Tag Archives: 10km

On The Road Again

13 Mar

I have made no secret of the fact that lately, my running has not really been up to snuff. Due to a combination of factors – illness, hospitalization of the kid, atrocious winter weather, wedding planning chaos, and the fact that I turn into a pathetic crybaby every winter – it has been hard for me to get out for my runs. For a couple of months I was going great guns on the treadmill at the gym, but I reached the saturation point with that, after which I just couldn’t stomach the thought of the treadmill.

I have fallen a little bit out of shape – not drastically so, just enough for me to be aware of my hamstrings when I’m running up hills.

That in itself does not bother me. I have been running for long enough to know that from time to time, life just gets in the way and interrupts that training program. It’s not the end of the world. Sooner or later I always get back into it, and I find that my loss of fitness and speed are negligible.

This time, though, something different happened. I started losing my enthusiasm for running, and that was absolutely alarming. To not want to run, to not need to run, is so foreign to who I am. Losing my love of running would be like losing a piece of myself, and I was determined not to let that happen.

And so, this morning – despite the time change that cost me an hour of sleep and created its usual confusion, I got up and prepared to join my running club for the Sunday run. I last ran with them about three weeks ago. Truth be told, I last ran at all about three weeks ago. I was feeling a little bit daunted at the prospect of running with people who were no doubt going to be in better shape than me.

Here’s the thing that got me going though: I actually felt excited. I was looking forward to getting out there and going for a run in the open air with friends.

There were three of us running today – all women (Where were the guys? It was such a lovely day for running.) We decided on a 10km jaunt through a park that none of us had been in since before the snow started.

Yikes. I haven’t run 10km for weeks. I have done some insanely fast 5km and 6km runs, but not 10km.

There were hills. I haven’t run hills for weeks.

As runs go, it was not my most stellar performance. I didn’t pace myself properly, and in the last 3km or so I could feel a blister starting to blossom on my right foot.

But I finished the run. My butt muscles were hurting and I was exhausted, but I finished. That completely trumped the fact that the run was a tough one.

I feel like I am back on the road, and even though I’m hurting this evening, I feel great.

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2011: Aiming for 1:59:59

30 Dec

Today is the first anniversary of my pinched nerves.  I am almost tempted to go out and buy a cake with one candle, in recognition of the day I went to the chiropractor and left with a bundle of pinched nerves in my neck and going down my left arm, that put me out of action for three months.  I would not want to celebrate the incident itself, but the fact that I got through it and am now in the process of planning out my 2011 running season.  Or maybe I just want cake and I cannot come up with a better excuse.

Either way, I am oddly superstitious about this day.  I feel that if I can get through today without incident, I will be fine.  I just have to avoid walking under ladders and avoid the cracks in the sidewalk.  I am planning a treadmill run at the gym later on, on the assumption that I am not tempting fate.

Be that as it may, my running has taken a little bit of a dive over the last few weeks.  I had a bout of bronchitis that sidelined me for three weeks, and getting back into it has been surprisingly difficult.  It’s not that I’m in bad physical shape.  It’s that I came back from my illness setting ridiculous paces at the start of my runs that I can only sustain for 5km or so.  I’ve always been perfectly happy to start slow and build up to my target pace.  Why the sudden need to be a speed demon?  It’s not like I’m winning the Olympic Marathon anytime soon.

My poor pacing has the effect of making me feel a bit despondant about my running.  I fade at the fifth or sixth kilometre, and one of two things happens.  Either I finish my planned distance a lot more slowly than intended.  Or I simply cut the run short.  Neither scenario goes well with my psyche.  Both make me feel like I have a big red L on my forehead.

It is time now for me to pick myself up, dust myself off, and start running again properly.  That means proper planning, proper pacing, proper nutrition, and not being too lazy to take five minutes to stretch at the end of each run.

I have just gone online to order the 2011 Runners World calendar.  This calendar is amazing.  It has gorgeous photographs of “Rave Runs” – beautiful trails and paths that people run on.  It has race listings, running tips, inspirational quotes, and space to plan.  Simply having this thing on my wall on 2010 has been a great motivator for me.

Now I am planning my racing calendar for the year.  I am going to start out this coming Saturday, New Years Day, with the Running Room Resolution Run.  This is really more of a fun run than a race.  It is not chip timed, and I don’t even think the course is officially certified for the distance.  But that’s OK.  What better way could there be for a struggling runner to start off the new year?

My next racing event will be Harry’s Spring Run-Off on April 2nd.  It is only 8km, but the location – High Park – has so many big hills that it will feel like 10km.  I am doing this race specifically to have hills to train for.  I need the discipline, and when I am registered for races, I am actually pretty good at sticking to the right kinds of training programs for them.  Here is a promo video for the race.

Usually I would do the Sporting Life 10K down Yonge Street on the first Sunday in May, but since I am getting married the day before this year’s event, I should probably give it a miss for 2011.  So my next run will be the Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon in Sunnybrook Park.  I am really looking forward to this, not only because a fellow member of my running club is running it with me, but because the water station manned by shirtless firefighters.  Not to mention the chocolate station.

After that, I will do either the Acura Ten-Miler (which I hated in 2010, and feel the need to conquer) or the Midsummer Nights Run 15km (follows the same course as the Ten-Miler, so it will be just as much of a victory).

In late September I will do one of my favourite runs ever – the 10km Oasis Zoo Run.  I had a blast at this event a couple of months ago, and it has earned a permanent place in my annual racing calendar.  I cannot find a promo video for it, but here’s a montage of pictures I found of the 2009 event.

Then, on October 16th, I will run in what is by far the most important event in my race calendar.  It is the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon, and this is my reason for running.  This is my Run for Autism, the race I do for my son George who has autism, and his little brother James, who is experiencing the challenges of being sibling to a child with autism.  This event is loaded with emotional meaning for me.  Every step I take is for my boys, these beautiful people without whom my life would be empty.  Here is a nice video showing some highlights of the 2010 event.

I have a lofty goal for this year: to break two hours for the half-marathon.  That means shaving 22 minutes off my best time.  I’m going to have to train my ass off.  Literally.  With the amount of training I will have to do, I have no doubt that part of my ass will indeed come off.  Which is a good thing.

Anyway. I am excited about the new year.  Just planning it out is helping me break out of this funk I am in.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone all the best for 2011.  Aim high and whatever you want to achieve, go for it.

The Running Man – continuing the legacy

6 Dec

Six years ago today, my Dad died.  Dad had been many things to many people.  He was many things to me – in addition to being my Dad, he was friend, financial advisor, giver of wise advice, and provider of corny but very, very funny jokes.  He was also my unofficial running coach.

Dad grew up in a small town in South Africa.  In his early years, he was raised by his mother while his father fought in World War II.  The war split the family apart; my grandparents divorced, and although my grandmother remarried, the new union did not create financial stability.  Dad and his siblings were fed and sheltered, but there was only money for the bare necessities; certainly no luxuries.  His childhood was probably typical of the late war and immediate post-war years.

Dad did well in school, academically outperforming most of his peers.  There was no money for university, so he had to get his education in the School of Hard Knocks.  At some point in his youth, possibly when he was fresh out of school and newly employed at the bottom of the totem pole, he joined an athletic club.  He was physically fit out of necessity, having had a childhood where he had to walk or bike everywhere.   He started entering races, running longer and longer distances.  And he started winning.

In the days before there were heart rate monitors, motion control shoes, and online training programs, Dad made an impact on the South African running scene, distinguishing himself as one of the elites of his generation.  I have a folder full of newspaper clippings featuring his victories, and my Mom’s display cabinet at home contains medals and trophies.

Dad never tried to push me into running – far from it.  In my school days, I was hardly a poster child for athleticism.  But still, the sport of running always held a fascination for me.  Every year starting from when I was twelve or thirteen, there was one particular day when Dad and I would get up before six in the morning and spend the entire day riveted to the TV.  That was the day of the annual Comrades Marathon, South Africa’s premier ultramarathon.   It is the world’s oldest ultramarathon and draws more registrants than any other event of its kind.  Dad and I would watch the start, we would be watching when the first runners completed the 55 mile race about five and a half hours later, and we would still be watching when the final gun went off signalling the end of the eleven hours that runners were allowed to complete the race in.  Most years, Mom would be in the kitchen baking cookies.  She said it was the one day of the year when she could any baking done without the entire family getting under her feet.

I made my own personal acquaintance with running when I was 26.  I had decided to give up my ten-year smoking habit, and was preparing by taking on healthy lifestyle habits.  My first runs weren’t really runs.  They were walks with the occasional burst of running here and there.  But soon, with Dad’s help, I was following a program of walking and running that slowly but surely built me up.  Before I knew it, I was running and walking in equal proportions, and soon after that, the running overtook the walking.

I did not run my first race until I was 30, and that year, I did a 5K, a 10K and a half-marathon.  Out of all of these races, the one that is by far the most special to me is the 10K.  Sure, the half-marathon was a tremendous accomplishment, and as soon as it was over, I was on the phone to my Dad in South Africa, telling him all about it.  Earlier that year, however, Mom and Dad had been over to Canada on a visit, and they were there with me when I ran my first 10K race.  It is the only race that Dad was physically present at, where I crossed the finish line and saw him on the other side.

During those years of running, Dad gave me countless pieces of advice.  He coached and mentored me.  He told me what I doing right and where I was going wrong.  He was thrilled to have a receptive audience for his running-related wisdom.

By the time I started running again after my seven-year gap, Dad was gone.  But his words lived on in my head, and when I find myself hitting a rough spot either in a training run or a race, I say to myself, “What would Dad do?”  I draw on his advice time and time again – advice about everything from nutrition to shoes to running form and pacing.

Every time I run, I think of Dad.  Sometimes, when my energy starts to flag, I feel a sudden burst of energy, as if something unseen is lifting me up and helping me soar.  And so the legacy of the Running Man in my life lives on.  I am proud that I can call myself his daughter.

Running into 2011

18 Nov

2010 did not start off well for me, especially from a running perspective.  As I rang in the New Year with Gerard, I was high on Percocet that was barely making a dent in the pain I was in.  Two days previously, a chiropractic adjustment had gone horribly wrong, and damaged a bundle of nerves in my neck and going all the way down my left arm. For the next six weeks or so, I was in unspeakable pain.  The next few weeks were a blur of doctor’s visits, emergency room visits, nights of crying myself to sleep in agony, and many, many drugs. A series of physiotherapy appointments gradually got me back on my feet, and almost three months after the original injury, I was finally allowed to try running again.

The first post-injury run did not go well. I was only able to run for about one kilometre, and it took more than eight minutes.  I kept getting shooting pains going up and down my left arm and I had to keep stopping for walk breaks. The following day I needed about an hour of intense physiotherapy. But I was officially on the road again. I had graduated from injury status to rehabilitation status. My next run two days later was a lot better, and from that point on, the improvement was exponential.  Still, it would be several months before I could say that my rehabilitation was complete.  Even now, I get the occasional twinge in my arm, which I am trying to resolve with the help of a sports massage therapist.

Despite the rough start to the year and the hammering that my average pace took as a result, I ended up having a busy running season. Here is a list of the races I took part in:
– Early April: 10km waterfront race in Pickering. It went OK, especially considering that this was just two weeks after I had started running again.
– Early May: Sporting Life 10K down Yonge Street. I enjoyed this event and I was happy with my time of 1:05:00. Sadly, though, when I got home from the race I got word that my friend and fellow writer Tim had lost his battle with cancer.
– Late May: Whitby half-marathon. Despite some pre-race concerns about the organization of this event, it went really well. Gerard and the kids, along with some extended family, were cheering for me at the finish line.  My time was just over 2:25:00. This was just over two months after my first post-injury run – I was thrilled just to be able to finish a race of that distance.
– Mid-July: Acura Ten-Miler in the Distillery District. The less said about this, the better. It was not my finest moment. Life had gotten in the way of training, the course was mentally challenging and offered almost no shelter from the midsummer sun, and I pulled a hamstring. I finished the race in less than two hours, which is a miracle considering all that was wrong that day.
– Late September: the main event – my 2010 Run for Autism, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon. I cannot put into words the emotional high I was on when I crossed the finish line. It was phenomenal.  I managed a negative split, and beat my time from the previous year by a full six minutes.
– Mid-October: 10km zoo run. I did this race purely for the fun of it.  I had no expectations whatsoever.  I had an absolute blast and got a respectable enough time of 1:06:00 to boot.

All in all, not a bad year.  I put in almost 90km in races, and hundreds more in training.  I overcame a debilitating injury that I had at one point feared would sideline me for good, and I am looking forward to another great season in 2011.

So what does next year’s race calendar have in store for me?  I will start with the Resolution Run on New Years Day – just a fun 5km event that’s not even officially timed, but that does throw in a nice running jacket with the race kit. After that, I’m thinking of doing an 8km race in High Park in early April.  There are lots of hills in High Park, and they’re big hills.  It will be a tough run, but it will force me to be disciplined about hill training.

I have to give the Sporting Life 10K a miss because it’s happening the day after I get married.  I don’t think my new husband will be too pleased if I jump out of bed to go to a race at six in the morning.

At the end of May I will be running the Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon. They have a chocolate station and a water station manned by hunky shirtless firefighters.  I will be a married woman by then, but I am still a woman.  And chocolate is chocolate and shirtless firefighters are nice eye candy.

I’ll skip the Acura Ten-Miler, because my experience with it last year was enough to put a huge mental block to it in my head.  I am thinking about the Midsummer Night’s Run 15K instead, but that follows most of the same route.  I may have to figure out a summer race later on.  I may even have to find one I need to travel to.

At the end of September I will do the 10K zoo run again.  I had way too much fun to even consider missing that.  And then, in October, it will be time for my 2011 Run for Autism.  I have big plans for that – to break two hours.  That will mean chopping at least 22 minutes off of this year’s time, and that’s a massive chunk.  But I am nothing if not ambitious, and assuming I don’t start the year with an injury, I think it might be possible.  Especially since I am doing it for my boys.

There is no time for slacking.  Right after the Resolution Run on January 1st, I will be diving straight back into training mode.

Fishing for runners

18 Oct

A decade ago, when I was training for my first-ever race (a 5K, if memory serves), my Dad taught me how to fish for runners. You start at an easy pace, he said, and you don’t allow yourself to be deterred by the hordes of people passing you. When you pass the halfway mark, you pick a target: a runner far ahead of you who you can set your sights on. You gradually reel in the runner and eventually pass them. And then you pick a new victim to fish for, and you keep doing this until you have about five hundred meters to go, at which point you just go hell-for-leather until you cross the finish line.

In his prime, my Dad was one of the top marathoners – and for a time, ultramarathoners – in South Africa. I had a great deal of respect for the running advice he gave me. I used the technique of fishing for runners in my first half-marathon, back in 2001, and it worked like a charm.

Dad was my unofficial coach. Even though he lived on the other side of the world, he was always giving me snippets of advice that ranged from, “Shorten your stride and keep a straight posture going up hills” to, “Bring your own toilet paper to races because the portajohns tend to run out”. He taught me that hydrating in short, frequent bursts is better than gulping down sixteen ounces of water every five kilometres. He took one look at me after the one race he saw me in (a 10K in North York) – he saw the fine layer of salt covering my skin and turning my clothes white – and told me to ditch Gatorade and get a better electrolyte source. He taught me how to shop for running shoes, and explained why good socks are almost as vital as good shoes.

By the time I returned to running after a seven-year gap, Dad was no longer with us.  When I was out on my Sunday long runs, and when I was running my first half-marathon in eight years in considerably less than stellar shape, I had to rely on memories of what Dad had told me. I missed him bitterly on the day of my first Run for Autism, just over a year ago. I did not get to call him for a pre-race pep talk. I was not able to imagine talking to him on the phone later, going through a post-mortem of the race. I was so anxious about simply finishing the race that I found following any kind of a strategy difficult.  I knew, however, that he would be immensely proud of me, and that was enough.

Throughout this running season that is just drawing to a close, I have felt Dad’s presence from time to time. I have remembered more and more of what he told me, and I have read through his old training logs for tips and ideas, and for general inspiration. And then, on Saturday, something weird happened.

I was registered for a 10K run at the zoo.  Initially, I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to run it: it was just three weeks after a half-marathon that left me walking funny for days. I had not really gotten back into proper training since the half-marathon, and I figured that this would be a problem because there are a lot of hills at the zoo. So I went in with absolutely no expectations of myself.  My plan was to just finish the run and enjoy myself.

About two kilometres into the run, I found myself getting frustrated by slower runners ahead of me.  The road was just too narrow for me to pass them; I was waiting for an opportunity to slip by them and surge ahead. All of a sudden I heard Dad’s voice in my head: “What’s the rush?”

“It’s a race,” I pointed out (in my head, of course.  I haven’t quite reached the point of conversing with my deceased father out loud).

“Sure, it’s a race,” said the voice of Dad’s wisdom, “but you have 8K to go. You’ll get your chance a couple of kilometres from now, when the runners are more spread out.”

“But I feel good,” I argued. “I want to go faster.”

“Trust me. You’ll thank me for this later.”

I briefly debated whether to listen to my own actual voice, or the imagined voice of a man who passed away almost six years ago. Imagined voice, I decided.  If there is an afterlife, and if Dad is making the effort to coach me during a race from the Beyond, the least I can do is listen and give it a try.

I approached the first hill of the run, and thought, “Uh oh.”  From way back in the past, Dad’s hill mantra came back to me. “Shorten your stride. Keep your spine straight. Focus your vision on the crest of the hill.” Because I followed the mantra, and because I hadn’t burned off all my energy five hundred metres previously by barrelling past the slower runners, I made it to the top of the hill without even slowing my pace. As it turned out, I passed a number of runners going up the hill.  “Thanks Dad,” I said mentally. “Told you so,” he replied.

Before I knew it, I was running over the timing mats at the halfway point. I was feeling good and enjoying the scenery. Suddenly, Dad was back, as if he’d just popped off to see the lions. “Speed up,” he said. “Where do you think you are, a picnic?”

“Cripes, Dad, you were just telling me there was no rush,” I grumbled.

“That was then,” he said, cryptically. “It’s time to fish.”

I looked up and scanned the runners ahead of me. “The one with ears,” said Dad.  This would have startled me if I hadn’t seen, just in my range of vision, a runner wearing a pair of rabbit ears on his head (one thing about a run at the zoo is that people get creative about what they’re wearing).

Rabbit Ears turned out to be the perfect point of focus for me. By now, the runners were spread out enough for me to pass without impediment. I picked up the pace and bit by bit, I closed in on Rabbit Ears. When he slowed for a drink at the water station, I zoomed on past (another bit of advice from Dad: always take your own water to a race to reduce the number of times you have to slow down at an aid station).

My next victim was a woman wearing a bright red shirt boasting the words, “Toenails are for sissies”.  Once I got past her, I set my sights on a man with some kind of turban on his head, followed by a man wearing a pair of butterfly wings. Throughout all of this, my legs were feeling strong, I was enjoying every step of the run, and I was running up and down the hills with not a care in the world. With five hundred metres to go, Dad had one last piece of advice: “Pretend they’ve let the lions out after you.”

I pretended the lions were after me, and sprinted to the end.  I crossed the finish line feeling strong. I missed my personal best time for the distance by about a minute, and I was OK with that. My personal best was set on an all-downhill course; I performed a lot better here at the zoo and felt stronger at the end.  From the perspective of pacing, race strategy, and running mechanics, this was my best race since my return to running.

Thanks, Dad!

Stop the world, I need to breathe!

8 May

To say that the last week has been a bit eventful would be like saying Hitler was a bit aggressive.  It’s either feast or famine in my life.  Things will chug along, same-old-same-old, for weeks at a time, with nothing changing and nothing really newsworthy happening.  Then all of a sudden, I will have several weeks’ worth of events will flock to me like mosquitoes flock to my husband (seriously, bugs love him and for the most part, avoid me.  Why is that?)

Last Sunday I ran a race, the Sporting Life 10K in downtown Toronto.  It was a phenomenal event featuring more than 14,000 runners and superb race organization.  The logistics of planning something that involves that many people must be akin to a nightmare, but these guys pulled it off flawlessly.  The run itself was a lot of fun.  The route was easy, downhill most of the way, and the weather was perfect.  The predicted thundershowers failed to materialize, but the cloud cover and the gentle breeze were in evidence.  I completed the run in 1:05:00 – fast enough for a personal best time for the distance, but still leaving plenty of room for more personal best times in the future.

A quick word about something Gerard did for me before the race.  When he and James dropped me off at the start line, I gave James a kiss, and then went round to the back of the van to pick up my bag.  Only to see that Gerard had propped up a framed picture of my Dad next to my bag.  Dad, who died five years ago, was also a runner – one of the best in South Africa at his prime – and this was Gerard’s way of telling me that Dad was with me.  I was so touched, it brought tears to my eyes.

Several hours after the race, I started feeling a little off.  I figured that I had pushed myself on the run, not eaten soon enough afterwards, and consumed way too much coffee.  Feeling a little sick made complete sense to me.  But then – there’s no polite way to describe this, really – I started tossing my cookies.  Big time, for several hours.  Many hours, in fact.  Until 4:00 the following morning.  Even when there were no cookies left, the cookies continued to be tossed.  It was clear that I had a bug.  I had felt fine for the run – perhaps the bug was lurking there in the corner, just waiting for its moment to arrive.  Although the throwing-up incidents came to an end after about sixteen hours, I felt weak and drained for several days.

On Sunday afternoon, about an hour after I started feeling sick, I heard from Robert, the brother of my friend Tim.  Tim, who had recently been diagnosed with stomach cancer, had passed away.  Tim and I were friends for years.  We wrote columns for the same e-zine, and Tim was my unofficial tech support guy.  When George was diagnosed with autism, Tim was the guy who recognized my need for an outlet; a place to write and vent about autism and what my family was going through.  He gave me a forum to do so, and he was supremely supportive of everything – my parenting, my running, my writing.  He was also one of the funniest people I’ve ever known.

Fast forward to Thursday afternoon.  I was sitting at work, an hour away from going to the Keg with a few of my coworkers to bid farewell to someone who was leaving to go and live in Abu Dhabi.  I had resolved to drink nothing but water at the Keg – I was still feeling mild effects from the weekend stomach bug.  Work was going smoothly enough, when I got a phonecall from George’s therapy centre.  The news was good and bad.  The good news is that they wanted to put George into something called the school stream.  Instead of receiving one-on-one therapy, he would be in a simulated classroom environment with four other children.  The concept sounded good but the timing sounded bad.  When I expressed the opinion that George would not be ready for this by the proposed start date of September, I was told that if he continued with his one-on-one therapy, he would most likely be discharged in December.  Meaning that by January, he would be thrown full-time into a school system that he is nowhere near ready for.  The one day a week of school that he does get is challenging enough.  What this whole conversation left me with is the feeling that I am having to make a critical decision that could make or break George.  It’s like playing Russian Roulette with my child’s future.  What I decided, there and then, was that we had to fight as hard as we needed to to get the best for George.  Thanks to the advice of someone I know who has been through these fights for her own son and knows the system backwards, I was able to tone down some of the anger and gloves-off fighting attitude that I would have gone in with.

I didn’t only drink water at the Keg that afternoon.

On Friday morning, Gerard and I had a meeting at the therapy centre.  We got to see the classroom that is used for the school stream kids, and we were allowed to observe proceedings.  We asked a ton of questions, and got a clearer picture of the program.  In school stream, a teacher works with a group of five children in a mock classroom setting.  Each of the five kids still has a one-on-one support staff member with them, to prompt them as needed.  It’s kind of like a cross between what George is getting now and school.  The whole idea is get kids used to the idea of following school routines, walking in line, participating in class discussion.  In essence, school stream prepares kids for full-time school.  It’s a half-day program; for the other half-day, the kids are in fact in school.  That aspect of the program is simply to get the kids used to being at a real school every day, even if it’s just for a couple of hours.

Here’s what sold us on this program: social communication.  That is George’s single biggest challenge – one that, by its very nature, one-on-one therapy cannot really address.  The school stream program could be hugely beneficial to George from that aspect alone.  The whole thing is based on group interaction and the need to communicate and participate.  The program typically lasts for a year, but if the child needs it for longer, it can be extended.  It includes regular speech therapy, occupational therapy, and social communication workshops.

We said yes.  On seeing the program in action and getting all the facts, it does seem like the right thing to do.  It is the next logical step in this roadmap that is George’s life, and I am excited about the potential it has for him.  He will be continuing with his current program until September, and then switching to school stream in September.

After this was all sorted out, Gerard and I went on to James’ school where there was another occasion for us to attend.  James is a new inductee to the school system, having just started Junior Kindergarten last September.  With a Christmas birthday, he is the youngest and smallest kid in his class.  He needed special nurturing in the beginning, and his teacher, Mr. T., took him under his wing.  James adored his teacher, who was popular with the entire student body: he doubled as the school librarian and frequently gave the kids a break on their late fees.

In December Mr. T., who had recently celebrated his thirtieth birthday, contracted pneumonia and died.  It was a huge shock for everyone; I found myself with the task of explaining the meaning of this to a kid who was still a couple of weeks away from his fourth birthday.  I had to try and make him understand that Mr. T. loved him very much, but was never coming back.  Over the last few months, James has dealt with alternating cycles of grief, denial, and acceptance.

On Friday, he got to say goodbye.  The school put together a memorial assembly, a celebration of life in honour of Mr. T.  James and his classmates sang a song called “It’s a Great Day”, a cheerful song that Mr. T. would have approved of.  My heart swelled with pride and my eyes filled with tears.  There were more songs performed by other classes, quotes, a wonderful slideshow.  I had the honour of meeting Mr. T.’s family – his wonderful parents, brother, and partner.  Will this be effective closure for James?  Only time will tell.

So now I am in a state of exhaustion and very heightened emotion.  I feel overwhelmed and a little stressed.  I know that I just need to give myself time to wind down from all of these happenings.  I am sure tomorrow’s 19km training run will help!

Against the wind

28 Apr

Preparations for my weekday runs usually involve a great deal of stealth.  I wake up at five in the morning, and then sneak around in my own house, getting dressed as silently as possible.  There’s a lot of tiptoeing and feeling my way around in order to avoid alerting the short people to the fact that I’m actually awake.  It’s dark and I look like a burglar.  Once I’m dressed, I make my way to the front door in my socks, grab my shoes, and leave.  I close and lock the door behind me as quietly as possible, and then put my ear up against the door to listen to the blissful sound of silence coming from within.  Now that I have successfully made my escape, I put on my shoes, plug in my music, fiddle with buttons on my training watch, and set off.

If the kids wake up at any point during this process, I can say goodbye to my run. They tend to be somewhat Mommy-centric in the mornings (if they wake up and I’m already gone, Daddy is an acceptable substitute; but if they wake up while I’m there, they want me and only me). On those days, I tend to their needs and then get ready for work, staring wistfully at my pile of discarded running clothes.  In general, though, I have become very good at the art of stealth.  I could probably give James Bond a run for his money, except that I can’t fire a gun, I don’t have any fancy gadgets in my car, and I like my martinis stirred, not shaken.

Anyway, yesterday I was able to go for a run at a normal time of the day, without the stealth factor.  I was working from home, which meant that I had an extra two hours – time that is usually spent commuting.  So I got up at a time of day considered by most people to be reasonably civilized, offloaded James at his daycare, and returned home to work.  I planned my day’s activities around an early afternoon run, which would have me back by the time George got home from the therapy centre.

Halfway through the morning, though, I was not so sure about this plan.  I had been steadily working through the morning, and had gradually become aware that the house was feeling a bit stuffy, like a vacuum cleaner’s armpit (to borrow a phrase from comedic author Douglas Adams).  I poured a cup of coffee and went out onto the back deck, where I almost got blown away by a gust of wind.  If I’d had an umbrella I would have been like Mary Poppins.

I don’t mind a bit of a breeze, but I hate wind.  I can handle just about any other weather condition, but wind makes me intensely irritable.  It blows my hair everywhere, makes my ears hurt, and generally sets me on edge.  I will not forego a training run because of rain or snow, but I must confess that I have rescheduled runs because I just didn’t want to run in the wind.  So when I went outside yesterday and stood there in the wind, I seriously questioned whether I really wanted to go running in that.

I quickly got a hold of myself, though.  I have a 10km race coming up this weekend – one that I’ve been looking forward to for weeks – and this is really not the week for me to be flaking out because of a little bit of wind.  I need to be well-conditioned this week; my limbs need to be loose and agile.  And besides, what I am going to do if it’s windy on race day?  Whine about how I don’t want my hair to get messed up?

So yesterday afternoon, I surfaced from my work and got ready to go running as planned.  I braced myself, opened the front door – and stepped out into a stunningly gorgeous afternoon.  The sun was shining and a light breeze was blowing – nothing like the gusty wind that had set my teeth on edge just four hours previously.  As I set off down the road, I could not believe that I had almost foregone this run.

It turned out to be fantastic.  The sun was gently touching my shoulders and the breeze was keeping me cool.  In the beginning I was taking it slow and easy; for the last two kilometres I was flying.  I was on a high for the rest of the day; the physical activity boosted my energy, and as always after a run, I felt a sense of accomplishment.

If I felt that great after a 5.5km training run, imagine how I will feel standing at the finish line of my run for autism.