Archive | Running for Autism RSS feed for this section

Running: Breaking A Personal Barrier

19 Mar

My Distance Enjoyment Chart

Yesterday morning I went for a 17km run.

As usual, I didn’t get enough sleep the night before. As usual, I seriously questioned the sanity of what I was doing as I got ready. And as usual, I ended up enjoying the run far more than I had thought I would.

Whenever I’m ramping up my distance, 17km is a milestone distance. If you were to plot my enjoyment of distances on a graph, the line would rise steadily from 5km to 10km. Then it would start to drop, and the lowest point would be at 16km – a distance that for whatever reason is hell for me. After 16km, the line climbs and reaches its highest point at 21.1km – the half-marathon distance.

So 17km is like a magic number for me. It means that I have broken the ugly 16km barrier at which I never really know how to pace myself, and I am free to run true to my natural style.

I knew going into the run that it might be a challenge. Two decades ago I sustained a serious injury to my left ankle that flares up from time to time. On Saturday night, I had woken up multiple times feeling as if someone was sticking a red-hot skewer right into the centre of my ankle joint. Sure enough, when I started running on Sunday morning, my foot felt a little tender. In addition, my left hamstring was a little tight, probably due to the fact that I added hill training to my routine last week.

I ran anyway, reasoning that I could always stop if I had to, and yet knowing that I wouldn’t. Little aches and pains that I feel at the start of a run have a way of disappearing as I loosen up.

Apart from a couple of little twinges, I pretty much forgot about the pain in my ankle. The hamstring never really loosened up, but it didn’t get worse either, and I was able to pace myself more or less consistently throughout the 17km. I had my usual difficulties at the usual times, and got through it as I always do: positive self-talk, upbeat music, and a reminder that my whole reason for running is to raise funds for autism.

It’s amazing how the thought of doing something for your kids can put things into perspective. My son lives with the challenges of autism day in and day out, and it will be this way for the rest of his life. Surely, surely, I can cope with the challenges of running for a couple of hours once a week.

And so I finished my 17km, and returned home to be greeted by the child who motivates me to do all of this. This little dude is the only person in the world who can hug me fiercely without caring that I have 17km worth of sweat and salt all over me. Sure, it’s a little gross, but at the same time it’s totally endearing.

After the run I may not have felt as good as new, but I was in reasonable enough nick. My hamstring hurt like the blazes for the rest of the day and I needed to stay off my ankle as much as possible, but I felt the sense of triumph that always comes after a successful long run.

My next long run will be 19km, and I say: BRING IT!

Countdown

23 Feb

first halfmarathon medal

Three minutes… Will it begin? Or end?

I shift nervously from foot to foot as I look at the crowd around me. The vibe here is immense. I feel like the collective energy created by these twenty thousand people could lift me up and carry me. I have not slept for a week in anticipation of this day, but that does not matter. Standing here, it is impossible to feel tired.

Two and a half minutes… Will these 13.1 miles make me or break me?

It all started six months ago with an email. A local autism centre was entering a team into this race. Was I interested in joining, to raise funds for autism services? My first reaction was: You must be joking. At the time I was tipping the scales at almost two hundred pounds, which was a lot for a woman whose pre-pregnancy weight had been 130 pounds. I had let myself go to seed following the birth of my younger son. Exercise was a four-letter word to me. I found it impossible to lift myself out of the post-partum depression I was still suffering from for long enough to walk to the mailbox and back. And now these people wanted me to run a race?

Two minutes… Will this race be the fruition of all my efforts? Or will it make me slink back into depression?

I deleted the email, but its contents pulled at a thread in my mind. I was in very bad shape, both mentally and physically. It was clear that I needed some impetus to get myself sorted out. Could this be it? Did I finally have the right reason to get up and do something? Would this venture even be possible?

One and a half minutes… Will I have the strength to go the distance? Or will I give up and not finish the race?

I recovered the email from my Deleted Items folder. If I decided to join the team, I could choose a distance. I ruled out the marathon – it would definitely be too much. I considered the 5 kilometre run, but somehow this did not seem to be enough. If I was actually going to do this, I wanted it to be a real challenge. I’ve never been one for doing things in moderation. Either I don’t do it at all, or I go all out. Abruptly, I checked my thinking. Was I seriously thinking of attempting the half-marathon? Was I crazy?

One minute… Will this endeavour cement my newfound love of running? Or will it make me toss my running shoes into the back of the closet forever?

My thoughts drifted to my older son. My beautiful boy with autism, so loving and full of promise. He could go so far and accomplish so much, but he would need help along the way. He would need services and social supports and programs, all of which cost money. The autism centre was hoping to raise funds to finance exactly the kinds of programs that are needed by kids with autism. I could be doing this for my son.

Thirty seconds… Do we proactively give our kids the best possible chances to overcome their challenges? Or do we just sit back and hope for the best?

Just like that, the thread in my mind – the one that the email had been gently pulling at – unravelled. I knew what I had to do. I pulled out my calendar and looked up a few online training programs. I worked out that in six months, I just about had time to train for a half-marathon. I signed up and got to work. And now here I was at the start line, fifty pounds lighter, and although not exactly fleet of foot, at least capable of running for a couple of hours.

The starter’s siren goes off and the crowd surges forward. As I cross the start line, I put a picture of my son in my head and run from the heart.

(Postscript: I finished that first half-marathon in almost two and a half hours. I remember the lump in my throat as I crossed the finish line and the tears that sprang to my eyes when I received my finisher’s medal. Every step of that race was dedicated to my son. Since then, I have done two more half-marathons for autism, and this year I will be doing it again. In my three autism runs to date, I have raised about $1500 for the Geneva Centre for Autism. My sons – the child with autism and his loving, caring brother – are my inspiration. I would run to the ends of the earth for them.)

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Shauntelle challenged me with "Write a story that begins "Three minutes. Will it begin? Or end?"" and I challenged Head Ant with "Write a story that includes the following: a dreamcatcher; red high-heeled boots; a broken wine glass."

2011 – My Year In A Nutshell

27 Dec

January 2011

I start off the year on a good note. Tired and slightly hungover, I take part in the Resolution Run on New Years Day. With my wedding just four months away, I start to stress about the little details, like where to get married and where to hold the reception.

This month, I also donate blood for the first time  – at least, the first successful time. My inspiration is baby David, affectionately known as Captain Snuggles. Sadly, David dies just days later, at just 8 months old.

 

February 2011

We have a wedding venue and a minister! I will be getting married in the same church where both of my children were baptized into the Christian cult fellowship. My running has slowed down a little, because the stress of wedding planning has made me sick.

March 2011

We have a venue for our wedding reception! We almost booked the first place we looked at, but then we went to see the hall at the Royal Canadian Legion. They initially had the hall booked for our wedding day, but the other people have graciously agreed to move their event to the previous weekend. This means two things. First, we get to have our reception in a place that supports the veterans. And second, we now have all of the information we need to send out our wedding invitations.

This month is frantically busy. We have left most of our wedding planning to the last minute, so we have to book our DJ, our flowers, get a cake sorted, find someone to do my hair and makeup, and so much more.

April 2011

My wedding is on the last day of this month! Most things are organized, but my hairdresser and my makeup person have both bailed on me. While I dissolve into tears, my fiancé gets into the car and goes out for a drive. When he comes back, he tells me that the hair and makeup problem is all sorted out.

My soon-to-be brother-in-law introduces me to a wonderful lady, who agrees to be in charge of both of my boys for the day of the wedding. This is a very big deal for me. I worry about how my son with autism will cope with such a big day.

The big day arrives, and it goes perfectly! My hair and makeup look lovely, and the dress – made by my mother-in-law – is perfect. I marry the man I love, and everyone has a lovely time, including the kids.

May 2011

I spend time with my Mom, who has come for the wedding. We go shopping, we go for drives, we spend time with the kids, we chat and drink wine. It’s wonderful to have her with me.

One of the lowest lows of the year happens this month, with the unexpected death of our friend Ken, just days after our wedding. It is an honour to have had Ken and his wife at the wedding. It is good that we got to see him one last time. He will always be missed.

June 2011

My younger son James graduates from Kindergarten. I have a surreal kind of feeling as I watch my baby up there on stage, wearing his construction paper graduation cap, receiving his Kindergarten diploma. When he and his classmates start singing their songs, I just about die from the cuteness.

 

July 2011

I am having difficulty with my running. I struggle to find time, I am lacking motivation, and I am injured. I have missed the last two races I was registered for. On the plus side, the sporadic nature of my recent training does not appear to have affected my speed. There has not been any improvement in my performance, but there hasn’t been a noticeable decline either. This may not seem like a big deal, but when you’re struggling with something you usually love, you have to take what you can get.

August 2011

2011-08-25 11.19.19This month turns out to be unexpectedly busy. The big news is that my older son George graduates from his provincially funded autism intervention program. He has had two years of IBI followed by a year of the school stream program. His progress has been off the charts. He is ready for this graduation. I, on the other hand, am not. It represents a growing-up that I am just not ready for.

Things seem to be looking up with my running! I run two races this month, just a couple of weeks apart. My performance in the first isn’t great, but in the second, I do a lot better than expected.

September 2011

George turns 8, and I’m not really sure how this has happened. It seems like just yesterday that I held my tiny baby in my arms for the first time, and now he’s this long lanky boy who keeps growing out of his shoes.

My 2011 Run for Autism is three weeks away. I run a 10km race at the zoo and make a personal best time. The following morning, I go out for a long run in foul weather, and the day after that, I can barely walk. I feel good, though. I feel ready for the half-marathon.

October 2011

75738-1975-025f[1]The day has finally arrived: the race I have been training for all year. This is the reason I run – to raise funds for autism services, to make the world a better place for children and youth with autism and their families. I dedicate this race to my son George: my joy and my inspiration. If he can live every day with the challenges of autism, I can run a two-hour race.

It goes really, really well. I get a personal best time for the half-marathon and beat the 2:20:00 target that I’ve set for myself. What makes this day even more amazing is that I have done really well with my fundraising for this race, surpassing my combined total for the previous two years.

November 2011

I am insanely busy at work. I am on four projects, and I am also in charge of the month-end reporting for all of the projects in my department’s portfolio. I am enjoying the additional challenge that this gives me, and every month I am getting better at it.

I feel like I am starting to gain some traction in my writing. It is hard work, building up a blog following, and it’s an ongoing process. I am becoming quite prolific, though. I have my blog, I write for an ezine, I write for a project called World Moms Blog, that is growing very fast. I have been voted as one of the top 25 Canadian mom blogs, and people are starting to ask me to guest post for them. I have also resurrected the novel I started working on a couple of years ago.

I run another race at the end of the month, and demolish my previous personal best time. If I can do this after the difficult season I’ve had, what will I be capable of if I actually train? I ask my running friend Phaedra to be my coach for next year, and she agrees.

December 2011

As usual, my Christmas preparations are a last-minute frantic rush. Somehow, I get my shopping done on time and the day is a big success. We all weather the festive season with life and limb intact. It is a hard time for George, with all of the sounds and lights and people and busy-ness, but he gets through it.

On Christmas Day, James turns six. I feel a little weepy over the fact that my baby is no longer a baby. There is just something about the transition from 5 to 6.

Also on Christmas Day, I somehow manage to pinch a nerve in my back. It’s eerily reminiscent of 2 years ago, when the same thing happened. The incident in 2009 puts me out of action for two months, and I really hope this does not happen again.

The story continues in 2012. What script will I write for my life in the coming year?

2011 Run For Autism

17 Oct

It is 8:55 on a cool Sunday morning. I am standing on a street in downtown Toronto, with about 15,999 other people. The atmosphere is buzzing with the collective energy of the crowd. As the national anthem, performed live, comes to an end, the crowd breaks into cheers and applause. And then, at 9:00 sharp, a siren sounds and the crowd surges forward as the race begins. This is it. My 2011 Run For Autism, the event that I have been training for all season. As I cross the start line, I am choked up with emotion as I think of the reason I am doing this run. My son George, my boy with autism and tons of love, my inspiration.

When I started training for this race in the Spring, I had a goal to finish in less than two hours. I knew that this would be ambitious: last year, I clocked a time of 2:22:38. Knocking 23 minutes off would be a tall order indeed. But if I formulated a good training plan and then stuck to it, I might just have a shot.

It has been said that life is what happens while we’re making other plans, and that was definitely the case with this season’s training. In the Spring I had a bout of bronchitis that put me out of action for a few weeks. I also had to deal with events like the brief hospitalization of one of my kids and a shoulder injury that sidelined me right in the middle of the season. Not to mention the fact that I got married in April.

Still, I somehow managed to salvage something resembling a training plan about six weeks before the race. I ran a couple of interim races and did OK, and then, right when my training was supposed to be peaking, I caught a nasty cold. I considered running through the cold: conventional wisdom is that it is safe to run as long as all symptoms are above the neck. But I knew from prior experience that running with a cold would slow my recovery and could jeopardize my race. So for once I exercised common sense and rested. Following the advice of my friend Phaedra, who is the kind of runner who wins in her category, I adjusted my training plan and made it to race day more or less in one piece.

It was obvious to me that two hours would not be doable. I considered following the 2:15 pace bunny but when I worked out the average pace that this would require, I realized that I would likely drop further and further back and just waste energy on being stressed. In the end I came up with a goal of 2:20. This struck the perfect balance between being achievable and being challenging.

I started out with the strategy of running the first 5km at an easy pace, without worrying about what my average pace looked like. If I fell behind my target pace, I would have 16km to make up the lost ground. I needn’t have worried: I was running at my goal pace by the 4th kilometre. I was running tens and ones – meaning that I would run for ten minutes and then take a one-minute walk break. During my ten-minute running stretches, I was getting ahead of my goal pace, and this provided me with enough of a buffer to stay on target during the one-minute walks.

Throughout the run, I was following my Dad’s strategy of “fishing for runners.” It’s a simple but effective strategy: you pick a runner about 200m ahead of you, reel them in by gradually catching up to them, and then run in their slipstream for about 500m before passing them and finding another runner to fish for.

For a while, I worried that I was matching my goal pace too easily. Either my energy would run out long before the distance did, or I had seriously underestimated myself during training. I tried to rein myself in but my body wouldn’t let me. I felt good, and I just had to go at the pace that my legs were dictating. It was only in the 18th kilometre that I started to feel the exhaustion. By then, I had less than 3km to go. I was faced with a choice: I could let my mind trick me into slowing down and missing my target time, or I could dig deep and just find the energy to keep going.

I chose to dig deep. I thought of my son George. He has to live his entire life with the challenges of autism, I told myself. The least you can do is run for another fifteen minutes.

All of a sudden, I was turning onto Bay Street for the final stretch and I had just 500m to go. Both sides of the street were lined with hundreds – maybe thousands – of spectators. My personalized bib was allowing people to cheer me on by name.

300m to go… I am exhausted and my legs feel like jelly, but I can see the finish line right up ahead of me. The closer I get, the louder the cheering is.

200m to go… a little bit of vanity takes over. I want a good finish line photo, so I start positioning myself in such a way that I will cross the line without being obscured by other runners.

100m to go… someone yells out, “Congratulations, Kirsten!” I raise my hand in acknowledgement and sprint for the finish, just metres away now. As I’m crossing the finish line, I somehow find a smidgeon of energy to raise both arms in the air in a gesture of triumph.

I have done it. I cannot believe that I have done it. I have run this race, beaten my goal time, and set a new personal best time for myself.

2 hours. 19 minutes. And 46 seconds. Every single moment of it dedicated to George.

Rain In My Running Shoes

3 Oct

I have never been one to let the weather stop me from running. While I prefer clear, cool conditions, I have been known to go out in the rain, wind and snow in order to rack up the miles on my running shoes. From time to time, the seemingly adverse weather conditions have worked to my advantage. It is amazing how refreshing a light shower of rain can be during a long run.

And so, when I woke up yesterday to the pitter-patter of raindrops against the window, I was not deterred. I had a long run planned, and nothing short of a meteor hitting my driveway would stop me. This was to be my last long run before my half-marathon on October 16th, so I really needed to get out there and get it done.

It was cold enough for me to abandon the running shorts in favour of my longer fall-weather running pants. I stuck to the short-sleeved tech shirt, but added a lightweight running jacket. Although the sun was not shining, I wore my hat: the peaked cap is a great way to keep rain out of my eyes. I stocked my fuel belt, cued my music, laced up my shoes, and hit the road for a 20km run.

Sometime during the second kilometre, I became aware that the gentle rain had intensified, and that raindrops were now hitting my face from the side, hard enough to feel like tiny little pellets. By the time I had completed 5km, I was running in a torrential downpour. The wind was buffeting me from side to side and I was wishing that I had brought my gloves. Worst of all, my socks were squelching inside my running shoes. I had to stop twice to pour water out of my shoes.

Still, I soldiered on. People driving by in their cars were looking at me with astonishment, as if to say, “You’re running in this?” I felt validated when, in the fifteenth kilometre or so, I saw a fellow runner braving the elements. It always helps to know that I’m not alone in my running insanity.

After more than two hours of running, I came to a stop in my driveway, having run my allotted 20km. My hands were so cold that I struggled to fish my front door key out of my pouch. Fortunately, my five-year-old son was waiting just inside the door for my return, so he spared me the necessity of actually having to unlock the door myself.

Twenty-four hours later, I am still hurting. My legs are chock-full of lactic acid, and my left ankle is aching. I feel as if I will never walk normally again (I will, of course, be fine by tomorrow).

There are those who wonder why I put myself through this, what possesses me to go out in dreadful weather conditions for the privilege of having sore legs for the next two days.

Part of it is the joy of the sport, the sense of freedom that comes with being out on the open road, the “Runners High”, and the sense of accomplishment when the run has been completed.

Part of it is that I don’t have a naturally fast metabolism like some people, and if I don’t stay active I fall out of shape very quickly. Running is the only form of exercise that really works for me.

The biggest part of it, though, is that I’m doing it for my kids. In two weeks, I am lacing up for my third annual Run for Autism. All funds that I can raise leading up to this event will go straight to the Geneva Centre for Autism, to be used for much-needed services for children and youth with autism.

It is services like the ones provided by the Geneva Centre that have helped my son achieve phenomenal things in the four years since he was diagnosed with autism. In order to see a continuation of the progress, we need a continuation of the funding. This facility really does help people with autism to touch the stars, while also providing support for their siblings and parents.

Ultiimately, I run so that I can do my own small part in making the world a better place for my children. I think that’s a pretty darned good reason to go running in the wind and the rain every now and then.

To sponsor me for my half-marathon, please visit my fundraising page. All sponsorships are being matched by a donor who wishes to remain anomymous, so any funds raised will be doubled!

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/13013135@N00/5879848337. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

Autism: Running To A Better Future

4 Sep

Running in the 2010 event - I want this one to be even better!

Six weeks to go…

As of today, I have precisely six weeks to do two things: first, to get myself into good enough physical shape to put in a half-decent showing at a half-marathon, and second, to raise a thousand bucks.

On October 16th, I will be participating in my third annual Run For Autism. I am joining the Charity Challenge at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon/Half-Marathon/5K. I will be running the half-marathon, any funds I can raise in sponsorships or donations will go directly to the Geneva Centre for Autism.

My stated goal on my fundraising page is $500, but I am really hoping to raise at least $1000.

There’s just one problem: I’m not really pushy enough to be a good fundraiser. I suffer from social anxiety, and I have a hard enough time talking to people about things in general. When I have the added pressure of asking for money, that makes things so much harder. So usually I send out fundraising emails to people who I think might be receptive to the idea of forking out a few dollars. While my fundraising efforts have, in the past, had reasonable enough results, I cannot help thinking that I would be better at this if I was just a different kind of person.

This year, I am trying to be more pushy assertive about making my sponsorship requests. I have sent out my fundraising email to people I actually know, and now I am appealing to you, the general Internet public, to consider sponsoring me for this run.

I would appreciate, and so would the children and youth with autism who would benefit from expanded services – services that can be a crucial part in helping people with autism become integral, economically active parts of their communities.

My son George, who is almost eight, would appreciate it. He has an entire future ahead of him, and the quality of that future could have a lot to do with the services he has access to now.

To sponsor me, please visit my fundraising page.

(That wasn’t too pushy, was it?)

(Photo credit to the author)

95 Days And 6 Hours

13 Jul

95 days and 6 hours to go…

In 95 days and 6 hours, my heart will be racing and my adrenaline will be pumping.  I will be filled with nervous energy, and all of my senses will be on high alert, even though I probably will not have slept for a week.

In 95 days and 6 hours, I will be one of 20,000 runners waiting for the starters gun to go off, signalling the beginning of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and Half-Marathon.

In 95 days and 6 hours, I will start my Run for Autism – the race that I do for my son George, who is my inspiration and my reason for running. My son, who has taught me so much about myself, about life, about the things that really matter. My son, who I love so much that I sometimes think my heart will explode.

Up until now, I have had a poor season of training. A variety of illnesses, extreme weather conditions and family emergencies has conspired against me. Not to mention the not-so-small matter of getting married. I did succeed in running an 8km race in the Spring, but I have had to blow off not one but two half-marathons since then, because I have just not been ready for them. I have tried to follow some kind of regular training regimen, and I have been running just enough to keep up some kind of conditioning, but my training has been very much a stop-start kind of thing.

Until now.

Over the weekend, I gathered together pen and paper, the list of races I am registered for between now and my Autism Run, and my calendar. Thus armed, I plotted out a training program, a path to get me from here to there. It is a program that will work. By the time I’m done, I will be able to run the distance and run it well, as long as I stick with it.

My impediment is not lack of discipline. If I have a run scheduled, there are very few things that will deter me. From time to time I may have to shift a run to another time, or even to the following day, but if my schedule tells me to run, then I will run.

The only thing stopping me – barring unforeseen emergencies – is my health. It hasn’t been so great lately. I have been tired, run down, and prone to getting sick. Conventional running wisdom dictates that it is safe to run with a cold as long as all symptoms are above the neck, but practical experience has taught me that it is not a good idea. It might be perfectly safe, but it knocks my immune system down a few notches so that it takes me longer to recover.

So the way I see it, the one thing standing between me and my ability to totally rock this year’s race is my health. If my health is good, my training will take care of itself.

With that in mind, I have a plan. This is all stuff that I really should be doing anyway, but if planning it is what it will take, then so be it.

Here are some promises that I am making to myself (and we all know that it’s wrong to break a promise, regardless of who it’s made to):

I promise that I will hydrate myself properly, and not only during my training runs. And not only with coffee.

I promise that I will take my vitamins every day, because I definitely feel healthier when I do.

I promise that I will see a nutritionist, because my diet is one area where my self-control goes to the birds.

I promise that I will try harder (and “try” is the best I can do at this point) to get more sleep so that I am not literally running on the smell of an oil rag.

Four promises. Anyone can keep four promises, right? And they’re not even hard promises, with the possible exception of the last one.

I can do this. I can totally do this.

In 95 days and 6 hours, I will be ready.