Tag Archives: lifestyle

Better Running Starts With A Kitchen Makeover

28 Jan

My 2010 Run For Autism

Two days from now, my 2012 training season officially begins. Over the last couple of weeks, I have gone running a few times and learned how to do the strength training exercises that have been prescribed for me. I have been reading through the plethora of material provided in my Precision Nutrition kit. I have been trying to prepare myself for this season, mentally and physically.

This weekend sees the final push, the last preparations before I start my training program. It’s kind of like preparing for a trip. You spend weeks or months figuring out where you want to go and how you plan to get there. You sort out details like visas and passports, you make lists of what you want to take, you sort out someone to take care of the dog. And then, for two or three days prior to your departure, you rush around in a frenzy of activity, packing your bags and confirming all of the details.

To follow the analogy, I am now in the process of packing for the trip and doing all of that stuff that brings all of the prior planning together and ties it up in a neat bundle.

Here’s what my weekend has in store for me:

  • Today, my kitchen is getting a makeover. I am emptying out the cupboards and repacking them. I will finally throw away the baby bottles that have been lurking unused at the back of the top shelf for the last five years. Now that I have decent pots and pans, I can get rid of the old dented ones with chipped handles and thereby add valuable space to my tiny kitchen. The fridge will be organized in preparation for tomorrow’s grocery shopping trip.
  • Meals for the next two weeks will be planned.
  • I will make a list for said grocery shopping trip. I will buy what’s on the list, and only what’s on the list. The husband will not be permitted to add unauthorized items to the cart.
  • I will go through the training program that my friend and coach Phaedra has given me, and I will add all of my runs to my wall calendar. I will also schedule them on my Outlook calendar. Once they’re scheduled, they have to happen, right?
  • I will get my home workspace organized in a way that it will stay organized. This will make it easier for me to get things done in less time. When my space is cluttered, my mind is cluttered and that doesn’t help anyone.
  • I will finally put away the mountains of clean and folded laundry that I have everywhere. I spend ridiculous amounts of time digging around for clothing that I could find in five seconds if I was organized.

This is a lot to get through in one weekend, but I am excited about doing it. I even have an incentive: if I do all of these things, on Monday I will reward myself with a new pair of sports headphones I’ve had my eye on, and this will give me a wonderful musical experience when I’m running.

I am looking forward to making new starts in my life. I am looking to creating some desperately needed balance, and doing things for myself that will make me happier and healthier. I have been languishing for too long in this feeling of being overwhelmed by my life. It feels good to be taking action and making plans.

I intend to post weekly updates on my progress, every Saturday. Come with me as I embark on this journey. It may not always be easy, and I’ll need cheerleaders along the way!



A Runner Is Born

7 Mar

When I was sixteen, I started smoking due to peer pressure. Although I was not quite a pariah in high school, I was not exactly popular either. I was one of a handful of girls who who kind of hung around on the fringes while the pretty, popular, sociable ones traveled in packs. All my life I have suffered from social anxiety, and high school was, for me, a time filled with awkward social angst.

Many of the popular girls would go to parties and smoke. They made it look cool, like the thing cool kids do. And so, in a misguided attempt to fit in with this crowd, I started smoking too. Throughout the next decade, I made the occasional token attempt to quit, but these attempts were never really sincere. They were driven more by guilt than anything else.

It was a lot easier to be a smoker in those days. You could legally smoke just about anywhere: in bars and restaurants, in airports, in shopping malls. You could even smoke in the workplace, although out of respect for my non-smoking friend Gary, who sat in the workstation beside mine at the office, I refrained from smoking at my desk. If I wanted to light up, I went to the communal coffee area and smoked there.

Shortly after I turned 26, however, something in me changed. It was a something that would prompt me to try quitting for real. It was not a concern for my health, even though – as my parents pointed out to me many times as they desperately tried to get me to quit – several family members had died from smoking-related illnesses. It was not the cost, which even back then was astronomical. It was not the nagging to quit that my family and friends subjected me to (in fact, because I can be stubborn and perversely bloody-minded, the nagging was probably my biggest deterrent to quitting).

I simply woke up one morning and realized that I was tired of being a smoker.

That was all it took.

I knew that I was not the kind of person who would just be able to go cold turkey. And if I was going to quit, I wanted to do it properly, in a way that would ensure that I would never smoke again.

Common sense told me that in order to break the habit, I would need to replace it with something else. Instead of having a cigarette with my morning coffee, or after my meals, or during my work breaks, I would have to do something else. I also realized that my endeavours would be a lot more effective if I took steps to ensure that I wouldn’t actually want to smoke.

So instead of quitting there and then, I picked a date six months in advance and decided that I would quit then. I used the six months to prepare myself, mentally and physically.

I took up crossword puzzles, to get into the habit of doing something else with my hands, and also, quite frankly, with my mind.

I told everyone I knew that I was quitting and when, to ensure that I would be mortified by embarrassment if I didn’t follow through. This also had the advantage of securing support from friends and family.

I recruited a friend to quit on the same day as me, just so that I wouldn’t be doing it alone. I have since lost contact with that particular friend, but I have heard through the grapevine that he has quit several times since then.

Most importantly, I made changes to my general lifestyle. I tend to be an all-or-nothing kind of gal: if I was going to improve my lifestyle in one area, I might as well go all-out. So I cut back on the junk food and started eating fruit. I kicked the Coca Cola habit and switched to water. I couldn’t bring myself to give up coffee entirely, but I did go from eight cups a day to about three.

It was at this time of my life, while I was preparing myself to quit smoking, that I started running for the first time. To be fair, the term “running” is a little grand for what I was doing. Bear in mind that I hadn’t exercised in years. I was overweight and unhealthy, and the smoking had put ten years’ worth of crap in my lungs. When I started running, I was really putting in about thirty seconds of wheezy plodding for every ten minutes of walking.

My friend Gary (the same Gary for whom I had given up smoking at my desk), who happens to be a marathoner, said to me, “Some day you will be running races.” Gary was unbelievably supportive of my venture to quit and be healthy. While other people at the office were telling me that I would never quit, Gary had complete confidence that I would succeed. He gave me tips on improving my lifestyle, and he provided me with beginner training programs that would help me make the metamorphosis from “plodder who can barely put one foot in front of the other” to “runner”.

At the same time, I was drinking in advice from my Dad, who had been a marathon runner in his youth. He showed me how to pace myself, how to breathe while running, how to handle hills.

I gave up smoking on the day I had scheduled, almost fifteen years ago. I have not picked up a cigarette, or even had a craving since then.

One day, about four months after I had quit, I woke up and went for a run. By that time I was walking and running in more or less equal proportions. I would walk for five minutes and run for five minutes. I felt myself making progress, but I still didn’t really feel like a real runner.

Anyway, on this particular morning, I set out on my usual route, and I found myself focusing a lot more on how I was running. I set myself little targets: just get to that traffic light. Just run as far as that tree. You can make it past those apartment buildings. I gradually became aware that my breathing, which had always been a little jagged from all the years of smoking, was now regular and strong. I took stock of how my legs were feeling and realized that the gradual build-up of exercise had made me stronger.

Eventually, I looked at my watch, thinking that my first five minutes of running must have elapsed by now. I was stunned – for the first time ever, I had run for ten consecutive minutes without stopping, without even slowing down. I took a one-minute walking break, even though I didn’t feel as if I needed it, and then ran my second set of ten minutes just as effortlessly as the first.

That day, for the first time ever, I felt that I had earned the right to call myself a runner.

Mission: Not Impossible

13 Dec

After a brief absence from the Blogosphere, I am back.  Last week my employers sent me on a three-day training course that due to its reflective nature, left room for little else in my brain.  The course was a seminar version of Stephen Covey’s book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”.  I expected it to be like many corporate training programs I have been on – interesting but a little dry, high in metaphor but low in practicality.  What I did not expect was that I would walk out at the end of the three days with a personal mission statement, a seven-week plan for applying what I learned to my life, and an invigorating feeling of “Holy crap, I can really use this stuff to change my life!”

The first useful thing I got out of this course was the process of actually turning a behaviour into a habit.  If you do something every day, after 28 days or so, the brain will have laid down new neural pathways for that behaviour.  In other words, it will be a habit, something you can do without consciously thinking about it.  The trick is to maintain the behaviour for the first 28 days.  I’m testing out this theory with my vitamins.  I am notoriously bad at remembering to take them – which is why I am currently sick, unable to run, and officially going crazy.  I am going to make sure I take my vitamins every day for the next 26 days (because I’m already on Day Three of this particular habit).  By Day 28, I will be taking the vitamins without even thinking about it.  I will also be thinking proactively, setting goals, thinking win-win  and generally being a Highly Effective Person.  OK, that might take a bit longer than 28 days, since my seven-week plan involves focusing on one habit at a time.

Formulating the personal mission statement was a very interesting exercise.  I was asked to visualize myself at my 80th birthday party, and write down what tribute I would want the most important people in my life to pay to me at that time.  Once I had figured out what I want people to say about me towards the end of my life, I was able to think about what I would need to do – how I would need to live – to get to that point.  And from there, I could draw up my personal mission statement.  It was an emotionally intense exercise, because it was so reflective.  Not only was it reflective: I found myself reflecting on things that I am not necessarily comfortable thinking about.

In the end, though, I came up with a mission statement to live my life by.  The mission will be adjusted from time to time as circumstances in my life change, but the substance of it will pretty much stay the same.  My mission, from this point forward, is the following:

  • To nurture my children, and help pave the way for them to lead happy, fulfilling lives
  • To be one half of a synergistic whole in my marriage, and for the whole to not only be functional but fulfilled
  • To be someone my coworkers value, and to make my contributions to my team really count
  • To write
  • To take care of my body so that it can run many, many miles
  • To be true to myself, and to take care of myself
  • To overcome
When I turn 80, I want people to be able to say that I accomplished all of this.  And I want a big-ass cake.

Taming the Butterflies

23 Nov

Sometimes I wonder how I stayed sane before I started running again.  The answer, of course, is that I probably didn’t.  Several years ago things got kind of hectic in my life.  I left my job in a whirl of negativity on the same day that my Dad, on the other side of the world, started chemotherapy. Six weeks later he died, and my guilt about not having made it home in time to see him alive plunged me into depression.  A year later, my second son was born, and I learned the hard way that post-partum depression does, in fact, exist, no matter what nonsense Tom Cruise may have been spouting at the time. A year or so after that, we were hit with George’s autism diagnosis.

So for a period of three years or so, we were very unsettled.  As soon as we came to grips with one thing, something else would crop up and derail us again. And in those days, I didn’t have running. I had no means of escape, no way of letting off steam.  Anger, despair, and sadness reigned supreme in my household.

Several years on, I look back at those days and wonder how on earth I got through it all. How did I endure the stress, the confusion, and the absolute lack of self-esteem without blowing a gasket?  My life now is so different.  I have a job that I enjoy. I love being Mom to my two beautiful boys.  I am getting married next year (the day after the Royal Wedding, no less!) to the man who has been by my side for the last ten years.  I have rediscovered running.  I am, for the most part, happy.

For the last little while, though, a certain level of anxiety and nervousness has been creeping in.  It’s not all bad – it is attributable to the fact that I have been making decisions to make some changes in my life, to make things better, and to confront ghosts from the past. The destination that I am aiming for is positive, but the journey to get there is somewhat unnerving.

What this means is that I have entire herds of butterflies constantly jiving around in my belly. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind them being there.  Butterflies are lovely, and every healthy belly needs a few of them from time to time.  I just wish they weren’t breeding like rabbits, and I wish the little buggers would all dance to the same tune.  And I wish they were waltzing instead of breakdancing.

I get relief from this state of astonished nervousness when I run.  I am very focused as a runner.  When I’m on the road, I do not think about what’s going on in my life.  I think about what’s going on in my run.  How is my pace? Is my heart rate within range?  Does my body feel good enough for me to kick it up a notch or do I need to hold back?  Am I hydrated enough?  Do I need to take a gel?  And so on and so forth.  From time to time my thoughts drift into non-running-related territory, but they always come back to the running.

When all of this is going on, the butterflies don’t get much airtime.  They probably realize that no-one’s watching their manic performance, so they lie down and take a nap.  For whatever reason, when I am running, the butterflies are still.  I feel a sense of calm that is almost surreal. I always know that as soon as I stop running, the butterflies will wake up again, but in the moment, the lack of nervous agitation is a beautiful thing.

At the end of the day, though, I find that I have to embrace the nervousness, because it is symbolic of positive change. To cross the finish line, you have to run the race, even if the road you travel on takes you past places you weren’t sure you wanted to go.

Rude awakenings

12 Nov

Yesterday, my day got off to a bad start. There had been a power cut at some point during the night, so my alarm got reset.  Which just proves that those old-fashioned alarm clocks with the annoyingly loud tick-tock sounds have merit. Anyway, what it meant was that I didn’t get up at five in the morning to go running. Instead, I woke with a jolt and discovered that it was 7:20 – roughly the time that I am usually getting onto the bus to get to work. I flew out of bed, frantically put on my clothes, attacked my head with a hairbrush, and randomly jabbed eyeliner and mascara in the general direction of my face.

I like adrenaline as much as the next person, but I don’t like a massive jolt of it first thing in the morning. As hard as it was for me, though, it was probably worse for James. Usually I wake him gently and slowly, and give him time to ease into the day before getting him up and dressed. This time, I went into his room, shook him gently by the shoulder, and hissed, “James! It’s time to wake up!” With that, I thrust his morning cup of milk into his hands and started shoving his arms and legs into his clothes before he’d even opened his eyes.  The poor kid was startled into compliance. Five minutes after he woke up, I was hustling him to the front door to get his socks and shoes on.  He started protesting, “Mommeeeeeeee! I want to sleep!”

I knew the feeling. Both of us went out into the world grumpy and barely awake, with our bodies quivering with misplaced adrenaline. It was not a great way to start the morning, but both of us got to where we needed to be, albeit somewhat later than usual.

My day didn’t really get into a groove, though. I felt displaced and dysfunctional, scattered and kind of agitated. I was the human version of a radio tuned to static, where nothing is clear or focused, and you expend all of your energy just trying to make sense of the noise.  I was glad when the day was done.

So far, today is going a lot better. I didn’t wake up in time to go running, but I got to work on time, without giving my child a rude awakening in the process. This evening after work, I will go for my run, and then settle into what will hopefully be a good weekend.

Creating order out of chaos

9 Nov

I have realized that in order to make my life less overwhelming, I need to clean house. Literally and metaphorically. I need to clear away some clutter, change some things, make things more organized, rearrange the way I do things.  All of this is causing some pretty intense anxiety.  I look around me at all of the things I need to change in order to make my life – well, livable – and the overriding thought in my head is, “Where the eff do I start???”  Just looking at the chaos that is my life makes my palms go sweaty and my heart rate increase. Fight or flight.  No wonder I want to run all time.

Part of the problem, of course, is not having the time to do just that.  To be honest, that’s really what most of this drive to change my life is about.  I want to have time to run without having to pick between that and sleep. Everything else kind of works out. I come to work, groceries get purchased, bills get paid (sometimes late, admittedly, but not very), homework gets supervised. When I run out of hours in the day, one of two things gets sacrificed: sleep or running.  I need both like I need oxygen, so I cannot do this anymore.  I have to get my life together so that I’m not making such ridiculous choices.

So I’ve decided to make a list. First to be sorted out, simply because it’s easiest, will be my physical space. My desks both at home and at work are far more chaotic than they need to be.  Part of it is that I am (I admit it) a naturally disorganized person.  Part of it is my fear of throwing anything out.  Hey, you never know! Someday I might need that piece of paper with squiggles drawn on it!  I’m going to be ruthless.  If I don’t need it, it goes. If I do need it, it gets put away somewhere instead of cluttering up my desk.

Then I will get up to date with bills.  I’m not really behind on this, but I have a small pile of stuff that needs to be paid. I will get it done and file those bills away. One thing I do have going for me is an organized filing system. Any forms that need to be filled in and signed, the photo order for George’s school pictures, the invoices to be completed so I can get my respite funding cheques.  All of the admin that needs to be done will be done.

I have one more year of bookkeeping to do for Gerard’s business, and one year for the non-profit studio.  That will be done. I have set up a quick and easy system for doing this. It will take less than two hours in total. Then our taxes will be officially caught up and all I will have to do is stay current.

I will file away all of the receipts that have been recorded by my friend’s daughter (a real life-saver, that girl – thanks, Megan!).  I will gather together the receipts that need to be done and give them to her. I will come up with a better way of filing the receipts once they have been entered in the spreadsheet.

Starting tonight, I will be going to bed no later than 10:30.  That is a hard target, a set-in-stone rule that only a sick or distressed child will have the power to break. That means that when I wake up at five thirty tomorrow morning, I will have the energy to actually get out of bed and go for a run.

I will work on my daily routines, and find ways to use my time more effectively.  If that means using time timers and putting whiteboard schedules on the wall, so be it. I am even going to take the plunge and find a therapist. This is really something I should have done a long time ago. A few years ago, I went through a number of major life changes in a short period of time. In the space of eighteen months, I stopped working, my Dad died, my younger son was born, and I was hit with George’s autism diagnosis. With all of that plus some pretty intense post-partum depression, it’s no wonder my mind got a little scrambled and overwhelmed. I did see a doctor who put me on antidepressants, but that did not work for me.  The depression and anxiety were replaced by anger, and that didn’t help anyone.

I’m not in as bad a shape as I was in back then.  In fact, I’m pretty happy with the big picture of my life right now. But still. I could use a little help, and I’m going to seek it out.  Just about everyone I know is in therapy – if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

As for the running, that will get better too.  I have discovered a running club in my neighbourhood, and this past Sunday I went out running with them.  I had a great time, and thoroughly enjoyed meeting real-life people (as opposed to Internet people) who share a common interest with me. My plan will be to go for Sunday long runs with them, which means I will have to do my midweek runs to keep up my fitness so I can keep up with them!

So, a lot is going to be changing in my life.  And that’s not even counting the fact that I’ll be getting married in a few months!

Running in the concrete jungle of life

22 Oct

I suffer from the age-old, clichéd, and frankly boring problem of being a woman with not enough hours in the day. I find myself going to bed ridiculously late and not getting enough sleep, and from time to time I wonder why this is. Am I really that busy or do my time management skills just suck? In analyzing this question, I decided to draw up a rough schedule of what happens in a typical day.

6:00 – 7:15    Wake up, get myself dressed and ready, get James dressed and ready.
7:15 – 7:30    Take James to daycare
7:30 – 8:45    Commute to work
8:45 – 4:45    Earn my keep
4:45 – 6:15    Commute home
6:15 – 7:30    Cook dinner, eat dinner, get kids to eat their dinner
7:30 – 8:00    Supervise George’s homework, read library books with both boys
8:00 – 9:00    Get kids bathed and into bed. Throw load of laundry into washing machine. Make sure car is locked. Make tea.
9:00 – 9:30    Get clothes ready for myself and kids for the following day. Make George’s lunch. Ensure kids’ backpacks contain homework, library books to be returned, forms to be returned to teachers, etc.
9:30 – 10:00    Clean up kitchen. Unload and load dishwasher. Turn dishwasher on and wash any dishes that don’t fit in dishwasher. Get coffee machine ready for the following morning.

What this means is that in the evenings, it’s around ten before I can even sit down at my computer and read emails. This is why I have given up on all of the Facebook games that end in “ville”. I just never have enough time to check on my farm, or my kitchen, or my pet. FarmVille – crops keep dying. FrontierVille – weeds keep growing. PetVille – pet keeps running away to the pound. You get the picture. So now, my Facebook games are the ones that I can spend five minutes or less on, where I won’t suffer penalties if I neglect them for five days.

Do you notice anything missing in the schedule above? Running. Where am I supposed to find time to run? If my daily timetable is anything to go by, my only options are (a) go running in time to be back by six in the morning, or (b) go running after ten at night. Option (b) isn’t really an option to me, because I would be worried about safety.  Something tells me that a woman running alone at that time of night would not be the smartest idea. So I’ve been going with option (a), getting up at 5:00 a.m., being out on the road by 5:15, and trotting back into my driveway by around 6:10 or so.

Except lately, this hasn’t been working out too well. George has been having issues sleeping – a phenomenon very common to children with autism. On any given night, there is roughly a fifty/fifty chance of him – and thereby me – actually getting a full night’s sleep. On the nights he wakes up, he crawls into bed next to me and plays with my hair. No matter how many times I gently move his hands away from my head, they always find their way back there, and he wraps it around his fingers, scrunches it up in his hands, sniffs it, strokes it, on and on and on until he drifts back to sleep. On the good nights, this lasts for half an hour or so. On the bad nights, it will go on for two or three hours.

It doesn’t matter how dedicated a runner you are. If you have a small child keeping you awake from 2:30 until 4:30, it is going to be near-impossible for you get up at 5:00, go running, and then put in a full day of work. It’s not even as if George’s nocturnal adventures are an occasional thing.  For the last month or so, it has been happening two or three nights a week.

It is hammering me, and I am increasingly stressed out by my inability to find time to run. Not running is not an option. Running late at night when I feel vulnerable is not an option. Running first thing in the morning when I’ve had no sleep is not an option.  So I have to get creative.

To solve the problem, I started by considering each run individually. I run five days a week, with Mondays and Fridays off. The weekend runs are not a problem: even if I have to get up early for those, I have the option of vegetating in front of the TV for the rest of the day (true, I’d have two kids jumping on me, but still). That takes care of four days of the week right there. On Wednesdays I go running with a group after work (kills my Wednesday evening schedule but I can live with that once a week), and I’ve worked out that I could do my Tuesday runs on a treadmill at the gym at lunchtime.

All of a sudden, the problem is a lot more manageable. Now, all I have to worry about are the Thursday runs. I’m still not too sure what I will do about those, but I’ll figure something out, either by just living with the early-mornings-after-no-sleep once a week or by doing some kind of creative reorganization to my schedule.

It just goes to show: when the running bug bites you, somehow you find a way to fit it all in.