Tag Archives: marathon

Toy Story: The Autism Family Version

4 Feb

Last night, my younger son James bravely waded through the treacherous sea of toys in our living room. When he reached the corner he started digging in toyboxes and didn’t stop until he had unearthed this car ramp toy. You use this toy by driving your toy car into this little elevator, which you then raise up until the car is on the flat roof. You can then push the car around on the roof, or send it rolling down one of the two ramps. For a kid obsessed with Lightning McQueen and Doc Hudson (raise your hand if you recognize the references) this toy is like a slice of heaven.

James took the toy to an unoccupied space on the living room floor (i.e. a spot where he wasn’t knee-deep in other toys) and started playing with it. He was having a wonderful time. Lightning and Doc were racing down the ramps, Mater was driving backwards on the roof, and the Dinoco helicopter was flying overhead. It was all very exciting.

The peace was shattered when George came into the room and saw that the toy had been moved. George doesn’t like it when things are moved. He gets anxious, he starts shrieking and insisting that the item be put back. And so all hell broke loose.

George was grabbing at James’ toy, I was grabbing at George and telling him that James has to be allowed to move his own things around, and poor James was crying because of the sudden chaos. My husband succeeded in arm-wrestling George to a different room, where he tried to engage him in distracting activities. I stayed with James and played with him, but the sparkle had gone. James played half-heartedly while listening to George’s cries coming from a different part of the house.

James gave up on his play and said to me, “Mommy, George can put the toy back if he wants. I love him and I don’t want him to be sad.” He ran out of the room and relayed the message to his Dad. Gerard brought George back in, and George put the toy back in its place with James watching. James kept on telling me that this was what he wanted, but he wasn’t fooling me. I could see the sadness and disappointment in his eyes.

How amazing is this child? Despite my best efforts to equalize things, James does on numerous occasions get the short end of the stick because of George’s autism. And yet he is so brave, so giving and caring. He shows a maturity and wisdom that, while touching me to my very soul, makes me feel really sad. Not to mention the fact that it makes me explode with pride at the caring, sharing person my child is growing up to be.

He’s only five, but in some ways he misses out on being like a regular five-year-old. I want James to be able to play with his toys. I want him to be able to race his cars down that ramp, and I want George to be OK and anxiety-free about it.

I want both of my boys to be happy, and I find it so hard sometimes when one of them is happy at the expense of the other one.

What a tricky balancing act.

What’s On My Bucket List?

29 Jan

One of my friends recently showed me a list of the things he would like to do before he dies.  “See the Eiffel Tower” was one of them.  OK, that sounds reasonable.  I’m more into the Pyramids myself, but the Eiffel Tower is nice enough.

“Learn to Scuba dive”.  “Go skydiving”.  Those are pretty good ones, actually.

“Go for a Bungee jump”.  I did that once, and when people ask me how it was, I always tell them it is something I’m glad I did once, but that I will never do again.  It is a worthy addition to a bucket list.

“Go to the moon”.

OK, my friend lost me there.  The moon?  I can appreciate that the view must be spectacular from up there, but it’s cold and dark and there are no good places for trail runs.  Besides, don’t you make lists in order to be able to cross completed items off?  Isn’t that the whole point of a list?  Not to put a damper on things, but the chances of my friend going to moon are about the same as my chances of fitting into a size 32B bra.

My own bucket list is not as comprehensive as some other people’s.  There are not, say, 100 things that I absolutely have to do before I die.  And my list does not include things that I am never likely to achieve.  I’d like, for instance, to be a contestant on Hell’s Kitchen, just for the pleasure of telling Gordon Ramsay to piss off, but that’s not on my bucket list because what are the odds of it ever happening?

No, my list contains a few things that I really, really want to do, that are achievable, and that I actually intend to do.  Here is a sample of a few of them, in no particular order.

  • Run a marathon.  Someday I will do this.  When my kids are a little older, and I am able to devote more time to training, I will get myself into really good shape and run a full marathon.  I’m not sure which one, but possibly New York.
  • Get into full-time writing.  This is a long-term plan that will require much planning, but it what I want to do.  I have finally realized, at the age of 41, what I actually want to do for a living.
  • Meet in person the friends I only know online, who are real friends nonetheless.  To name a few: Margie, Amy, Kerry, Ray, and quite a number of others.
  • Travel to the very Northern part of Canada to see Aurora Borealis (a.k.a. Northern Lights). This is a beautiful phenomenon that has always intrigued me, and now I live in a country where it can actually be seen.
  • Go on a cruise.  I’ve never, ever done this, and I’ve always wanted to. Someday I will do it.
  • Travel to Colorado to meet the parents of my friend Jason who was in North Tower on 9/11.  I want to tell them what a wonderful son they had, what a good and true friend he was.
  • Finish the fictional novel I started writing, AND get it published.  It’s a good storyline, really.
  • Run the Disney Princess Half-Marathon.  Happens every year, in Disneyland, at the end of February.  And it’s apparently TONS of fun.
  • Weigh the same as I did when I was 30.  OK, so I’m eleven years older now, I’ve had two kids since then, and I had a long period of inactivity that only ended a couple of years ago, but YES, it’s achievable!
  • Stand on top of Table Mountain with my two boys. Someday I will take my kids to South Africa and show them where I came from.  We will go up Table Mountain in the cable car, and we will stand there together feeling like we’re on top of the world.



Pledging for my Run for Autism can begin!

24 Mar

Today marks an exciting milestone in my journey towards my run for autism.  I registered for the race back in November or December – about three seconds after race registrations opened.  About a month later, I registered for a number of other races over the course of the summer months – events that I will participate in as I lead up to the main event in September.  I have my training plans, my custom orthotics, my training watch with heart rate monitor and GPS.  As time goes on, I will need to get some new running gear, including a new pair of shoes.

Today is a milestone day for two reasons.  The first is that I since I am not only a runner but a member of the Geneva Centre for Autism committee that is organizing this endeavour, I will be attending the first committee meeting later on.  There, we will set our fundraising goals and discuss ways to get more people to participate, either by running or by pledging.I will be a runner’s voice on the committee, offering my views on how to encourage and motivate runners leading up to the event, and ways to ensure their success on the day itself.

And secondly, the race organizers have officially opened up the Charity Challenge, meaning that my own personal fundraising page is now up and running.  I invite one and all to click on the link and take a look.  Look at the pictures that I’ve uploaded, watch a couple of videos and see the beautiful boy that is my inspiration, my son who I am doing this for.  If you are interested in adding a pledge, it will be very gratefully accepted and will make a positive difference to someone with autism.

More pictures and videos will be added to this page as time goes on. But for now, this is what I’ve got.  I am so excited that this is all now official!

Can I do it? Yes, I can!

22 Mar

I was a little nervous about going running yesterday.  Since I resumed running after an absence of three months just a week ago, I have been sticking to the somewhat safe distance of 5km.  I needed a slightly longer run yesterday,though.  I have a fairly full race schedule this year, starting with a 10km race on April 3rd.  I cannot run in any of my planned events by doing 5km training runs – it was time to start upping my Sunday run distances.

On the one hand, I wasn’t sure if I was ready for a longer run.  The last time I ran more than 6km was three months ago.  On the other hand, though, I have learned that long runs are all about the strategy.  You have to rely on more than your legs and a good pair of running shoes.  You have to plan your approach, and when you’re out on the road you have to listen to your body and interpret the signals.  With this in mind, I planned on 8km – not exactly a long run, but longer than anything I’ve done in a while.

To my surprise, it went very well.  When I run 5km, I set a brisk pace from the beginning and maintain it as best I can.  For my 8km run yesterday, I switched on my “long run” mindset.  I started out slow and ran the first kilometre or so at a very easy pace, not caring that the virtual partner on my training watch was streets ahead of me.  As I warmed up, my pace gradually increased.  I always find it intriguing how that happens.  I don’t make any conscious effort to run faster.  It just happens.  So without putting any effort into it, I ran the second kilometre a full minute faster than the first.

Throughout the run, I did what I always do on long runs – I took a one-minute walking break every ten minutes.  I even use this amazingly effective technique (learned from the good folks at Running Room) for races.  It would be easy to think that this would slow a runner down, but in truth, I complete my long runs and my races faster by doing this than if I were to run the whole way.  Those walking breaks are an opportunity for me to avoid lactic acid buildup in my legs, to let my heart rate drop a little, and to drink some water without having it slosh all over my face.  Drinking and running at the same time is not as easy as you might think!

Before I knew it, the 8km was up and I was running back into my driveway.  My total time was about a minute and half behind target, and I was very happy with that.  Considering the fact that I hadn’t run 8km in months, the fact that I was only a minute and a half behind was pretty good!  My pace over the last three kilometres was right on track.  And most important – something I aim for on every single run, long or short – when I came to the end of the run I felt as if I could have continued had I so chosen.

So yesterday’s run counts as a resounding success.  I now have two weeks to build from 8km to 10km, and then another seven weeks to build to 21km.  For the first time in weeks, I am confident that my race schedule is safe.  As long as I don’t break a leg or something.

When I finished my run yesterday, I stretched and then went into the house.  In the living room, the kids were playing.  James, the little brother with a big brother’s role – exuberant, energetic, always with plenty to say.  And George, my beautiful boy who is my inspiration every single time I lace up my running shoes.

Whenever I wonder if I can keep on running, all I have to do is picture my boys in my head to know that yes, yes I can.  George, touched by autism.  And James, sibling to an autistic child.  For them, I could do anything.

Overcoming the bad stuff

19 Mar

2010 did not exactly start off well for me.  In early December, I had suffered from a strep throat infection, during which I had only been able to lie down comfortably in one position for three days.  This resulted in some stiffness in my neck and upper back.  It was not crippling, merely uncomfortable, and my chiropractor was helping me out with it.  The day before New Years Eve, a chiropractic adjustment went horribly wrong.  I had excruciating shooting pains in my back and going all the day down my left arm.  The fingers in my hand went numb. While everyone else was out partying it up the following night, I was sitting on the couch writhing in agony. I missed the New Years Day Resolution Run – something that I had been looking forward to for weeks.

Over the next month, I went to the Emergency Room twice, was seen by five different doctors, and got four different prescriptions for drugs.  I cried myself to sleep each night because I was in so much pain, and I appropriated the kids’ giant stuffed gorilla because it was just the right size for me to rest my arm on.  I was taking Percocet for the pain every six hours, and when the pain between doses got too much for me to bear, I was taking Tylenol Three as well.

For a month I could barely stand up, let alone run. In the end, it was the folks at Toronto SEMI (Sports and Exercise Medicine Institute) who saved me from insanity.  The doctor there told me what I had suspected, which is that I had a pinched nerve.  The pinched nerves always get resolved, he said, and it could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to a few months.  I immediately started seeing one of the physiotherapists at SEMI, and within days I was starting to feel relief.  After two weeks, she told me I could try running again.  Two weeks after that, I was in full-on training mode again, and feeling great.

As soon as I had gotten back on my feet, though, I was struck down again.  I caught a cold, and the cold turned into something a lot worse.  I had a hacking cough, I had a fever that came and went, I was weak.  I was so sick that I was off work for two weeks, and was not allowed back without producing a doctor’s note certifying that I didn’t have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. During this time, I was not able to run for three weeks.

Last weekend marked the end of this three-week drought.  I got up on Sunday morning, and although I was still coughing a bit and somewhat congested, I decided to give it a try. It went surprisingly well – slower than I would have liked, but considering all I’d been through over the last three months, I didn’t mind.  I was just happy that I was out on the road again.

On Tuesday I went for a lunchtime run.  Due to time constraints, my weekday runs cannot really be longer than 5km, but that’s still enough for a good workout.  About 500m into the run, my hair band snapped.  Not a good thing – I have quite a lot of hair.  I ran almost 5km with my hair streaming out behind me.  It reminded me of those movies about horses, where the horses are running across meadows with the hair on their tails flowing behind them in the wind.  That’s what I felt like.  A horse’s ass.  I had also misjudged the weather that day, so I was overdressed.  Hair flying every which way plus clothes that are too hot leads to a run that is uncomfortable and cumbersome.  I was not happy with my pace or the fact that my heart rate was reaching the stratosphere.

My next run was on Thursday.  I almost left my running clothes at home that day, because I had had zero sleep on Wednesday night and did not rate my chances for a good run.  But you never know, so I took my gym bag to work, not really expecting to use it.  Come lunchtime, I still felt like the undead, but knowing from past experience how a run can actually have healing powers, I suited up and hit the road.  My clothes were appropriate and my hair band stayed intact.  It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and I had a fantastic run.  Although the “pace buddy” on my training watch still beat me, my pace was a lot better than it had been on Tuesday.  My heart rate stayed within reasonable levels.  When I reached the end of the 5km, I could have continued.  It was one of those runs that reminds me why I love running.

I am planning another 5km run for tomorrow morning, and a longer one for Sunday.  I am looking forward to my 10km race on April 3rd.  I am hopeful that I will stay healthy this time.  I have to.  After all, there are only 190 days to my next run for autism.

Who am I and what am I doing here?

17 Mar

I sometimes tell people that I am a normal mom – overworked, overextended, overscheduled, and overwhelmed.  But in my household, we use the word “normal” very loosely if at all.  For a start, I’ve never really believed in the concept of “normal”.  It’s too subjective – one person’s “normal” is another person’s “what the hell is going on here?!?”  And the fact that one of our children has special needs throws a wrench into the whole idea of normality anyway.

To start from the beginning: I am a transplanted South African living in Toronto, Ontario.  I proudly became a Canadian citizen three months ago, on the same day – indeed the same ceremony – on which my partner of eight years proposed to me.  Gerard and I have two children together.  George is six years old, and if I were asked to describe him in one word, that word would be “sweet”.  He may be autistic, but he is such a sweet, gentle soul.  He is touched with a kind of grace that is impossible to put into words.  His mind goes to places that are unreachable to the rest of us – these places are sometimes frustrating, both him and to his family – but at times he is so present, so with us.  He does not talk much and has a lot of trouble with social engagement, but he is a smart kid who can read (although not necessarily comprehend), count, add, and write his own name.  He is full of love.  He is never short of a hug for his family, and has a healthy level of sibling rivalry with his younger brother James.

To describe James, I would use the word “dynamite”.  James is four, and depending on your own personal views, his Christmas Day birthday can be seen as either a blessing or a curse.  We ensure that he gets his full quota of attention by throwing half-birthday parties for him in the middle of the year.  James is loaded with energy.  You know those cartoons in which a series of streaking white lines depicts a character running by so fast that you cannot see him?  That’s James.  The kid never stops.  He approaches life in the same way a bull approaches a china shop – as several visits to the Emergency Room over the last four years will testify.  He is always busy, always talking a mile a minute.  He gets into spats with George, but he is also a wonderful little brother.  He is considerate of George’s challenges – not because he has to be, but because he wants to be.

I am lucky to have Gerard.  He is a truly wonderful father to the boys.   We have been through some very hard times – so hard that at one point, we didn’t know if we would make it.  But we have gone through the fire and survived – and we now know that there is nothing we cannot work through.  We are planning next year’s wedding with lots of excitement and anticipation.  Although getting married isn’t going to change anything in practical terms, it will be symbolic of a new and wonderful stage in our life together.

My passion – apart from my family, that is – is running.  I used to run years ago, but having kids put a kaibosh on that for many years.  For ages, I tried to get back into it, but there was always a reason why I couldn’t.  Then, about a year ago, the right motivation came in the form of an email.  The Geneva Centre for Autism was entering a team in a major Toronto running event.  Parents were invited to register for the race and raise pledges.  All funds raised would go towards providing services for autistic children and adults – people like my son George.

Wow.  An opportunity to do something for my son.  As soon as I saw this email, I knew that I had finally found the reason that I would not give up.  Although I could barely run around the block at the time, I signed up there and then for the half-marathon, six months away.  For the next six months, I trained and rediscovered my love of the sport.  And on September 27, 2009, I stood at the finish line with a finisher’s medal around my neck and a village-idiot grin on my face.  My legs were screaming, but every other part of me was on an incredible emotional high.  I had done it.  I had run this race for my child.  And I knew I was going to be back.

The Geneva Centre is entering a team for the 2010 event, and I have already signed up for the half-marathon.  I am just emerging from three months of illness and injury, but my training is already getting back on track.  I have a busy racing season ahead of me, starting with a 10km event on April 3rd.  All of the training, all of the races that I participate in over the summer, will lead up to this one event – my run for autism on September 26th.

Follow me as I go through the trials and tribulations of training, the early morning solitary runs in the dark, the long Sunday runs with the sun beating down on my shoulders.  Moan and groan with me as I massage my aching muscles, and stand with me at the finish line as we celebrate a triumph for autism on the day of the race.