for use by humans... b/c let's face it when people talk about "protecting to the environment" what they typically mean is "protecting the environment for human use".

After passing through Orlek, we headed back towards the Slovenian/Italijian border; in the above picture I am running towards the border on an asphalt path that felt surprisingly cushioned. Below is all that remains of the border. To appreciate the picture below you have to realize that Trieste was formerly right on the edge of Iron Curtain, or as Churchill put it: "From Stettin in the north to Trieste in the south, an iron curtain has descended over Europe." The "border" seen below was part of THE border during the cold war.


Back in Italija, or I guess Italia, we crossed the highway and commenced what, on paper should have been a gruesome climb up to Opicina but in reality felt awesome. I have noticed throughout my training program that I tend to feel best after about 75-80 minutes of running. I believe this bodes well for Sept. 5th. Below is a shot of me disappearing into the woods to start the climb:
In Opicina we climbed some more in order to reach a ridge which afforded amazing views over the Gulf of Trieste. I used my steep hill running over mountain bike advantage to take this shot of Marko working the hill:


Why can't I justify these photos properly? Hmmm... I'm not going to stress about it and just keep going otherwise I will never get this posted. Below is a shot over the Gulf of Trieste:

And one of the hilliness of the ridge trail we were on though much like the camera adds 10 pounds (though in my case it seems to also re-arrange the pounds :) ) the camera also seems to flatten hills, this looked far more imposing in real life:

We also got very slightly lost:

Which allowed me to take this picture - talk about a home with a view:

Finally we did the last 7 km along a rocky road with a precipitous drop on one side which M's grandmother used to use to transport milk to her family. She would carry 5 liters in each hand and 5 liters on her head. Not bad for a photo taken WHILE running:

This made me think, as almost everything does these days, about what a cooshy lifestyle I lead (as do most people in many parts of the world). My life is so cooshy that I actually have to invent artifical forms of exercise. I ran 31.5 km on this run but I wound up exactly where I started, I transported nothing, there was no practical purpose to this run and think of all the greenhouse gases I exhaled and all the extra food I ate to fuel the run. Total inefficiency!! Far worse I DROVE to the starting point (something I rarely do because it makes me feel too guilty). I am somewhat joking about the inefficiency of my run. I do think though that the lifestyle changes that inevitably occur over the next decade as the price of oil irrevocably rises will include the rebirth of functional exercise i.e. exercise that serves a purpose over and above burning fat, training VO2 etc. etc.

Finally, a question for any runner reading, you don't have to have read the post to answer. Say you were on vacation in a new town and had no idea where to run. How much would you pay for a guide who would plan a running route to your EXACT specifications (length, climb, surface, scenery), would accompany you on a bike giving you your splits, altitude, any data you wanted, carry your water & food, take pictures of you and provide you with interesting historical and contemporary information about the area? How much, per hour, would that be worth to you? Granted it is not something most of us could afford on a regular basis but imagine you are on vacation and want to treat yourself - what do you think that service would be worth?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Some years ago today...

SteveQ was born! Happy Birthday Coach! Buon Compleano!

To the familiar tune of Happy Birthday:

Tante auguri a te!
Tante auguri a te!
Tante auguri, Tante auguri,
Tante auguri a te!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Leaving Trieste

Unfamiliar cities in foreign countries are daunting. They are filled with streets with unpronouncable names, odd angles and a feeling of timelessness. Last year as I navigated the streets of Trieste, my eyes were automatically drawn to certain aspects of the city to help me find my way. The height of buildings, the colours of the walls, the location of the bus stops. As I pounded the pavement of the-not-so numerous streets here a half dozen, a dozen, hundreds of times, the city around me shifted and I noticed its more subtle treats. The spill of afternoon light on the leaves of its numerous sycamore trees, the way a mess of vines spills forth from a loosely bricked wall, the amazing cloudscapes in the sky. As I take in the more subtle details, the city changes character before my eyes; streets have become familiar and appear completely transformed from when I first walked along them.

There are so many aspects of living in Trieste I will miss: the variety of different architectural styles whose names I never bothered to learn, being completely and utterly surrounded by glorious nature. I will miss all the amazing running trails I never got to know. I will miss the Italian adoration of babies. I will miss the seemingly random and hilariously translated snatches of English that can be seen in and around town "For opening door, press button and pull handle contemporarily." Above all, I will miss long, lazy days in the park playing with la cocotte. I will miss the alps and living within a 3 hour drive of 3 different countries; where I come from one can literally drive for a day and a half and still be in the province next door - (for any Canadians reading, sing it with me: "A place to stand. A place to grow. Ontari-ari-ari-o."). I will also miss the person that this year has allowed me to become. Moving away means, to some degree, having the opportunity to re-invent oneself, letting go of unhealthy patterns and making room for healthier ones. I hope I can carry some of that home with me.

I went for a run last week-end with some of the runners I have met here. As we ran along, the talk was about a half-marathon coming up in the fall in Palmanova. This was the first race I ran after my pregnancy last year. It was so strange to hear them talking about a race I have already run; every month here, every race, every happening so far has been new to me. As they chatted about who was going to Palmanova I thought to myself: "Oh, this is where I got on, we're at my stop, the end of this crazy, wonderful ride. Time to get off."

Cloudscape over Trieste from Castello San Giusto


View of Trieste through window in castle wall

Delightful view from our house.

Roman ruins outside of Castello San Giusto

Piazza Unita' in a driving rain storm, the covered area we were standing in was flooded shortly after this photo was taken. I wish we had taken the photo in FRONT of the garbage can so that the emphasis was on the piazza, not the garbage can but we did not want to get closer to the rain with our camera. Take a second to click on the photo to appreciate just how intense the rain was. In the far distance, probably not visible, is the Adriatic.

Same piazza taken 3 ours later after the rain from the other end. The first photo was taken under the clock tower one can see in the background. I love the indigo colour that was chosen for the lights in the piazza.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Go Packers!

"The thing about birthday parties is that the first birthday party you have and the last birthday party you have are actually quite similar. You know, you just kinda sit there... you're the least excited person at the party. You don't even really realize that there is a party. You don't know what's goin' on. Both birthday parties, people have to kinda help you blow out the candles, you don't even know why you're doing it. It's also the only two birthday parties where other people have to gather your friends together for you. Sometimes they're not even your friends. They make the judgement. They bring 'em in, they sit 'em down, and they tell you - 'these are your friends!"

I have to hand it to Jerry Seinfeld, he nailed the first birthday party experience. We had about 25 people over to celebrate la cocotte's birthday but six of those people were other cocottes so it felt more like 50. La cocotte of course had no idea what was going on, I think her largest impression of the day was that there was suddenly a plethora of sippy cups from which to drink in colours far more exicting than her own.

We got very few gifts as people were under very strict instructions (in four different languages) NOT to bring anything as we are try to reduce, reduce, reduce at the moment given our impending trans-continental move. However one of hubby's colleagues originally from the midwest did send us an incredibly creative birthday present. What does one get a one year old cocotte who already has everything?



A cheesehead! As seen on TV!


Go PACKERS!


We will actually be attending a cheese festival in Wisconsin in September and I imagine this hat will figure prominently.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

One year ago today

One year ago today la cocotte came screaming into our lives. I often mentally replay the memory of lying on the OR table under the bright lights, shivering uncontrollably from the anesthesia. It seemed like there was a platoon of nurses and doctors on the other side of the curtain that was carefully blocking mine and hubby's view of the proceedings. I remember the murmurings of the surgical team as they carefully counted every sponge, clip and surgical gadget they placed inside me. There was a feeling of intense pressure followed by a long moment of silence which was broken by the calm, measured voice of my obstetrician: "Well... hello there." This was followed by the wail we had waited 41.5 weeks to hear. My hubby whispered "somebody's here" and indeed she was. A life altering second, not parents one moment, parents the next. There was not enough room in my chest for my heart. There was simply no way of expressing the overwhelming emotion. I remember crying.

It is beyond my gift as a writer to describe how being a mom has affected me never mind how in love and enchanted I am with with baby. I do not want to reduce my experience with hackneyed cliches so I will simply say - Bonne Anniversaire ma cocotte toute douce. Je t'aime forte and je t'embrasse.

Friday, July 16, 2010

How we feel before has nothing to do with during

It is hot. Ridiculously hot. Day after day after day hot. Forecast unerringly predicting an endless string of 30-35 deg C days. I am almost taking the heat personally at this point; I am overwhelmed by a paranoid delusion that it is out to get me. It is claustrophobic, there is simply nowhere to hide. 

I know when people think of Canada, if indeed they think of Canada at all, the iconic vision of igloos and permafrost comes to mind. It does, however, get extremely hot in most Canadian cities. In my city, we will have 35 deg C days with a humidex of 40. But it ENDS! After a week or so there is respite. And there is almost daily respite in the form of a welcome thundershower. Here it is just bloody sunny hot day after sunny hot day. Ok, I'm grumpy and whiny.

So I thought this post was going to be about how lousy my training has been going in the heat. Which it has. But today out of nowhere I had a fabulous work-out despite it being 29 deg C at 5.45 am when I left the house. I expected another abandoned work-out in favour of a slow trudge because my legs were feeling incredibly heavy, stomach incredibly upset - complete and utter lethargy. As I neared the point where I would normally start my 5 X 1 km I decided just to jog, easy and go home. But as I hit the start line my body, unbidden, just started running the first 1 km repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Until all five were done and very fast at that (3:32, 3:36, 3:29, 3:25 (WTF?), 3:31). This is faster than I have averaged for 5 since giving birth. Amazing how transforming a good work-out can be. Suddenly I feel hopeful and on track again.

This episode reminds me of a very important rule, one I always tell the runners I coach but often forget myself. Here it is: the way a runner feels immediately before a work-out or race has very little effect on the outcome. This obviously does not include extreme situations, if a runner is feeling the pain of say a compound fracture (cough, Steve) beforehand, than that might have a little effect on outcome. But lethargy, tightness, heavy legs, upset stomach, etc. etc. these little annoyances often vanish with the crack of the starter's gun so... the next time I am feeling terrible before a race I will remember this work-out and be confident.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A slacker and an overachiever

I have two guidelines when it comes to what I blog about. One, I don't share personal information about anyone other than myself and la cocotte. We have had a ton of family & friends come to visit us over the past 2 months which has resulted in many fun, interesting, wonderful memories and situations which I was tempted to write about but I feel I cannot discuss the other people in my life in a public forum, even for the sake of sharing and remembering good times. Eventually I will stop talking about la cocotte also. Two, I don't share anything personal that I would not comfortably announce to a stranger on the street - because essentially that is that a blog is - an announcement to strangers.

I have been wanting to write this post for awhile in the hopes of garnering some wisdom from other breastfeeding moms however it involves divulging stuff that is a bit more personal than I normally share. I wonder how many current or former breastfeeding moms already know what I am talking about from the title of this post. So, yup... right from the beginning of my breastfeeding "career" I have had one slacker and one over-achiever. Initially the difference was not so pronounced but over time la cocotte and I have come to depend on the over-achiever and come to expect nothing from the slacker and now, like any self-fulfilling prophecy, the difference has become quite pronounced. At this point I essentially have one A or even A-minus and one C which looks strange but whatever... I can live with the lopsidedness while breastfeeding. I guess I just want to know that this is not a permanent condition, that symmetry will be restored once I wean la cocotte.

My other issue is that between marathon training and the 30-35 deg C heat we are having here, I am drying up in general. I always thought that as long as I replaced the fluid lost through sweat and ate enough calories (I definitely do) that I would not compromise my milk supply however production is definitely at an all-time low. I had hoped to breast feed up to 18 months or so to help transition la cocotte into daycare and mitigate some of the daycare colds but I think this might not be feasible. Is there anything I can do to increase production? I am definitely drinking enough as judged by quantity and clarity of urine output. So.... any thoughts appreciated.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Runners, yeah we're different

Does anyone else remember that Adidas add campaign from the late nineties that features a series of normal runners doing normal runner-type things while being watched by non-runners who clearly found the scene very odd. If not, you can see many of them here. I loved that campaign because my reaction, and the reaction of most of my running friends, was along the lines of "I don't get it, why is that funny?" which was, of course, EXACTLY the point.

I was thinking recently about my own "runners, yeah we're different moment." My job used to entail a lot of travelling for work. One of my running ethics was that I would not miss a run because of work. Family stuff, friends stuff, personal stuff... sure. But missing running because of work really bothered me. This unwritten rule was made challenging to follow by the fact that my days sometimes looked like this:

4.30 am - wake-up.
6.15 am - flight to nearby one of many American cities
8.00 am - arrive in American city
9.00 am - arrive at client site
9-6.00 pm - work with client
8.30 pm - catch flight home
11.00 pm - climb into bed totally exhausted

Hard to find a slot to fit a run in unless I was willing to wake up at 3.00 am. I was not. So when my business trips followed a schedule like that I would often bring a backpack instead of a briefcase. I would hide the backpack as much as possible from the people I was working with so i would walk into the conference room with my laptop already out and immediately tuck the backpack under the conference room table. I would wear the lightest business clothing possible (cardigan instead of suit jacket etc.) and the flimsiest business shoes possible (black ballet slippers instead of heels). After saying good-bye to the client and politely but firmly declining their offer to call me a cab, I would go to the nearest washroom and change, superman style, from business attire into the stash of running clothing I had jammed into my backpack. I would cushion my laptop between the layers of the business clothing and I would be off... running along my pre-mapquested route to the airport, or, in some cases to the subway stop closest to the airport. This worked well in cities like Boston, less well in other cities like Philadelphia where I would just go for a run somewhere nice and finish up at a place where I knew I could grab a cab. I would arrive at the airport sweaty and disheveled. Stretch in line all sweaty while waiting to check in. Get my boarding pass. Find a public washroom, clean up the best possible (this became better once I achieved frequent flyer status and could use the lounges) and change lethargic-Superman style back into my business clothes.

I feel confident that no one reading this blog finds this particularly odd or even extreme. Neither did I. However one time after I had done the superman clothing change in the public washroom of the university I had been visiting, I bumped into the client I had been working with all day wearing short shorts, flimsy tank top and running shoes. It was this incredibly awkward encounter... almost like bumping into someone you know from another context naked in the gym locker room. I also had this feeling that this was somehow stripping myself of my professional veneer. He was completely confused about what I was doing, where my laptop was, the fact that I had a flight to catch. I felt like I had been caught in the act, doing something inappropriate, bizarreness all around. But as I recall, it was a great 10 mile run.

This whole episode also falls well within the realm of normal of other things I have done to make sure I get my run in (running back and forth in the underground concourse at O'Hare come to mind...).

I'd love to hear other people's "runners, yeah we're different" moments.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Right, I'd forgotten

How terribly wheezy and generally out of control my asthma gets as the summer heats up. This is why I rarely race in July and August. My training is going sharply downhill as the summer wheeze sets in. Last week I ran a 38:38 10 km tempo in training without too much hardship. Today I couldn't even manage 3 X 3 km @ 3:55 pace. But it's all due to summer wheeze. So, I guess I have to not get frustrated with my times and liken it to altitude training i.e. even though I might be running slower, because I am doing it with less oxygen, it still has the same training effect. Right? I hope anyway.