Saturday, November 30, 2013

Race Report: So much freaking fun

Ahhh, indoor track with your Saharan desert dryness, obstacle course of flying sand, wayward shot puts and headphone wearing athletes randomly wandering across the track. Your funny pockets of smells that don't seem to dissapate - grease from the snack bar, sweat from, well, everywhere, sharp medicinal smelling A535 and farts from nervous athletes. The feeling of every last molecule of water in your body immediately evaporating during the first lap of every race. The endless post-race hacking and general burning of all mucous membranes. I've missed you indoor track and I had a helluva ton of fun today.

On today's menu for me was a 1500 m and, wait for it, a 4 X 200 m. I'll wait while everyone stops laughing... So I prepared for the 1500 m over the past few weeks by doing, what was it again? Oh, that's right nothing. I have run approximately 15 times since my goal race this fall in a kind of aimless, lackluster sort of way. Out of the blue, I was asked to participate in a 4 X 200 m relay team by this guy who is trying to drum up masters participation in Quebec track & field (and I do means masters... the woman who ran the third leg of our relay is 80 years old!! and while I did not have a watch on her (esp. since I was handing off to her) I guestimate she ran about 45 seconds - if we were to age grade, I am sure she would have wound up with the fastest relay split of the day on any team!!). Anyway once I had committed to doing the 4 X 200 m and secured a babysitter, I figured it only made sense to pick the longest distance race on the menu and do it... which turned out to be the 1500 m. My first 1500 m since I ran it at Olympic Trials in 2000 (oh, in case there was any doubt there, I did not make the Olympic Team in 2000, or any other year, the team had been chosen and signed their paperwork by the time I got the finish line). Anyhooo memories of days gone by aside, I decided to give the 1500 m another whirl. I pulled a time of 5:20 out of my butt as a seed time and off I went.

So it was fun. Good clean (well occasionally fart smelling) fun. I did what i always do on the track and started off at the very back of the pack until people had sorted themselves out into single file and finished with the pushing, shoving and spiking and then went about my slow but evenly paced business and worked the race from the back:

300 m - 1:00
400 m - 1:23
500 m - 1:48
600 m - 2:06
700 m - 2:26
1000 m - 3:29
1200 m - 4:10
1300 m - 4:30
1500 m - 5:08.66

(yeah, I like lots of numbers...)

I cannot say enough about this whole starting slow strategy... it makes racing (especially when unprepared and out of shape) so much more pleasant. Paste-mouth aside, I felt pretty damn good through except for the last 300 m in which the lactic acid crept in and I was truly wondering if I was going to trip and face plant.

The 4 X 200 m... well by that time the meet was running 30-40 minutes late as indoor track meets will do. Our sitter is fairly new and I had promised her I would be home by 4 pm. The 4 X 2 was scheduled for 3 pm and we were in third i.e. the slowest heat. At 3.40 the first heat went off and, had it been an individual event, I probably would have scratched and left 20 minutes prior but relay running requires, by definition, team players. In this case my team consisted of one of my best friends of 13 years, an 80 year old woman and a women who had torn (?) her knee the day prior but still showed up for the team so bailing to keep a promise to the babysitter was not an option. Anyway long story short, I ran second, finished my leg, changed and by the time the race was over I was essentially out the door. The whole thing is a blur that I don't really remember except almost running over the woman I was handing off to because I kept expecting her to start running as I came into the exchange zone but I guess she doesn't believe in flying starts because she was completely still as I ran up to and then essentially over (sorry!!!) her. We sorted herself, I put the baton in her hand and off she went.

Anyway good times. I missed you stinky, chaotic indoor track. See you in two weeks for a 3000 m.

Friday, November 15, 2013


[I wrote this several years ago now at which time I was already several years past my most serious training period of my life. It is an account of trying to train as a marathon runner while being a reluctant frequent flyer for work - based very loosely on a hybrid of a past life of mine and George Clooney's character from the movie "Up in the Air"  i.e. most of what is in here is either highly exaggerated or quite simply not true. I'm posting it now bc I just went on my first business trip (Memphis, TN!) in several months which reminded me of this piece and I sprang for in-air internet ($3 for 30 minutes) and I can't resist the temptation of publishing a post from 30,000 feet!]

Numbers are the essence of running. I run approximately 6,000 kilometers in any given year. This is 15% of the way around the earth’s equator. It is the distance from New York City to Paris as the seagull flies. It is more than most people though less than many people I personally know; what matters to me is that it is the amount I need to run to fulfill my goals as a marathon runner.  If I were to run every day of the year, I would have to cover 16 kilometers a day in order to cover this distance. However I generously allow my body two days off every month which means that on the remaining days I must average just over 18 kilometers.

244,000: the number of kilometers I covered for work last year, criss-crossing the United States and Canada, at 38,000 feet. 125: the number of days I spent as  a road warrior, one of thousands who travel for work. Pack, unpack, re-pack. 125 times. Off with the shoes, out with the laptop, remove liquids and gels, 250 times. 250 frantic, last minute searches for the boarding pass - you'd think I’d have a foolproof place for it. 250 bags of stale peanuts consumed per year. 1000 cab or rental car rides to and from the airport. Hours waiting for delayed flights. Dozens of nights in generic motel rooms due to cancelled flights.

24 hours. That is all anyone is given to complete the daily grind. In a runner’s world, every 24 hours the counter resets itself to zero and the task of completing the daily allotment of mileage begins anew. The only way to get it done as a road warrior is to create time where apparently there is none. It cannot be during the precious hours of sleep as they are already too scarce. It obviously cannot be during the 7 hours spent on the client site. It cannot be done while sitting comfortably in one`s seat with the seatbelt tightly fastened. What remain are some 6 hours spent travelling to and waiting at the airport.

Consequently the journey to the airport became my time to run. When I am done with my clients for the day, done thanking them and saying good-bye, politely refusing a ride to the airport or a quick drink at a local bar, I change Superman-style in the closest public toilet. Off come my skirt-always a skirt never pants to save weight, -  my nylons, black flats, cardigan and blouse. I lovingly wrap them around the unavoidable laptop to protect it and cram them into my backpack. Never a briefcase because what kind of superhero runs with a briefcase? On goes the superhero uniform: shorts  and tank in the spring, summer and fall, tights and fleece in the winter. My packing and planning is a science of efficiency and weight saving. I wear a sports bra under my business clothes to save weight and embarrassment if I must change in an alley. Everything I bring on these trips has a purpose if not two or three; nothing goes unused.
Transformation complete, I move out. I glide past snarls of rush hour traffic, sometimes on dirty gritty streets, sometimes through the oasis of an urban park. I head out along my pre-mapquested route to the airport or as close as I can reasonably get. Travelling to Boston is always a treat as it gives me a chance to re-acquaint myself with its emerald necklace and although running all the way to the airport is not quite possible, a short subway ride gets me there. Philadelphia is a challenge as the airport is 20 kilometers from the city center but one can, with careful manoeuvring, run right to its front door. It is perhaps not the most aesthetic run however there is a profound sense of accomplishment in self-locomoting the entire distance to the airport. Baton Rouge is another favourite for its scenery and aromas so distinctly different from my hometown. 

Smaller centers pose unique challenges as their airports can be many kilometres distant, often shared with other towns. Iowa City, a frequent destination for me, is serviced by the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids, 40 kilometres away. This is typically longer than I have time to run in the precious window of time between leaving my client and catching my flight. In situations like this, I will take a taxi to the airport and then create for myself a running route around the perimeter of the airport. This can be an unexpected treat, as in Iowa,  when I run past corn fields and along forested trails. Alternatively it can be downright soul destroying, the route composed of inevitable parking lots, gas stations, and fast food joints. One challenge of running on airport property, particularly with a backpack, is that it makes airport security nervous.  I get the sense that they are certain I am up to no good although they cannot quite put their finger on what I am doing wrong. My flimsy “story” of getting my run in before my flight is clearly a sham. I have heard the words: “Ill have to ask you to stop now, Maam” a discouraging number of times.

Opting for a rental car over a taxi affords much more freedom. A plethora of running routes reveal themselves to me during the drive to the airport. I have parked in a suburban neighbourhood in Virginia and run 15 muddy kilometres  in woods underneath the approach path to Dulles airport. As airbuses roared overhead, I hurdled logs, splashed through streams and startled deer. As my flight took off later that evening, I was able to identify the patch of woods that had afforded me so much pleasure and I felt the glow of my secret knowledge of the intimacies of that solitary patch of woods.

Delayed flights are an inevitable part of the business travel experience. During one year I kept track of the total number of hours I spent in various airports during delays - a staggering 80 hours. These times can afford running opportunities but the cost of admission is that one must truly not care what other people think. Fortunately I do not. At least not about this. I have run countless kilometres on the underground concourse at O`Hare Airport. Any traveller worth their salt is familiar with the approximately half mile stretch of underground walkway with its psychedelic, forever-in-the-seventies light display that connects concourse B and C at Chicago`s famously sluggish airport. I run back and forth keeping time to the infinite, automated message “the moving walkway is now ending, please look down!”. Occasionally I’m stopped by the very human message “Ma’am, we’ll have to ask you to refrain from running here.”

It is an oddity of our society that a runner can be such a source of suspicion and confusion. One of my first experiences of running on the road taught me well the need for discretion. It was winter in Boston, the temperature hovering around -5 deg C. I decided I would have to forgo a winter coat for the trip as it would not fit into my backpack during the run to the airport. This is not as problematic as it might seem as realistically the amount of time I spend outside on these trips, not including running time of course, is less than 10 minutes. I figured I could endure those brief snippets of time outside. My one concern was being stranded outside due to my cab breaking down or similar and so I tucked a space emergency blanket I had received at the end of a marathon into my pack as insurance against that possibility. I remember discussing my plans with my training partner, whose nonchalant comment was that I should wear small flats rather than my clunky heels in order to further reduce weight in my backpack.  Just another day of trying to get the miles in, was her blasé reaction. Her non-reaction lulled me into a sense of normalcy.

I arrived onsite and my client was at the door to meet me. I could see him taking in my skirt, blouse, cardigan, ballet slippers and back-pack. "Where is your coat?" he asked, clearly perplexed. "Oh, I didn't bring one to save weight and space because I'll be running back to the airport later today." I replied. An uncomfortably long and profound silence ensued. From the look on his face I wondered if I had accidentally announced that I needed to be done by 6 o’clock in order to catch my spaceship back to my home planet.  Oh, to be that green and oblivious again. Sprinkled throughout the rest of the day, at random, inappropriate moments, were comments and questions as he clearly struggled to understand. As we talked about research methodology, he interjected with: "but... how are you going to shower?". As we did trouble shooting on his datasets, he queried: "Surely you can't run with your laptop?". As we talked about alternate data analysis strategies, he proclaimed: "But, it's over ten miles to the airport, you can't possibly run that far!" As we were joined by various colleagues throughout the day, he began every introduction with: "She's going to RUN back to the airport. With her laptop in her backpack. To the AIRPORT! With a LAPTOP!" I doubt anyone even found out my name or the actual purpose of my visit.

I’ll admit that I enjoy being perceived as eccentric, extreme, and hard core. I will even admit, with some embarrassment, that it feeds my ever-starving ego to earn the admiration of people through my running. However, I realized that day that this habit of mine was simply too far from the average person’s boundaries of normal to fit into the strict, mould of the business professional. In our society where the car reigns supreme and self-locomoting is simply not viewed as a means of transport, it is far more socially acceptable get drunk and obnoxious at the airport bar than it is to spend that same time running to the airport. Regardless, being perceived as eccentric was clearly stripping me of my professionalism and was creating unacceptable distraction. I realized that day that I would have to go under cover.

Since that time I have developed strategies to avoid detection. I get directions to the conference room rather than being met at the front door so that I can ferret away my backpack and my lack of coat is not questioned. I politely but firmly decline offers of rides to the airports or calling of taxis with vague, murmured excuses. I have shamelessly made up conference calls, office emergencies, headaches, toothaches and heartaches in order to duck out of invitations for “a quick drink nearby before heading to the airport.”

 I often feel not so much like an athlete trying to get in a run as an addict trying to get in a fix. I know that there is a fine line between passion and addiction. The lengths I go to appear to fit the definition of normal sometimes do make me question on which side of that line I tread. However it comes down to the numbers. The marathon is a dictator whose demands are absolute and unbending. The marathon does not care about normal or eccentric. It does not care whether its subjects trained on a track, treadmill, forested paths, along the side of the highway, backpack on back headed to the airport or on the underground concourse at O’Hare airport. The marathon imperviously deals out its 42.195 kilometres and a fool is the runner who toes the line unprepared.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Day in the Life

Later on, when things calm down, maybe decades from now... I want to be sure I remember what the pace was like when Big & Little were just wee ones...

6.30 am: wake up to the sound of Little asking for milk. Totally hung over because last night was a sleeping pill night... get her from the pack and play (where she still sleeps because Big never gave up her crib... I used to fight her over it but now I figure she will literally outgrow it and be forced to move - already when I lie awake sometimes with insomnia I can hear the irregular thump of her various long limbs hitting the sides).

6:30 - 6:45 am: nurse and try to convince myself to get out of bed.

6:45 am: remember that Harriet, the person who cleans for us once a week is coming this morning (I am embarrassed to admit that but trying to stay in the spirit of honesty) is coming and the place is a disaster. Begin the bizarre process of cleaning up before the person who comes to clean arrives. I can never quite figure out what is an acceptable mess to leave and what is rude. For example, it somehow seems like a breach of etiquette to leave the pots from last night's dinner unwashed in the sink - I guess because I do that on a daily basis so it seems rude to leave it in anticipation of her arrival. Dirty toilets just seems wrong; disrespectful. Various odds and ends lying on the floors of our bedrooms - not good. Anyway I do what I can while Big & Little slowly wake up.

7:00 - 7:45 am: The morning battle to change diaper, dress, feed and then dress again because I always forget that I should not let them eat in the clothes they are going out in. Wrestle with Big's hair - she is very particular about her hairstyle which is a poor match indeed for my non-existent hair-styling skills. Note the outdoor temp reads 0 deg C (wah!) and dress them in many, many warm layers because...

7:45 am: Load them into the double running stroller and we are off on the 5.2 km run to daycare. Oof. Still very tired from last week-end's half marathon. Barely moving. Fairly uneventful run to daycare: one friendly thumbs up from fellow runner, one headphone-wearing pre-teen steps out directly in front of me and DOWN he goes. But hard. I pick him up. Lots of mutual apologies. He's fine. Keep going. One titanic out the front of the stroller i.e. picture this:

now take Leonardo and put in Big and take Kate and put in Little and take the Titanic and put in the double running stroller. All in all, fairly uneventful.

8:30 am: arrive daycare, drop kids, fold up stroller and store in the special spot daycare lets me use and I am off on the 6 km uphill run to work.

9:00 am: arrive at work (stopping en route to buy 500 mL of chocolate milk because I can already feel my blood sugar plummeting). Shower (yes, at work, best perk ever!), change, do an equally bad job on my hair.

9:15 am - 5:00 pm: work. at desk. all day. Good day, finally get an ant script (for any techy geeks who might be reading) to work that I have been struggling with. Some productive conversations about ongoing projects. Attend one meeting I feel ill prepared for.

5:00 pm: run back to daycare feeling just terrible.

5:30 pm: arrive daycare stopping en route to buy brownies for kids as a snack for the way home. Realize that I am cold, shivery and not feeling up to running home. This is a problem because the double stroller barely fits on the sidewalk let alone on the bus or the subway. Decide it will probably not rain tonight and leave the stroller in its outdoor parking spot.

5:50 pm: leave daycare for home. I am still in my sweaty running clothes, temperature is hovering around 3-4 deg C, am freezing. Little does not want to walk so i am carrying her having, as I do not, a stroller. Big also does not want to walk but there is not much to be done about that. I am feeling worse and worse and so damn cold. Big starts a tantrum and sits down on the sidewalk. Start thinking about taking a taxi home. Finally lure Big to the bus stop using brownies as bait. Bus is coming, hallelejah! Cram onto packed bus. Big and Little share a seat and I kneel at their feet. Big asks for her nounou (pacifier), realize I have forgotten it in the running stroller at the daycare. Big wants to get off the bus to retrieve nounou. In essence I tell her "hell no!". Little starts crying "no monkey, no monkey, mama, no monkey" louder and more urgently with every passing minute though in truth she can barele be heard above Big's screams. I promise Big a nounou when we get home (wondering if in fact we have another one at home and if I am going to have to go to the pharmacy to buy one). Big calms down. Little still demanding "no monkey" and so for the rest of the 30 minute long bus ride (yes, it takes way longer by bus than to run) the whole bus gets to listen to "10 little monkeys jumping on the bed, one fell off and broke his head, mama called the doctor and the doctor said : " (insert Little's voice) "no monkey! no monkey!).

6:25 pm: arrive bus stop terminus.
6:26 pm: get on second bus which is mercifully there and which saves us a 600 m walk (or, 15 minutes with a reluctant pre-schooler)
6:35 pm: arrive home.

6:35-6:45 pm: Big and Little run around screaming while I make grilled cheese and continue to feel progressively worse. Put on long johns, pyjama pants, sweat shirt, fleece and touque. Still freezing.

6:45 pm: Sister calls. Have a great conversation with her while Big & Little pretty much ignore grilled cheese. Little demonstrates for Sister how she can now say Big's name as well as her own.

7:30 pm: stories, pyjamas, teeth brushing, video

8:00 pm: all three of us get into the "big bed". Little falls asleep nursing while Big thrashes like a fish out of water.

9:00 pm: Big decides she wants to sleep in the crib and leaves and I decide to treat myself to modern Family (my TV vice now that "How I met your Mother" has gone down the tubes this season IMHO). Should probably sleep given how I am feeling but want the treat.

9:30 pm: bedtime for mama without showering. Manage to put Little in pack & play without waking her up. Fall into feverish and fit full sleep.

Disclaimer: lest anyone think I have a total slacker husband - he is actually out of town so this wasn't exactly a representative "day in the life" but nonetheless fairly accurately captures my life on Wednesday Oct. 23.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Race Report: Fall Half Marathon

Goal: sub-1:30
Secret Wish: 1:25:00
Actual: 1:27:32 (is this what's called splitting the difference?)

So... all in all, pretty disappointing I have to say. After my 38:53 10 km I felt confident about running very close to 1:26 if not faster (not in the least because I plugged 38:53 into a half dozen marathon prediction calculators and got times ranging from 1:25 to 1:26:30). All in all, I am not quite sure why I came up short. The weather was ideal, the course, though rolling, was fair, and although the race was not extremely competitive (1:27:32 netted me 13th overall) I did find a good group to work with.

I went out right at 4:03 pace and within 200 m found a tall guy to hide behind. I shamelessly tucked in right behind him. I was riding buddy so closely that I doubt there is a single picture of me for the first 5 km:

1 km - 4:03
2 km - 4:03
3 km - 4:04 (this guys is a metronome!)
4 km - 4:11 (except when he's not)
5 km - 3:53 (overcompensate much??)

At 5 km I decided that although it was not in my best interest, I could not in good conscience continue to blatantly hide out behind this guy without at least offering to help so I pulled up next to him and asked if he was happy leading or if he would like to me to take it for awhile. "I would LOVE for you to take it for awhile." Sigh... ok.

6 km - 4:17 (are you sure you want me to take it?)

Whereupon another guy immediately pulled up and told me he would try for a kilometer, I had my doubts because he was breathing pretty hard but off he went and he was gone.

7 km - 3:50 (buddy must have run under 3:40 on that one)

So I continued to effectively lead our little group with buddy way off the front:

8 km - 4:05 (uphills begin)
9 km - 4:06
10 km - 4:12 (solid uphill)

At this point the pace felt comfortably hard and I was very pleased to be working within this little group. I got behind the original tall leader again along with another guy we swallowed up and felt content to ride this little train for as long as possible. I felt quite certain that although I might not be able to finish at this pace, that I had not gone out very much over my head.

11 km - 4:10 (continuing uphill)

At this point I got passed by a woman and moved into second which honestly did not bother me. Mostly I was just happy to have more company in the pack.

12 km - 4:08 (yes, uphill)

Right around here the pace started transitioning from comfortably hard to hardly comfortable and my little train started breaking apart. The first place woman started pulling away. Two of the guys sort of went with her but couldn't keep up and just got strung out, another guy stopped due to what looked like a back problem and suddenly our little train was gone. I was feeling less "Little Engine that could" and more Whingy Whiner.

13 km - 4:07 (still ostensibly in the zone but feeling oh, so bad)
14 km - 4:14 (steepest km of the race)
15 km - 4:17

At this point the course is a gentle downhill until the finish and I had imagined myself easily running 3:55s - 3:57s over this portion to compensate for what I was sure would be a slower pace on the uphills.

16 km - 4:21 (first downhill km)

I decided that that was a blip and that now that I was on the final stretch which was thankfully gravel (and downhill), I would for sure start hitting sub-4s.

17 km - 4:11

When I saw 4:11, I thought for sure that they had mis-marked the km. Yes, PPC wasn't running slower than planned, THAT km MUST have been long.

18 km - 4:14

That one too.

19 km - 4:15

And that one.

20 km - 4:11

Oh... forget it!!

21 km - 4:07

last 100 m - 21 seconds.

Total time, as mentioned above, 1:27:32.

About which I can only say CRAP. I honestly believe I was fit for sub-1:26. I did not wimp out mentally, I was working hard the whole way. I am not sure where those extra 90 seconds came from. It wasn't a cardio problem, my breathing was fine until the last 100 m when I was really trying to kick... it was a muscular thing. My legs were just trashed. By the time I got to the downhills, I couldn't take advantage of them because I was just too tired muscularly. I actually ran slower on the downhills than on the ups.

If I had to guess I would say I was lacking longer runs in my build up; I did 2 hours once and probably 7-8 90 minute runs... I probably would have benefited from more 2 hour runs to build that muscular endurance but honestly my training program, humble as it was, strained my family more than is acceptable so...  it is what it is. More manageable would have been to lose some weight before this half; there is no denying that every extra pounds (down to a certain physiologic limit) is extra weight carried and time added. It's straight forward physics and I trained at and raced at close to 8 pounds over my ideal weight. 8 pounds a lots of minutes makes. I just finished reading The Secret Race which is a tell-all book about the world of elite cycling and I was amazed at how closely elite cyclists monitor their weight and restrict their diet. The cyclist about whom the book was written talks of going on 5 hours rides and then drinking sparking water to fool his stomach into thinking it is full, taking a sleeping pill and going to sleep to avoid eating until the next day. In fact, he even goes so far as to say given the choice between having access to more EPO or losing weight he would always chose the latter because the effect is so important. It was a pretty wild read and astonishing to me how closely they can predict improvements in performance based on weight loss.... anyhow my take home messages are, if I am really serious about running fast over the half marathon but am not willing to take any more time away from my family or lose anymore sleep than I am going to need:

1) more 120 minute runs pushing the children in the stroller if necessary
2) less chocolate cake
3) EPO

yeah, I`ll probably leave it at 1 & 2... after a nice, long break that is.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A, B & C Goals for Half Marathon

My goal half marathon is in two days - to hold myself accountable, here are my A, B & C goals - if I remember correctly an C goal is something that one is almost sure to accomplish, like the wheels would have to fall off the cart completely to not make it. B is tough but realistic, really the time that one is realistically fit to run and then just has to dig a little bit deeper for and A is totally reaching for the stars... so, here we go:

C goal: well, since the whole point of this exercise was to qualify for the 2014 NYC marathon by running a sub-1:30, this has to be the C goal. Although my 1:28 20 km in mid-August might lead me to believe a 1:30 is not a given, I feel transformed as a runner since then. I really do think that if I don't run a sub-1:30, something has gone disastrously wrong (and since I am booking TWO hotel rooms.... TWO! One for the family and one JUST FOR ME!! I will not be sleep deprived, at least not the night immediately before).

B goal: tough but realistic, hmmm.... I honestly think I am fit to run 1:26:30 so I guess a tough but realistic goal would be 1:25:30.

A goal: 1:23:30. That would be a reach. Huge reach.

I think I am good to go. Training has gone well. I am mostly injury free. Build up races have been reasonable to good. I have been getting at least 6 hours of sleep per night with luxurious 4 hours stretches sometimes. I am a woman without excuses. I am a woman who is off to bed.

Here we go.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Am I hopelessly immature or...

are photos of children inadvertently giving the finger just so damn funny??
Little is about 15 minutes old in this snapshot and it should be an incredibly tender moment between us but... finger! I wet myself laughing whenever I see it. Verdict: so damn funny.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Race Report: Occam's Razor

So I know based on my work-outs and my racing progression just about what kind of shape I am in for 10 km, pretty much down to +/- 10 seconds. Yet nonetheless on the start line I find myself thinking about "the good old days" when a "bad" race meant 37:50 and breaking 37:30 was pretty much a given. Sigh. So I'm cruising along, I have a decent first 2 km (3:50, 3:51) and then settle into a 3:53-3:56 pace. As I am running along, I wonder why I can't seem to comfortably go any faster. It occurs to me that it might be my asthma - there is a strong smell of fertilizer in the air coming from the south shore farms and perhaps that is somehow triggering my airways. Perhaps it is the persistent lack of sleep that is holding me back; nighttime continues to be a challenge. Then again it could be the sleeping pill I took at 1 am that has not worn off and is preventing me from turning over my legs faster. Or, perhaps it is because I am about to get my period and the accompanying heaviness and sluggishness that is enforcing this pace in the high 3:50s rather than the 3:40-3:45 I ran "back in the day". As I move between 4 and 5 km, another hypothesis occurs to me and I know in my gut it is the right one. I am running 39 minute pace because THAT IS THE SHAPE I AM IN. It's not the air quality, the sleep deprivation, my menstrual cycle or even the irritation caused by the "I'm sexy and I know it" sign on the back of the runner in front of me (really) nor any of the other dozens of excuses runners seem to search for... it is truly the simplest possible explanation. I am running 39 minute pace because I am in 39 minute shape. Period.

Nonetheless I do manage a final km of 3:41 which is enough to put me in lactic acid severe enough that the final three steps of the race were done on extremely shaky legs (and I am quite proud that I was able to go to the bottom of the barrel like that) good for 38:53... my first sub-39 minute 10 km in a year.

So I guess I have a choice, I can celebrate the fact that I ran to my current level of fitness, broke 39 minutes and generally ran a mentally tough race with a huge kick. I can be grateful that despite working full time and having two children I get to run about 60-75 km per week. Or I can whine and moan about how I used to be 2 minutes faster and many of the women who I used to regularly beat are already starting their cool down runs when I cross the finish line. I chose the former. I have to chose the former. Though it might be "settling", what the point of doing this if I am continually dissatisfied and mourning days gone by? Case in point, one of the women I beat today WON this race in the year it served as national championships in a time 6 minutes faster than she ran today and yet, on she runs, enjoying the effort, the comradeship and the sport. That is what I chose.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Bloody vomit

Bloody vomit is scary. Even when you know exactly what is causing it... like, for example, your finger stuck halfway down your baby's esophagus as you try to scoop out a wire cap that she is intent on ingesting. Which is almost exactly the position I found myself in yesterday morning, though the paramedic who subsequently arrived at our house with the ambulance told me after things had settled, that in all probability I was probably just at the very back of her mouth tangled up in her tonsils. Ambulance? You might be chuckling at the overkill and, 24 hours later, I admit I am embarrassed at having called an ambulance. But as I said, bloody vomit is damn scary especially in quantities large enough to soak her shirt, parts of my shirt and the carpet and even more so when accompanied by oozing blood from the nose.

But let me back up, my finger is probing her tonsils and I finally got it out and despite the fact that Little and I were shaking like crazy, for one naive moment, I actually thought we were good. Then the vomiting started. And of course it makes sense - finger down throat, baby will vomit. Corrugated wire cap rubbing against tender tonsils etc., baby will vomit blood. Perhaps even more terrifying was her near catatonic state. She was just spent. I knew I wasn't fit to drive so I thought I'd call a cab. Couldn't think of the number. Couldn't control my fingers enough to look it up. Dialed 911 with Little on my knee still vomiting blood and Big asking me if we were still going to the birthday party. The ambulance arrived maybe 6-7 minutes later and the paramedics checked her out. By this time the vomiting had stopped, the flow of blood from her mouth had stopped. She checked out totally fine (though the completely disinterested and passive way in which she let them examine her scared the hell out of me). They paramedics explained they were legally obliged to offer me a ride to the hospital and could not give me advice either way on whether it was necessary to go; their demeanor however made it clear it was not necessary. Just as I declined, her nose started substantially bleeding again. I changed my mind and off we went.

2 hours later (2 hours... pretty amazingly quick - I figure we must have been triaged in the "nervous mom just humor her" category) the doctor confirmed that he could see a small cut causing the bleeding and there was nothing to be done and Little would be fine. By this time the lethargy had passed and she was climbing the curtains and knocking over the garbage cans and so feeling foolish and like a giant waster of the taxpayer dollar, I gathered my sprog and departed. And yes, we made it to the birthday party.

So there are lots of "take homes" from this little escapade, lots of things to beat myself up over. Let's start with the fact that the wire cap was out in the first place. Bad. Then there's the fact that when I saw it was in her mouth, I immediately went after it instead of asking her for it or just turning her upside down until it fell out. No, I went in panicked, guns blazing and probably pushed it further in. Worse. Those 20 seconds with my finger deep inside my mouth felt like an eternity. She was freaked, struggling, I couldn't grab the cap. It was long enough for me to think "I've got to get behind it", "I'm actually going to push it into her throat", "This could actually be the way she dies". It was.... horrifying. Horrifying how bad my instinct were (despite the fact that I have infant/toddler first aid training and life guarded for many years) and a very potent reminder of how in less than one minute things can go so very wrong.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The snowsuit

Since Big & Little were born (yes, I'm getting tired of Thing 1 & 2 - tired of the nicknames, not the kids) I have probably spent less than $500 on clothing which is not bad if you consider that they have racked up close to 6 years of living between them. We have been showered in hand me downs from  day 1 and I feel so fortunate. I love hand-me-downs and it's not just because I am cheap (I am) or because I hate shopping (I do). When I put a hand-me-down shirt on Big that I know has been worn by at least 3 other pre-schoolers and I see the tiny holes around the cuffs and the thinness of the fabric around the elbows and the tiny, permanent brown stain which I tell myself is chocolate though truthfully I have no idea, it makes me inexplicably happy. I think of all the little people who wore this shirt and wore in the holes while they played and loved the fabric down to its threads and blissfully ate chocolate (hopefully) and it is as if their happy memories, their hours of play, their story times have been imbued into the garment. So yes, for reasons practical, economic and romantic, I adore Big & Little's hand-me-down wardrobes.

This year however there was no denying that Big would need a winter snowsuit. We could not get away with squeezing her back into her 3T winter attire and surprisingly when I went to the carefully labelled storage containers in the basement, none of the 4T-5T containers held winter gear. It is the first time there has been a hole in our supply chain. So off we went to Mountain Equipment Coop where every good Canadian shops for outdoorsy stuff. I found the perfect snowsuit for Big. It cost a shocking amount - don't get me wrong, I don't mind paying for Big to stay warm all winter but when you are used to "free", $90 comes as a bit of a shock. I was all set to leave, true to my normal "get in, get the thing, get out" commando style of shipping when the 18 month snowsuits caught my eye. Little's need for winter clothing is borderline. We have, of course, all of Big's old stuff but as she and Big are not season-locked when it comes to season-specific items, it is not always a perfect match. For sure though, I could have either had her swimming all winter in Big's 2T stuff or else layered her with several pieces that, albeit awkward, would have kept her warm all winter. So technically Little did not require a snowsuit and since the PPC "Law of Acquisition" is generally "Don't do it!!", I was ready to walk away. Yet something made me linger, tracing the inevitably cute snowsuit with one finger. I put my hand inside to gage how closely it resembled the feel of a sleeping bag and stumbled across the most amazing feature. A name-tag... but not just a name-tag. A name-tag with four distinct spaces for four different children and then, best of all, underneath each a little phrase. For child # 1 "I wonder where this will travel to", child #2 "Good thing she grew quickly, I was getting cold", child #3 "Grew like a bad weed she did" and child #4 "At last! It's my turn."

I stood there thinking about it. Thinking about how we would definitely hand this down, to my cousin who recently had triplets and from there who knows. Thinking about the parents who would carefully pen their child's name in it. Thinking of all the snowballs that would get made, all the tobogganing that would happen, all the times a parent would do up this snowsuit only to be told that its occupant had to pee, all the snow angels. All the parents, grandparents, friends who would watch their snowsuit-laden toddler trundling along, a cheerful cherry red blob against a sullen winter day. I thought about how by the time the fourth child received it, Little would not be little, about how the fourth child probably had not even been born yet and I just started bawling in the store. And to my shock, I bought it. I bought the unnecessary $90 snowsuit because of the 50 cent name-tag sewn into it, because of the way that 50 cent name-tag had made me feel.

It's a great marketing lesson. It really is true that if you can imagine your consumer and connect with them in some way, they will buy your stuff. I have never had this feeling before... but there was no way I was NOT going to buy that snowsuit. And I cried in the car as I told hubby about it, sipping our Tim Horton's coffee while Big & Little snoozed in their car seats in the back. I cried the next day (to my horror) as I told my colleague about the experience at our communal coffee machine (I was trying to draw parallels to the product we develop together but since our product is a data acquisition software for the life sciences, neither of us could think of one so it was a pretty unproductive conversation but at least it made us both uncomfortable!). And I am sure I will cry the first time I wrestle it onto Little so that she can go out and make her snowangels.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A near perfect week in training

Perfect in that I came very close to following my training plan almost exactly - in the end I fell 2 X 400 and 6 X 10 second uphill sprints short of completing the week as prescribed (and wound up with 8 extra minutes of tempo). This is huge for me. I have a hard time following other people's training plan in part because I arrogantly tend to believe that I know better than other people what I, as an athlete, need (though I notice that I never seem to follow my own plan) and in part because the logistics of our lives are such that it is hard to follow ANY plan (plan to get to daycare on time, plan to get to work on time, plan to get the family fed, plan to stick to a budget, plans in general tend not to work in PPC's Planet of Disorder & Chaos).

But somehow this plan is sticking. And I am really enjoying it and moreover, learning lessons I had long forgotten... just basic stuff like, the easy days have to be easy so that hard days can be hard. You have to run long to build basic physiologic building blocks. 75 minutes does not constitute long... just basic stuff I had forgotten. So anyway, here is what week of nearly perfectly executed training looked like:

Monday - 16.8 km including 8 miles of alternating mile @ 7:45, mile @ 6:10 (ran 6:08, 6:05, 6:05, 6:03)
Tuesday - off
Wednesday - 63 minutes easy including 6 X 10 second hill sprints and one unscheduled tempo around one of my favorite 2.2 km loops
Thursday - off
Friday - 64 minutes easy pushing Thing 2 in stroller
Saturday - track work-out, eek! 10 X 400 m (was supposed to be 12) - averaged 78.9 - fastest (76.4 - wound up racing someone) slowest 80.8. total 14.6 km.
Sunday - 2 hour run. First hour pushing Thing 1 & 2 in the double chariot. In order to convince Thing 1 to come I promised her we would find a bridge, forest and a highest hill (anyone else seen that episode of Dora 50,000 time or so???). Bridge and forest were no problem and luckily I was able to sell a modest sized overpass as the highest hill. Averaged 4:48 per km with them. Then I took off on my own for an hour (to be clear, I did drop them at home with their Papa... I didn't just suddenly run off abandoning them on the highest hill) and averaged 4:24. total 25.9 km in 2 hours.

4 weeks 'till race day!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cry it out

Cry it out... it's one of those controversial parenting topics about which everyone seems to have an opinion, and expresses it! Loudly! With conviction! Sanctimoniously! Defensively! There is no shortage of online debates schoolyard brawls about its merits and evils. For those who don't know what "cry it out" is, I have two things to say 1) in a nutshell, it's a method for helping a baby to learn to fall asleep and sleep through the night in which they are essentially left to cry themselves to sleep and 2) don't read this post, you'll reach new depths of boredom!

Anyway it always seemed to me, based on the amount of venom & defensiveness surrounding "cry it out" that it fell into THAT category which most parenting methods seem to - "right for some, not for others, not likely to do much good or much harm". Generally it seemed like something I would rather not do (while honestly not judging those who did) but with Thing 1 I didn't give it much though because right as I was starting to get antsy about her not sleeping through the night as well as getting ready to go back to work, she obligingly learned to sleep through the night on her own.

Along came Thing 2 and although her sleeping has always been much worse than Thing 1's, I just assumed that she too would learn to sleep through the night at around 1 (because of course that's how siblings work... they grow, develop and react in exactly the same way). I resisted any form of sleep training despite the brutal nights waiting for that magic one year mark...which came...and went... without any perceptible improvement in Thing 2's sleeping habits. I won't go into the gory details in this post because I think I have done so in several previous self indulgent posts. Suffice it to say, though it was highly variable, I was getting about an average of 6 hours of sleep per night with the longest stretch typically being less than three hours... for a year and a half and things were starting to look pretty black.

Finally on the advice of a friend (who had urged me to sleep train Thing 2 at 6 months) I consulted a sleep expert whose advise was detailed and specific but boiled down to "let her cry it out". Hubby and I decided the ideal time to do this would be in the summer when he did not have to teach; unfortunately we found ourselves having that conversation at the tail-end of Labor Day week-end right before the start of the academic year. Ideal the timing would not be... Being the slow moving procrastinators we tend to be, we sat on the decision a bit longer and then hubby left on a business trip. I don't know what allowed me to finally overcome my inertia but last night, day 2 into hubby's trip I suddenly worked up the courage to give it a try.

I parked Thing 1 in front of a movie, nursed Thing 2 lightly and then put her, still awake into her pack and play. Whereupon she immediately, apparently moving on raw instinct, sprang up and began screaming... we're talking - I had not even left the room yet! Thinking that this was never going to work, I closed the door and went to join Thing 1 who compounded my already crippling guilt be repeatedly asking me why I wasn't going to comfort Thing 2. The next 20 minutes were agonizing for everyone... the following 15 saw the wailing ramp down to protesting and finally silence. 35 minutes total to fall asleep. I waited another 15 and then went to check on her and found that I could not open the door. Feeling somewhat sick and franctic I reached my hand in and sure enough the door was being blocked her Thing 2 who had, for the first time ever, busted her way out of the pack and play and taken up camp in front of the door. Yes, I felt pretty damn wretched. But dammit... Thing 2 slept through the whole night and I am talking until 6.30 am when I actually went in and woke her up.

Which was encouraging enough to not persist on night 2 (tonight). I had heard from everyone that the first night is the worst. So I was pleased but not surprised when she fell asleep after only 5 minutes tonight (this time I added music-playing night light that probably helped).

I don't really want to wade into the "cry it out" debate; I can only speak based on my experience and my comfort zone and I am certain no expert in child psychology but here we go... I agree with the opponents of cry it out that it is probably not the best experience ever for a small child to be left to cry themselves to sleep (and believe me "probably not the best experience" is highly euphemistic compared to some of the phrase-ology out there). I think it is probably downright traumatic. But you know what? It is also probably pretty damn traumatic for a child to see their mom or dad crying because they are just so f**king tired. It is probably pretty damn traumatic for a child to be injured or killed in a car accident caused by their exhausted or sleep deprived parent and I will admit to getting behind the wheel on a few occasions and thinking that what I was doing was tantamount to drunk driving. At my lowest, I actually found myself one morning in the wee hours crying as I nursed Thing 2 saying to her "please, please, please let me get some sleep, I am begging you" ... that's probably not so good for baby either. So if this whole "cry it out" thing continues on its current trajectory and our entire family (Thing 2 included) finally starts getting proper, uninterrupted sleep than as much as I hated hearing her cry for so long the first night or for that matter for any amount of time on any night, my only real regret is that I did not do it sooner.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A promising work-out and my weight in stones

The pieces are slowly falling together training-wise. I am starting to feel like a sub-1:30 half marathon this fall is in the cards (why I would jinx myself like that, I really don't know). There are a few things that are helping: having a training program again - I was sucking the big lollipop at being my own coach, I would plan ambitious work-outs and then just go for an easy run as soon as I was slightly sleep deprived or feeling a little off. Now I have a plan which means not having to think (love...not...thinking), having a sense of accountability and generally just a reminder of what a reasonable half marathon training schedule looks like so even though I am falling far short (due to severe, chronic sleep deprivation... same old, same old) at least I am striving to hit reasonable and am cognizant of where the gaps are. I am getting in some long runs (thanks to the plan) which were clearly the element most lacking prior to my disastrous 20 km. I now have five long runs under my belt (90 minutes counts as a long run these days) and my goal race is still 6 weeks distant so that feels really good.

The crisper, less humid, better air quality that generally comes in September has been huge and finally I have lost some weight (more on that in a moment) and it all adds up to feeling fitter and more confident. Now if I could just get some sleep, I would be superwoman! I had a great work-out tonight that really boosted my confidence. 80 minute run including 10 km continuous average 4:05 per km. The effort felt faster than half marathon pace but not by much! I think my half marathon pace might be 4:10 at this point... I`m getting there!

So the weight loss... I went on a "diet" quotation marks because my diet consisted simply of no longer eating when I wasn't hungry and BOOM! 4 pounds disappeared felt awesome. Which is good because my weight was getting critical.. we're talking my bmi was, god forbid, actually creeping into "normal" range - eek! So here's the weird part... I don't know how much I actually weigh right now... my scale randomly changes units on me and recently it switched over to stones...yes, Stones! Seriously, am I exporting potatoes? Why on earth would my scale offer stones as an option... and I use the word option loosely since it switched to stones of its own volition and there is no apparent way of switching it back. But I'm leaving it there (not, as I mentioned, that I have a choice)... I think it's good for me to not know my exact number. Sure, I am just one google search away from finding out or just thinking about it for 30 seconds but I am trying to avoid finding out. I know relative to the switch-over how much I weight and can gauge on that and I am hoping this will cut down on some of my obsessiveness on this topic.

One thing I have noticed is that although the first 4 pounds slid off when I decided to stop recreational eating now that I am only eating to satisfy hunger weight loss has halted (makes sense). So I tried restricting just a little bit, nothing major just a little 200-300 calorie deficit and immediately started to feel flat & lacking energy on my runs. So I am wondering if it is worth continuing to try to lose more weight (pebbles?) or if I should just leave things be. According to this calculator I can shave off approximately 35 seconds from my half marathon for every pound loss [Note: calculator makes the HUGE assumption that the athlete is within a healthy bmi range and that the weight lost is fat] but I find it so tough to lose weight without affecting training. It would probably be helpful if I took advantage of that mythical 20 minute post-run window and fueled to optimize glycogen storage.

Anyway just some random thoughts...

Monday, August 19, 2013

The little things I don't want to forget

Being asked to sing the alphabet song over and over again with the order "ABC encore!". Barely getting to the last word of "c'est a toi de le chanter" before Thing 2 order "encore, ABC encore!". it is the first and undoubtedly only time in my life that my singing will be encored.

Hearing her sing the ABC song: "A, B C, D eee eee eee. eee. eee. eee. eee. L M N eee eee".

Having my shoes brought to me by Thing 2 when it becomes apparent that we will be leaving the house imminently. Any random, adult-sized pair of shoes will do and are forcibly thrust upon my feet by her tiny, inevitably sticky, grasping paws.

Hearing her have long conversations with herself that seem to involve the asking and answering of questions:
"Do gu hag a leef looo ha?" she will ask with an unmistakable question mark inflection at the end. This is followed by a long pause during which time she is presumably trying to think of the answer. Then without fail, a few seconds later after she figures it out she will answer herself: "No, no, no, no" accompanied by vigorous head shaking.

The frustrating cycle of: sippy cup deliberately being hurled (her), wailing and groaning (her), sippy cup retrieval (me), sippy cup hurling (repeat ad infinitum). One memorable day as I grew visibly frustrated with the situation Thing 1 finally weighed in on the matter with her opinion: "Mais tu sais maman, je t'avais dit qu'on avait pas besoin de ce bébé." [See mom, I told you we didn't need this baby.]

The certainty with which Thing 2 will name all the cars driving by on the road: "ca!", "ca!", "ca!".

Her first attempt at peeing in the potty - announcing pee pee! Taking off her diaper, toddling over to the potty and peeing gracefully right on the floor right next to it.

The way Thing 2 says "wow" in perfect imitation of me when I admire one of Thing 1's drawing... a long, drawn out, some what exaggerated "Wooooow!", esepcially when Thing 2 WOWs her OWN drawing. 

The care with which she will change her dolly's diaper, put her dolly to bed and push her dolly around in the stroller.

Her tousled head and giant smile in the morning. 

Her spoken vocabulary at 17 months:

-ballon (applies to all ball shaped objects including round fruits)
-ca (perhaps she says car with a Boston accent from listening to too much car talk on NPR)
-nounou (Thing 1's word for the pacifier)
-joooos (juice)
-dis (this)
-pees (please)
-uh oh (used often in a context approrpiate manner)
-en haut
-en bas
-de l'eau

Thing 2`s assertion that Thing 1 is a boy and her determination to trade her in for an older sister or brother.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Race Report: Tentatively Moving in the Right Direction

Progress tonight. 18:43 5 km. 3:39, 3:48, 3:49, 3:49, 3:38. My best race in a good long while. Never mind that I ran 18:09 at this race last year. Never mind that 18:43 used to be a slow(ish) split through 10 km. Never mind that I got beat by a women in a running skirt. I am just going to focus on the fact that it is a tentative step in the right direction. And I am going to keep talking those steps. And I am going to stop thinking and just execute the plan (towards that end I now have me a training plan made by a coach other than me so I really don't have to think at all, except about Monika's plan, and that's ok because I don't have to run it :) ). And, most important, I am just going to enjoy my 18.43.

The real story of the evening was Thing 1 who ran a whopping 5 MINUTE PB in the 1 km... you have to love being 4 - 1 km race, 5 minute PB - 7:11. Talk about being on the steep part of the improvement curve! I would have to run an ultra to PB by 5 minutes at this point. And can I say, without any bias or hidden agenda, that she just looked heart breakingly beautiful doing it. She was enthralled with the whole experience, moving with an amazingly smooth stride that she did not inherit from me and she just had the time of her life. Perhaps the best part was that she had absolutely no interest in beating the other children, she just ran seemingly for the sheer joy of running. I won't push her into running but as long as she continues to ask if she can run a race... how can I say no to the occasional 1 km?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Race Report: Still a lot of work to do

Disappointing best captures my race this morning. It was a 20 km, so I was hoping that I could jog a 1:25 which would be 1:30 half marathon pace. I went out at 4:12 pace which I thought was totally conservative. Not so. My splits tell the story:

4:22 (big climb)
4:17 (21:06 5 km)
4:21 (changed goal to running every km under 4:20)
4:25 (changed goal to running everykm under 4:30)
4:03 (big descent)
4:21 (42:40 10 km, 21:34 from 5-10 km)
4:33 (changed goal to running every km under 5 minutes)
4:36 (asked my friend Mark who was spectating next to his truck for a lift, he assumed I was kidding)
4:27 (1:04:58 15 km, 22:18 from 10 km - 15 km)
5:00 (took a one minute walking break)
5:21 (took a 45 second walking break and got passed by the second place woman after leading for 17 km... there was nothing to be done about it unfortuately)
4:09 (big descent and noticed another woman less than 10 m behind me who was presumably buoyed by the walking breaks she would have witnessed)
4:54 (big climb, noticed that despite the very slow km the woman did not get any closer, asked my friend Jack who was spectating to borrow his bike)
3:57 (fastest km at the end of the slowest 5 km, but really did not want to get passed in the last km AGAIN after leading for so long. total time 1:28:21, 23:23 from 15 km - 20 km ouch).

So yeah, discouraging. My distress was all muscular. I was laughing and talking with people, making jokes all along i.e. I could breathe just fine but the large muscles in my legs and butt just rebelled. I absolutely could not turn-over. I tried different tactics, the walking breaks, taking smaller steps, getting up on my toes... I just could not get any performance out of my legs after about 14 km. So it's tough mentally to realize that a sub-1:30 half marathon is not necessarily a guarantee. But what can you do?

Make a mental list of all the typed of people I hate getting beat by to pass the time which is exactly what I did between 14 and 17 km. I fear I may offend some readers for which I apologize but if it helps you can put "people who make petty lists" onto your list of people TO beat at your next race. Here goes:

1. People listening to music. Snobby of me, I know...

2. Women wearing skirts (made even more pathetic by the fact that I am regularly beaten by skirts)

3. People with compression socks that end at their ankles, seems so gimicky (totally hypocritical since I own and ran in compression socks today). Why is a compression sock ok but not a compression leg warmer? You'll have to ask the petty part of my brain because I really don't know offhand.

4. People my age (ish) who I used to beat easily. (just a tough pill to swallow somehow)

5. People who I do not like.

6. People pushing baby jogers. Unless it is Mo Farah going by with his twins, I am not ready to accept being beaten in a race by someone pushing a jogger (Yes, I do know that there are countless men and women far slower than Mo Farah who could beat me while pushing a double baby jogger but they don't happen to show up at my local races - at least not with their double jogger.)

7. People.

So there you have it - me at my grumpiest and most petty.

On the other hand, here are some folk I honestly enjoy being beat by:

1. Women much older than I (hope for the future)

2. People who I like.

3. Heavier athletes. I love all evidence  against the thinking thin = fast.

4. People who I know have been training much harder than I (unless they fall into any of the categories in the first list)

So yeah, much more work to do before I have a guaranteed sub 1:30.

The second part of the day i.e. The Big Poopa's fourth birthday party went as well as the race went badly. Huge success. Only minor meltdowns. Enough food. Kids loved the place we held the party. Kids got along. Parents seemed to have a great time despite the lack of alcohol. That was my only regret about the birthday we planned, we could not serve proper adult refreshments (the trade off for not having to clean our home before and after 10 children tore through it). Am I a total degenrerate or is alcohol (for the parents only) not a key component of a successful birthday party no matter what time of day it is held?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Plan

In October of 2014, I will reach the age people seem to love to hate, I will turn 480 months old. While there is, as far as I know, no sequel to "What to expect in the first year" that extends to my age to tell me what milestones to expect, I am guessing: increased wisdom, beginnings of hot flashes (me genetic heritage), feeling even more comfortable in my skin, increasing irritation with "today's youth" (hopefully not including the ones I birthed but probably), decreased muscle mass and metabolism, decreased fast twitch muscle, better eyesight, further degradation to my poor beleaguered achilles tendons among many other positives and negatives.

I am determined to make 480 months a cause for celebration and something to look forward to rather than an angst-filled occasion. Actually, my hope is for it to be much like any other birthday with one exception. I would like to run the NYC marathon in November 2014 to put a stamp of "I'm ok with it" on the year. So... working backwards, I need to run a sub-1:30 marathon by the end January 2014 to have a guaranteed entry. I have picked a flat, mid-October half marathon as my target race. I am hoping to run much faster than 1:30....ideally sub-1:25 but with my still unexplained marked decrease in velocity this year, I will take a sub-1:30.

Tomorrow I am challenging myself over a hilly 20 km race to see how far away I am now from being able to run sub-1:30. Hopefully the answer is that I could run a 1:30 half tomorrow (were the race 1.1 km longer); I am cautiously optimistic. Then... to complete the challenge, in the afternoon is the Big Poopa's fourth birthday party - a double header if you will - am: 20 km race, pm: entertaining 11 children and their parents. The biggest question is - which one will take more energy & endurance??

Friday, August 2, 2013

Four years ago

Four years ago yesterday, on August 1st, just past midnight, keeping us in suspense until the end as to whether she would be a July or August baby, born the traditional way or Macbeth style... The Big Poopa a.k.a. Thing 1 a.k.a. La Cocotte joined our family. I vividly remember many things about that day the middle of that night. Perhaps my favorite memory was the very clinical sounds of the c-section suddenly coming to a halt and to sound of my beloved ob-gyn saying "Well, hello there." followed by the first amazing cry of our eldest child. Here is what has transpired in four years:

Day 1

~ Day 365
~Day 365 * 2
~Day 365 * 3
~Day 365 * 4

Happy Birthday Big Poopa!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Two amazing days of running and adventure

Business travel tends to be brutal on running mileage. The sleep deprivation can be even more severe than being at home with a four year old who keeps losing her pacifier and a 16 month old who (say it with me) STILL DOESN'T SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT! The early and late night flights, the inevitable delays all make for long days, short sleeps ad even shorter runs. This time the stars lined up and I had two solid days of running in beautiful and interesting places as well as some adventures.

Tuesday morning I got an 8 km tempo on the hotel treadmill (not interesting or beautiful but a solid work-out and 13.8 km total). Had I known what I was going to find on Tuesday evening, I would have held back. For various reasons the work day wrapped up fairly early and I found that not far from where I had been working was a state forest! Talk about a four star running experience compared to my usual tooling around suburban strip malls or hotel treadmills while traveling. I got to the visitor's center right as it was closing to ask about a trail suitable for running and got a wide eyed stare from the forest ranger. Seriously, he just stared at me speechlessly and I was left wondering if I had broken some kind of American societal convention of which I was ignorant. When he finally broke the silence, it was to say: "Amanda, it's me, Fred." whereupon it was my turn to stare blankly. Eventually he explained that he had mistaken me for his neighbor's daughter, I guess I am her doppelganger. 

Then he proceeded to read me the riot act:

"It's extremely hot and humid and dangerous to be exerting yourself."

I was nonplussed.

"The only trail you could possibly run it the lake loop and even it's rocky and uneven and you could turn an ankle."

I remained unconcerned.

"And it's four miles long."

I had to hold myself back from making the whatever W with my hands.

"And you could easily wander off the trail."

That piqued my concern, I am a poor navigator under ideal conditions (see "Bridge George Washington, wrong exit" further down).

"And there are rattle snakes."

Now THAT got my attention.

"Though no one here has ever been bit."

I decided to focus on that.

"And there are lots of bears."

Ok, now I was officially reconsidering. From polar bears in the arctic to black bears in the Adirondaks and Yosemite, I am officially DONE with bear incidents. I have had my lifetime quota with no wish for further interaction and I sense the feeling is mutual.

Feeling duly chastised, I set out and found the trail was indeed technical (by my standards) and tricky to follow:

Nevertheless I ran out about 1.5 miles my imagination growing wilder all the time. The trail got better and worse but was generally run-able:
Then I came around a corner and came across a scene that made me freeze in my tracks. Bush upon bush drooping under the weight of perfectly ripened raspberries. Terrifying. The only mammal I know who enjoys raspberries more than me is Mr. Black Bear and though he wasn't immediately obvious I felt certain he was nearby. I wish this could be the story about how I was scared and kept going and discovered the lake, went skinny dipping, had an amazing run etc. and probably, had it been the 25 year old PPC out on this run that would have been the story I had to tell. But 38 year old PPC with too many bear encounters under her belt and suddenly very aware of the fact that no one really even knew where she was and she had not encountered anyone since entering the trail turned tail and ran. Hard. Back to the visitor's center whereupon I decided to start around the loop the other way and got to the lake very quickly:

And also found MY kind of "trail":

Ah... asphalt, with your smooth, even surface, the love affair will never end. All in all I got another 9 km in for the day and relaxed enough to tackle the next part of my adventure... DRIVING INTO MANHATTAN.

So I don't have much experience with GPSes and certainly this was the first time I had used one on my own while driving. Let's just say that things went MUCH more smoothly once I realized the GPS would actually TALK to me and I did not have to drive with one frantic eye on its screen and the other trying to watch the road. I love the GPS. So well designed. So easy to use (once you find the crucial un-mute switch!) and infinitely better than driving with one eye on the road and one eye on badly printed mapquest directions (my usual modus operanda). I have strong luddite tendencies. I only got a cell phone about 2 years ago and figured out how to text on it about 6 months ago; suffice it to say it is NOT a smart phone in fact the only thing less smart than my phone is its owner. All that being said, I am SOLD on the GPS, love having that soothing woman's voice gently reminding me of upcoming manoeuvrings. It works so well.

Except when it doesn't... like for example when you miss your turn off of the George Washington Bridge and the various other exits come up fast and furious... so fast and so furious that before GPS Lady can recalculate to bail your ass out you have already missed the next turn she wanted you to take. So I missed the Henry Hudson Parkway, then her re-calculated plan of the Harlem River Parkway, then her re-re-calculated plan of Amsterdam Avenue. It was a white knuckle, tension-filled few moments set to the sound of me berating the GPS Lady and the sound of her calm voice saying "Recalculating." Probably things would have gone better had I not been trying to take pictures like this:

But I admit to being excited about driving in Manhattan. All in all though I have to say that driving in Manhattan at 7.30 pm wrong turns and all was way less painful than I had anticipated. I would actually say it was painless, very little traffic and congestion. I returned my rental car and headed off to my hotel.

Which was, bar none, the worst hotel I have ever stayed in in my life. I should have known something was up when I entered and found a long line of angry "guests" yelling at the beleaguered and extremely pregnant receptionist. Given the volume and aggression of the conversation, it was clear something was up. Indeed, the hotel's AC was malfunctioning in many rooms (95 deg F outside) and so many people who had booked double rooms (myself included) had been moved into single rooms with no toilet or shower. And that turned out not the worst part:

The worst aspects of this room can not be seen in the picture above. The worst parts were the unimaginable stench (even worse than other stenches described later, see "Running clothes, unwashed") of some kind of cleaning product that was clearly meant to cover up an even worse stench, the fact that the AC did not work (though it worked enough to thoroughly soak almost the whole carpet with water) and the ROAR of the non-functional AC (that could not be turned off). Hot, smelly and noisy. My favorite way to sleep. I do come prepared for every sleep-related eventuality when I travel on business. In fact, I even have a protocol I follow when entering a hotel room: ensure alarm clocks are not set for ungodly hour, cover clock with t-shirt to avoid glow of numbers, unplug mini-fridge to avoid humming motor, pre-cool room so noisy ACs can be turned off before sleeping, DO NOT DISTURB sign on door, insert ear plugs before sleeping (yes, when I am away from home and there is the possibility of sleeping through the night, I OPTIMIZE it) but this situation was beyond repair.

Then and there I decided to fore go my lifelong dream of running in Central Park in the morning as I figured I would be kept awake all night by smell, noise and heat however I fell asleep at 1 am and awoke at 5.00 a feeling somewhat refreshed and decided I needed to partake in the Central Park running experience.

So first off, here is the answer to the question "is it be safe to run in Central Park at 5.30 am":

That would be "Hell, yes!". The biggest danger in running in Central Park at 5.30 am, it turns out, is that your ego will be CRUSHED by all the extremely thin, fit and fast people whizzing by you. In fact the scariest thing in the park that morning was probably this:

Again, the scariest part of the above is not captured in the picture. I had run in this clothing 3 times in 85 deg F + temperatures without washing. Scary. If I ran at all fast that morning it was in an attempt to outrun my own stench.

Bad smells aside, running in Central Park really has been a lifelong dream of mine and it did not disappoint. I think the experience was made all the more poignant by the sheer contrast to the running I had done the day before:

Before this trip I had already made a decision and running in Central Park reinforced it. In October of 2014 I will turn 40. I have decided I will celebrate my 40th by running the NYC marathon.

Then, as an added bonus on the way home, I sat on the tarmac while my flight was delayed due to thunderstorms in Montreal. I sat in my seat feeling dejected... I had been so looking forward to seeing the Booble & The Big Poopa not to mention their Papa. The pilot had no idea how long we would be there since the airport in Montreal was actually shut down. Suddenly it hit me... there was absolutely nothing I could do about this situation. In the grand scheme of things it was NOT a big deal. Papa would manage one more bedtime without me and in the meantime I had a laptop with a dead battery so I could not work (no guilt) and a TV screen in front of me with ON DEMAND television with no one demanding to see Dora. I laughed my ass off watching a 30 Rock marathon while the flight attendant brought me drinks, snacks and even a blanket (someone brought ME a blanket!). In the end we were delayed two hours and let me tell you those two hours went by in half a second. I almost cried when the pilot said we were cleared for take-off.

On the flight home I was able to capture some amazing cloudscapes (that had no doubt been behind the delay):

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Booble

Before tackling the fascinating topic of the booble, I just wanted to mention that I think my last post was horrendously confusing and misleading. None of the events in the post actually happened. The entire vacation-gone-wrong anecdote was analogous only and intended only as a vehicle to allow me to comment on the ability of the human mind to adapt to continuously worsening frameworks and find the good within the context of worsening realities. I think I belabored the analogy so painfully that it was hopelessly confusing. I do want to state for the record though that although finishing the John Muir trail would indeed be my dream vacation (we are missing the section between Reds Meadows and Bishop Pass for those of you who know of this trail); doing so with a toddler and pre-schooler is actually a recurring nightmare from which I awaken screaming. Regularly. Our vacation this year was visiting family in Wisconsin and that was adventurous enough for now.

Onto the Booble. The Booble is now 16 months old. She has earned this unfortunate nickname due to her reluctance to give up a certain item belonging to me (actually certain items). After the continuing battle with Thing 1 over the nuk (we have given up, she uses it whenever she wants, we are done fighting that particular fight; presumably she will not go to high school with a pacifier) we decided Thing 2 would never use a nuk. She doesn't. She uses me instead. It makes me feel needed, bonded, cherished, annoyed and trapped all within the space of 10 minutes at times. Most recently I came back from a 16 km run in 30 deg celsius, 10,000% humidity weather. I was exhausted, depleted, beyond sweaty and was gagging because of my own stench. I sat down on a towel on the floor (certain my toxic body emissions would burn a whole in our wooden floor) to recover and sure enough the Booble toddles up, plops herself in my disgusting lap and starts pulling on the bottom of my sports bra. I have never known a human more immue to disgusting odors (her other hobby is hanging out in the bathroom while we relieve ourselves!). I am sure that her inability to sleep through the night (seriously, still!) is related to the continued, avid nursing. So we have one child with a nuk addiction, one child with a boob addiction. Good thing we are not having a third because I am not sure how we could go wrong in a different way on this particular issue!

The Booble is now chatting away. Her first words appear to be:

en bas: pronounced ABA! ususally said with urgency to mean "put me down" or, alternatively, if she is down "pick me up".

mama: used to mean me sometimes but generally any object of her desire.

These words comprise her first sentence: "mama en bas!"

encore: pronounced anca, to mean more often accompanied by the baby sign.

no: used to mean no, yes, maybe. Always said in a string "no, no, no, no, no".

She is really getting into this mix of things now. If, for example, Thing 1 and I are making cookies, she will climb onto the counter-top and plop her diapered butt right onto the dough and try to work with a cookie cutter drooling away into the batter (side note: if ever you are at our house, don't eat any food offered to you unless it is in its original, still sealed packaging - anything else is suspect). She is beginning with the temper tantrums and biting. The biting! Apparently this is the big next phase at the daycare. Biting as a form a self expression. The thing that kills me (with laughter) is that they are not allowed to tell parents which other child was involved in the biting incident (probably a good policy) so when I come to pick her up, her teacher will say something to the effect of "Well, she bit one of her little friends today." or "One of her little friends bit her." or, on a good day "She bit one of her friends and her friend bit her back." Which always makes me want to say "I don't know what the word friend means to you, but for me biting generally precludes friendship!". I guess the biting is normal (despite the extremely annoying assurances of one person in my life who assured me it is most certainly NOT normal and the children she raised NEVER bit... yeah, uh huh, thanks a lot).

The Booble has fully mastered walking and actually runs fairly quickly. She leads with her head using excellent "fall forward" technique advised by the Alexander Method! Generally anywhere she wants to go, she leads with her head using it as a weight to force her way anywhere or into any situation. She is a nightmare to share a bed with (usually when she cried for her 1 am feeding, I am too tired to put her away when we are done). She will very deliberately turn perpendicular to the other occupants of the bed and then spend the rest of the night kicking ribs and worming her fingers into armpits.

Her relationship with Thing 1 is at times splendid and at times fraught. As I write, the two of them are 100% entertaining each other, no intervention from me required. No one can break a grumpy spell or make her laugh like Thing 1. No one. At other times the fighting, pushing and, yes, biting makes me want to jump out a window (until I remember we live on the ground floor and that would just be silly).

All in all she seems healthy, happy, thriving and reassuringly normal. I know as a mom I am supposed to wax poetic about how "advanced" she is but whatever... time will tell if she is a genius, for now she is our adorable, bed hogging, biting booble.

Friday, July 5, 2013


Imagine we're finally going on our dream vacation. We count down first the weeks, then days, then minutes and finally the day arrives. It does not start out well. We are flying to our destination and boarding is delayed by 30 minutes. It's ok though, with a 90 minute layover in Chicago we can still make our connection. We board; 60 minutes late. It'll be tight for the connection but we can still do it. Then we sit on the tarmac, interminably. It becomes obvious that we are not making our connection. Nor the next connection. Soon it seems like we might miss the last flight form Chicago to San Francisco. Finally we take off. The relief of actually having forward momentum mitigates the extreme frustration of the long, unpredictable wait on the tarmac. Arrive in Chicago. We have indeed missed the last flight to San Francisco. Quick math. Even though we will be forced to spend the night in Chicago, if we forego the day hiking we were going to do in Death Valley, we can still make it to the Cottonwood Pass trailhead outside of Lone Pine, California by the date on our backcountry wilderness permit which we applied for 6 months ago; we can still make it up Mount Whitney and hike the last section of John Muir trail we have yet to do (ok, it looks like we are going on my dream vacation here, we can do yours next time).

Next morning, all flights to San Francisco are oversold. We are on stand-by with not much prospect of getting out before late afternoon. Frustration mounts. Now we will also have to forego the pre-backpacking expedition to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains outside of Lone Pine and jump right onto the trail to respect the dates on our wilderness permit. At last, a break. An earlier flight to Los Angeles has opened up. We can change our car rental, fly into LA and drove from there. We give up our spots on the lengthy San Fran stand-by list and run to the LA gate, only to be told the flight has closed (with empty seats on it!) and we will not be allowed to board. We run back to the San Fran gate and take a now, even lower spot on the stand-by list. Frustration is extreme. This vacation has been in the making for a year. The thought of it has been keeping us sane during some trying times at work and home.

Finally, seats open up on the last flight of the day to San Francisco. We are now a full 36 hours behind schedule but we have made the mental adjustment. Frustration and disappointment have ebbed. Our new reality is that we are 36 hours late; we are working in this framework. We have  mourned the loss of the Death Valley excursion and the Ancient Bristle Cone Pines and have adjusted to the reality of our truncated vacation. It feels good just to have a seat on a San Francisco-bound airplane. We don't even notice or care that the seats are small and uncomfortable. The fact that we are not sitting together and each have a dreaded middle seat, aisles apart is a trivial detail. We are on our way and we are grateful! We are still going to be able to summit Mount Whitney and finish the final stretch of the john Muir trail we have never done.

It's strange though because we were the last to board this plane. The air hostess urged us to hurry as she gate checked our carry on that there was no hope of finding a spot for on the already packed plane. We were so elated to finally be on the plane that it took a good twenty minutes to register that we have not actually pushed back. In fact the cabin door has not even been closed. It's almost as if... the thought is interrupted by the inevitable announcement: Minor delay. Might be just a faulty indicator. Waiting for maintenance. Thank you for your patience. And of course it is not just a faulty indicator, there is a real problem that will prevent this aircraft from leaving the ground. Though of course it takes close to three hours to ascertain that. The de-planning is interminable. Retrieving the baggage seems like a cruel joke especially when it takes extra long due to the departure of most of the baggage handlers given the late hour of the day. The good vibrations of relief and gratitude have long vanished, the rage, frustration and despair have returned acutely. We are too discouraged and disappointed to do the mental math. The equations are not in our favor.

The next morning, a stroke of luck, we are winging our way on the first flight to San Francisco. We are exhausted having only gotten 4 hours of sleep after arriving into a motel late after the luggage debacle and then returning to the airport early in the hopes of catching this very flight. Exhausted but cautiously elated. We work up the gumption to return to the mental calculations. We can forego the summit of Whitney and just do the planned portion of the John Muir trail. We can go to the Wilderness Office in Lone Pine and get our entry and exits adjusted on our permit. It will all work out. Then, a surprising twist, favorable headwinds hasten our arrival into San Francisco.We are jubilant. In fact, if one could quantify happiness, we are actually far more content at the moment we touch down a generous 20 minutes ahead of schedule than we would have been in the alternate reality in which we reached San Francisco almost 48 hours earlier.

The ability of the human brain to adapt to new conditions, to mourn the passing of a certain reality and move to work within the framework of a new reality is incredible to me. The fact that we can be elated by arriving 20 minutes early rather than enraged that we are arriving 47 hours and 40 minutes late is one of the triumphs of the human brain and spirit. Because of course I am not talking about taking a vacation and delayed flights, it's a convenient analogy for almost any forced adaptation in life. It's a convenient analogy for things I don't really feel comfortable writing about directly. It is astounding to me how the human brain can, after awhile, accept a new reality and rejoice in "good news" that prior to the adjustment/adaptation ago would have been disastrous news. To move away from the somewhat trite airplane analogy; it is amazing to me, for example, that a person could be involved in a horrific accident, become permanently disabled, adjust to the new life, make the most of this new life and find new opportunities within the framework. It is amazing to me that a person dying of a terminal illness can receive a modicum of good news about their condition and within the framework that their illness remains terminal, celebrate this news as heartily as they may have celebrated any joyous life occasion. The ability of the human mind to bend, adapt, accept and optimize is a wondrous thing.