Sunday, September 21, 2014

Endurance... for the long run

The Iron Horse Ultra 100k is coming up in 2 weeks. I have completed my last long run, and am feeling pretty confident. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. I have done my due diligence in training. I joined the Frank McNamara Wednesday night cross country race series. There is nothing quite like actually racing... it pushes me beyond what I would do if I was just doing intervals on my own. On Friday (2 days ago) I knocked off 30km, and then yesterday, I knocked off another 44km. I felt reasonably good after that 44km too, and so I'm feeling pretty confident about how training has gone. One note about the "Franks" races. There are a lot of really good and fast runners there. It's pretty remarkable how fit these guys are. I'm feeling pretty humble about my own abilities, and motivated and inspired by some of the performances that I've seen.
  2. I tried a new endurance fuel by Tailwind Nutrition. With shipping, it was a little expensive, but I did not change anything about my training regime. In fact, I decided to try and keep a more aggressive pace than I would usually do, so that I could get tired more quickly. My goal pace was to stick right around 5 minutes per kilometer. For quite a while though, I was keeping things between 4:50 and 4:30. In the end, even with a number of brutal hills, and some pretty bushy singletrack, I was able to pull of 44km in 4 hours 8 minutes or something like that. Actually, I cannot find my gps to verify, and so maybe I'm remembering things a little better? Anyway, I was really happy with how things went. I'll definitely be using Tailwinds on race day. Thank-you to all those who recommended it.
My title this time around is not just solely about running endurance. I think I've had a number of experiences in life that have required me to be patient, to wait, and to trust that things will work out. In the mean time, life was not always glorious and beautiful either. Patience carries a price, and until I changed my attitude toward patience, that price was a difficult one to pay.

It may be a side effect of our "now" society. We have instant everything, and patience is generally not required. My good Wife is a great example of patience right now. Virginie attends school at the University of Alberta taking a BA in recreational sports and tourism. I think she's really found her passion, but she's so excited to apply it. She wants to be "out there", using what she has learned. Seeing the world, and experiencing people. She wants to leave her mark. Her enthusiasm is contagious. I'm really excited about how our lives will unfold. 

But we have to be patient.

In terms of endurance running, patience is a an attribute that I'm not always aware that I'm using, but I'm using it non-the-less. Sometimes, I don't want to feel tired anymore, and all the scenery in the world won't change it. At those times, I just have to be patient. However, patience does not always have to be about "waiting". Perhaps it can also be about choosing? We wait regardless of what we are working toward, regardless of what our goal is. Perhaps patience is a choice to enjoy the road from point "A" to point "B". 

I wish I could sum up in words, all the feeling of the heart on this topic. I think about the "two marshmallow" experiment.

Virginie and I often tell our kids to go for a "two marshmallow" solution. I get rolled eyes sometimes, but in the long run (no pun intended), I think the message is getting through. 

I most certainly applies to myself though, more than anyone else, and so in conclusion I want to say that I will be "happily patient" in a couple of weeks, and I will NOT give up. In doing so, I believe I will find success.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Never give up

I've thought a lot about what I would call this post. This probably sums it up better than anything. It's been a while and It would be nice to write something that really grabbed the readers attention, but this really sums up my experience this year with ultra running, so I'm sticking to it.

There has been lots of good advice offered to me over the years, but there are a couple of pieces that really stick out to me right now. I don't think they apply to just ultra running, but to life in general. They both come from dear friends, that have put friendship ahead of advice. I guess that's why I've listened to them so much. The first is that you have to make the pleasure more than the pain. This has been timely advice, but it was missing something. I discovered that something even before I raced. That something was commitment.

I've tried running 3 ultras this year. First was the River Valley Revenge Ultra 100K in June. I got to 55km and decided I hated running. It had been working up for hours previous to that. In spite of the fact that I was making good time, I headed back to the start line, and threw in the towel. I regretted it later. At that point, I figured that I was in no shape to finish Sinister 7, which was by then only 3 weeks away. The mental game was already starting. I was non-committal to the race with my comments of "I'll do my best", and "I'll run until I stop having fun... there is no point in running past that." At Sinister, I made it to the end of leg 4, and then copped out. 55 miles this time.

I tried to keep things positive, and pitch things that I was happy with my race, but truth be told... I wasn't. I knew I could do better, and I had just allowed myself to do less. This became apparent when I woke up the morning of the race, and wandered up the stairs comfortably. I should not be able to do that!!!

So, with this frame of mind, and with another month of training under my belt, I set off to run the Iron Legs 50 miler in beautiful Kananaskis country west of Calgary. This race was different than the others, because it was set in a protected area, and on mostly single track trails. I don't know what it is about single track, but nothing says mountain run quite like a winding single track trail. I absolutely love it.

Winding single track trail through the mountain. It's just plain magical!
Start to Aid station 1

Start to Aid station 1 was easy. So was aid station 1 to 2, but at the end, just before I arrived at aid station 2, I hit a technical downhill section that I just got all caught up in. My quads were burning, my lungs were gulping in air as I flew past other runners. My feet felt nimble as they ever have, and so I felt confident in ripping down the section without a second thought.

Aid station 1 to 2
 When I arrived at aid station 2, I changed my socks from my regular socks to my toe socks, but I began to cramp when taking my shoes off. I felt it in my hamstrings, and in my feet. Turns out, this cramping was going to follow me for a while. It's funny, when you're in the heat of race day adrenaline, you don't always think clearly. One can often ease cramping with some salt/electrolyte pills. I had some, but forgot to take them. I said "hi" to the family, and headed out for leg 3 (aid station 2 to 3).

Aid station 2 to 3 elevation
 Leg 3 was one of the most challenging sections of trail. It was steep, it was rocky, and what relief you could find on the tree root and rock strewn trail would turn into a washed out section of trail. The race had to be cancelled last year, because the original trail was washed out from rain and flooding. The new course had an extra 1000 meters of elevation gain, which I figured would be challenging, but how hard could it be? I remember starting to cramp up pretty bad around 1/3 of the way through this section. I tried to stretch out, but in doing so, the opposite muscles would start to cramp. I just kept on running. "You have to make the pleasure greater than the pain" kept running through my mind. It was helping, but what could I take pleasure in? I've become very good at doubting myself. Would I start now? No... stop it Stephen, you've made a commitment, and your going to stick with it. Now keep on moving! This is where the other piece of good advice came in. It came in an hour of defeat, and it has helped tremendously. "Don't try to eat the elephant all at once". I ignored how much further I had to go, and concentrated on getting to aid station 3. Perhaps they had electrolyte pills there? Turns out, I did not have to wait that long. I wonderful runner came by and gave me 4. I took two and it helped a little. I say a little because the cramping did not stop, it just took the edge off. Time for some ginger pills for the nausea, and an Ibuprofen for the swelling.

I time, I could see a blue tent between the trees in the distance. Aid station 3!

Aid station 3 to 4 elevation
 The map does not really do justice to it because when I started leg 4, I figured that I had already summited how many ridges? They would not take us over powderface ridge again would they? Turns out they would. I settled into a pace that was not fast, but comfortable. I mythodically placed one foot in front of the other. In time, the tree line dissapeared, and I was at the top of powderface ridge. All downhill to aid station 4. I kept taking the salt pills and downing my food which was a custom combination of Maltodexterin powder, dextrose, and vega lemon-lime electrolytes. I cannot stand solid food when I run. I does nothing for me. On the other hand, Watermelon has become my best friend. I would kiss it, but it was already in my stomach :).
On the top of Powderface ridge (the first time)
Arriving at aid station 4 was such a relief. I did not want to quit, but I was in some pretty major pain. I kept having to shove any ideas out of my head that quitting would be easy. "You will recover in time" I thought. It was nice to see my wonderful family, and feel of their encouragement. Virginie proudly announced "You keep coming in with the same group of runners!" That's good, I thought... If I'm keeping up with the people around me, I must not be doing that bad.

It's something I've been really working on the last couple of months. Positive self talk. I'll finish an interval, and I'll tell myself "Good for you Stephen, that was a tough interval, and you gave it everything you've got, and that's good enough! Well done!!!" You would not believe how far that type of thing goes. One interval after another, I felt my strength increasing.

Iron Legs 2014 - Course Map
Aid station 4 to 5 was without a doubt the hardest section of trail I ran (or did not run). About 1/3 of the way into the leg, their was a bail out spot. The volunteer asked me if I wanted to take the 5km trail out to the finish line. I did not have to even think about it. In spite of the pain, I told him "Not on your life". I wanted to finish at least one ultra this year. Quitting was not an option. If I had to crawl across the finish line, if I got sick, if it rained and I got hypothermia and they had to evacuate me, I would take pride that I did not quit, and I was not about to quit now. I put on my headphones and listened to this song over and over again.

The words were inspired. I've said it a lot in this blog post already, but I refused to give an inch to doubt and worry. I ended up walking all the way to aid station 5. There waiting for me was my wonderful family. They had hiked into the aid station without complaint, and even had my favorite. Veggie Delight from Subway waiting for me. I munched it down with some water, massaged my legs and re-made my commitment to continue on.

Aid station 5 to 6 - Elevation change
The rest of the story involves my new best friend in the world, Josette Caissie. She was up ahead limping, but moving ahead. I caught up and we began to talk. We talked about race day experiences, goals, and about how ridiculous of a thing we were doing. I'm not sure if she hated running at the time, I know I sure did! Still, we talked and eventually started to laugh together. I enjoyed her company so much, that we stuck together the rest of the race. I was my little miracle for the day.

On the summit of Moose Mountain
Aid station 5 to 6 brought us up to the summit of Moose Mountain. It was not an easy climb, but much easier now that I had someone to share with it. It's one of the miracles of ultra marathoning in my opinion. All of ones social walls and protection is left 20 or 30 miles back. No one holds anything back anymore, and speaking for myself, but equally confident it applies to other, sufficiently humbled. We move ahead with a trust in our bodies, that they know something the mind doesn't something that is greater than us. 35 to 40 miles into the race, I began to discover that with Josette. We summited together, all the while, my feet cramping. We gingerly came down the steep trails, one foot at a time, but starting to make good time. By the time we had reached aid station 6, we were smiling and laughing. We were sore, and it was starting to rain, but we had visions of the finish line in our heads. There was no stopping us now.

6 to finish - Elevation change
Our pace was pretty slow when we first departed from aid station 6, but we were both in good spirits. For us, each uphill was a chore. Each downhill cause for care on sore quadriceps. The trail was beautiful. Eventually, we ran into Florin Panaitescu, and he joined our duo. We ran into my daughter Natasha about 4km from the finish line, and she joined us the rest of the way as well. By then night had fallen and we had our headlamps guiding our way through the dark.

Signs of "What are your legs made of?" and "Iron Legs", as well as cheers greeted us as we rounded the last corner and crossed the finish line. Because I had people to share it with, it was better than it could have ever been had I crossed on my own. Thanks to Florin, and especially Josette. One of the things that brings the most joy in life in my opinion is service to others. At church yesterday I learned that true service is something that you do for someone, that they cannot do for themselves. I want Josette to know that you did a true service for me. You helped to provide an atmosphere that I could recover, and prosper in. Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you.

Final official time? 15:35:04

So, the moral of the story? Never give up. Never give up on your hopes and your dreams. You will get them, but they may be harder than you ever thought. I cramped for 50 km on those mountain trails, and even went into shock after I had a chance to sleep for a bit. I broke out into a fit of nausea, and a cold sweat. Virginie got me some smoothie, and after sipping for a bit, I felt better. Times will get rough, but they always get better, better perhaps because we have had a chance to sink so low. How can we gauge our progress, if we have no low point to start from?

My race season is not done yet. Iron Horse 100km, October 4th. I was thinking of the 100 mile, but honestly, I'm going to be humble and work my way up. Till then, happy training!

When we love someone, anything is possible.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Hindsight is 20/20

It's so good to be back!

I mean back writing in my blog. I had wondered if I would continue to write after Sinister 7 was over, since the theme "When we love someone" was for all those boys with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy that I was running for, but over the last 8 months, it's become even more meaningful to me. This blog has become a place where I can speak without fear, without trying to impress someone, or trying to be someone that I am not. It's become a place where I can share, and perhaps set expectations. I'm planning on sticking with it. Writing has become a dear friend.

Hindsight is always 20/20. A week after the race, I understand clearly what happened, and what I'm going to do about it. Basically, my mind got the better of me. It's totally understandable... 75% of the male soloists that entered the race dropped out. Only 25% completed. That's pretty mental.

When I dropped out at the end of leg 4, I got into the van and we headed back to our host. I was so happy with the way things went, and even more happy to not be running anymore! I slept the night expecting that I would not be walking in the morning. I was wrong. I expected for sure that the following day I would feel stiffer. When we got to my Parents place in Magrath, the following afternoon. I was still feeling great. There was something not right about that. I had run 55 miles, and I would expect that I should be totally spent! Why was I not? It was around that time that I started to think that perhaps I have been underestimating myself. Perhaps it's the case that I really do have a talent for running. Perhaps I've been blessed with the right body type, the right metabolism, the right environment (thank-you Fast Trax!) to nurture my passion. I'm supposed to be taking the week off to recouperate, but I already felt recouperated on Monday night.

When I arrived in Magrath, I sent a text to my childhood buddy. I asked him for his number, because I wanted to talk to him. Here is a guy who has finished a couple of 100-milers now. I wanted to hear his wisdom. He responded back with his Magrath number! What was this?!? I had to clarify. Texts flew out and sure enough, he was on vacation and staying only two doors down. This is a coincidence that I sorely needed. I needed to talk to someone about my disappointment, but revel in a common passion. We talked for over an hour. It was wonderful. We talked about how you cannot try to eat the entire elephant at once. It becomes overwhelming. We talked about races we've run. We talked about emotions during an ultra. We laughed about how we both felt annoyed sometimes at aid stations. At one point during Sinister, I arrived at an aid station with a sore tummy. I looked at the food they were offering. I thought "Yuck... disgusting.. Wouldn't touch it with a 10-meter cattle prod..." He talked about being offered pretzels at an aid station and exclaiming "Do I look like I want pretzels???". We laughed at the idea of "What part of aid station do you not understand?"

As we talked, I remembered how much I enjoy the company of like-minded people. People who love to move. People who love adventure. When all was said and done, I had committed to run a very exciting race, in a far away land, and I'm super excited about it. What can I say? If you don't succeed, try try again. So, Monday night, three of us went out for a run. We ran all over town. We talked, we laughed, we relived, and we thought ahead. It was as wonderful as any run could have been. It was something I had been waiting for.

Thank-you you two Gentlemen.

So, I've signed up for the Iron Legs 50-mile race next month. It's going to be tough, but I'm ready for it. I'm feeling confident now, and ready to live in the moment. Success is near. I don't get a lot of time to train because I am first and foremost, a Husband, and then a Father. Following that, well... I am an employee, and then a runner/plumber/carpenter etc.

Virginie is going to come running with me at Fast Trax tomorrow. We're not planning on running together. We have very different styles. However, we'll both be able to enjoy the company of others, and that's what I'm most excited about.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Race day memoirs

Well, my mission is accomplished. Perhaps not quite in the way I had originally imagined, but finished none-the-less. I chose to pull out of the race at the 50 mile mark, and I have almost no regrets. I use the word almost because there are always those twinges when you wonder what could have been. Truth is though, I'm extremely pleased with myself. Here is my story:

The race did not really start for me until I arrived at leg 3. Leg 3 is known as death valley because it's hot. It's almost always run in the afternoon when it's hot, and the heat zaps the strength right from you. Leg 3 is open for almost the entire leg. Trees provide little shade, and the heat radiates off the trail so you get it from the top and the bottom. It's also known as Satan's Sack because it's shaped like a giant testicle. :).

Leg 2 was amazing, but also tough, so I began to hit a low spot when I headed up for leg 3. The advice "slow the pace and you will rebound in time" is correct, but I had no idea the time required for me to rebound. I did not until I was finishing the 36 km that leg 3 required. While running an ultra, nutrition and calories are extremely important, so I was using "Hammer Perpetuum". It's a drink that provides not only complex carbs, but good fats and protien. I drank lots of it, but eventually, my stomach became upset. I became bloated, and eventually had to start walking, suffering through the cramps and heat. The whole experience was completely miserable. By 25km into leg 3, I realized I had better duck into the forest or I would be sorry. I was in the forest for about 15 minutes before I felt like I was good again.

Once that ordeal was over, I was dehydrated and weak. I began to drink, and then gradually introduced pertetuum again. Over time, it's true, my strength began to rebound, and I began to fell better. That's when I met up with Virginie, the Kids, and my parents.

At that point, I suggested that we modify the goal, so it's actually achievable. Then, I have something to rejoice in. I've not done many 50-milers, and it's a good starting point on ones way to a 100-miler. Running without Virginie was harder than I imagined. I love that Woman dearly, and as a result, being with her strengthens me. I suggested, that I would run a 50-miler, and that everyone should cheer like I am actually finishing. Everyone was on board.

Leg 4 was tough, but I felt strong and satisfied. When I arrived at the transition area, I arrived running strong, but I was slowing down. Each leg was requiring more time.

I admit, I was sitting on the fence somewhat about continuing on. I felt strong again, but I was going on into the night, and I was so tired! Most of running ultra's is the mental game. Keeping ones mind in check. This is always the hardest part of my game. By stopping, I was choosing to stop on a high point. A good experience at a race will provide such motivation for the next one. By continuing on, I ran the risk of not finishing, and becoming totally defeated. Something I'm a little vulnerable with right now. It's been a tough year of training (or lack thereof). I'm proud to have set a new goal, and achieved it.

The great thing is, is to see the congratulations of people on Facebook. People didn't to say comments like "maybe next time" or "so sorry about...". Everyone was proud and congratulatory. That means a lot to me. Frankly, I realize some of my running was about "people pleasing" and trying not to be broken. As I combat this paradigm and choose to pick a goal that works for me, and still see acceptance and admiration from peers, I come to realize the inherent good in people. Little by little, I am learning to trust people more and more.

How about the fund-raiser? Well I've made my offering and I did my best. Nobody knows suffering like those boys, but they never complain about it. I don't think they know how to complain. At least none of the ones I met, and I can tell you, what kind of offering would a battered runner be? I whole heartedly believe too, that they would want me to do by best, and end when I'm all "funned out" :).

I want to thank my Wife for believing in me, and for all of those friends out there who have followed my blog and been with me through this whole experience. Even though it's just a day later, I can tell you that my story is not complete yet. I'll still continue to run and do my best. Especially the ultra distances. Each experience we have carves us, and makes us who we are. This one has added to my depth as a person, and especially my compassion. I will relieve this day with fond memories for the rest of my life.

Finally, thank-you the Muscular Dystrophy Alberta and Rachel Chan for all her support in getting our message out. Virginie and I could not have done this without you.

Until next post,

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

To the one who holds my heart...

I have been off the radar for quite some time now, lost in the darkness, disoriented by the storm clouds brewing inside a bleeding heart but I've found a shaft of light and I'm ready now to follow it through.

 When I first started on this fundraising journey my intentions were to repay my brothers for all the love and compassion they had given me throughout my short life with them. But they had big shoes to fill and I kept tripping over them until I was so battered and bloody that I couldn't find the strength to stand up again. That's when I realized that I will never be able to fill their shoes. They were giants stuffed in frail human frames and no one will ever be able to come anywhere close to measuring up to them! I have discovered that I am better suited to wearing shoes in my own size but I can still follow in their footprints.

Of all things, I have been delightfully surprised and inspired by the posts my husband has shared. I had no idea he could write so well and so eloquently describe the inner chambers of my heart kept secret for so long. I guess that's the attraction of blogs; the social permission to write more intimately, more vulnerably. A blog often contains an inner conversation that could never be shared in any other social situation. And with that certain anonymity, that delicate balance point where a fragile heart can open just wide enough for others to catch a glimpse, those who have responded  have touched our hearts so deeply.
Today marks our 15th wedding anniversary. I think of all the figurative miles we have put in together and I can't help but be amazed that after all that, I am even more in love than the day we said "I do!". Despite, or perhaps because of all the mountains we have had to climb and the valleys we've had to hike together, our hearts no longer have anything left to hide. When one gets to this point, it truly becomes a divine masterpiece!

In a previous post, I had mentioned that I quite often need to measure my worth by my actions. When my calves became injured and I could no longer run, I dropped out of this whole adventure, feeling that I no longer had a right to post or participate since I felt that donations coming in were based on the exchange of dollars for miles. Having run for over 10 years now, I definitely felt that I was mourning the loss of a very dear friend. Running had become my identity, my bosom buddy, my mantra, my connection with the divine. But my body (injured calves) had betrayed me, yet again and was further proof that I cannot trust ANYONE! Not even myself! The past few weeks have been a time of intense darkness and emotional pain for so many more reasons than just running. And in the past, running was what had kept me sane. I was now a shipwreck about to happen, swallowed by the tidal waves of a raging sea...

A few days ago, my family and I spent a lazy morning watching family running videos and reminiscing about the glory days. We came across the Canadian Death Race video from last year and my heart ached so much, I thought it would burst! So many emotions tumbling together in my mind that only a runner can truly relate to. I have always felt a sense of belonging in the trail running community. Whether one has taken 100 steps from the couch or a 100 miles from the starting line, every runner has a story to share. The courage it takes to lace up one's shoes and step across that line is the foundation of the running community, no matter what age or shape or size. That is what I missed! My heart ached to belong to something bigger than myself, to belong to a camaraderie of people who welcomed you in, no question asked, to stand under a flag of unity where one's position along the journey was discounted because we were all in this together.

My thoughts turned to our solo finish last year where I had unexpectedly come third in my age category. "Solo" is a wholly inadequate word. I could never have successfully finished if that word is to be properly respected. The support of Stephen, his parents, our children, dear friends and countless others who may not even know it... and my brother Mathoni, who's picture I had pinned to my hat; all contributed to my accomplishments and yet most will never be awarded their proper credit. A runner's support crew often remains in the background, in the chaos of transition areas and in the countless hours and toil of training during the many months leading up to race day. The similarities to families affected by Muscular Dystrophy are so similar, it would be ludicrous not to make the connection! I propose that they be counted as full members of the running community because without them, a runner will truly be running solo and setting themselves up for failure!

With only 2 days away from the finale of our fundraiser, I thought I would share some words of advice by Jack Cook, owner of Fast Trax Run & Ski Shop. His words ring true, not only on the trail but wherever life may take us!

Mental Game
If you can focus on the positive and turn any set backs into positives you will be so far ahead come race day you cannot imagine. Focus on the positive completion of your leg or race and use every set back along the way as a reminder of how hard you have worked and nothing stands in your way.

Once your run begins take each moment as it comes and stay in the moment not focusing on the outcome and your event will be enjoyable the entire way. Once you focus on the outcome that is when things become overwhelming.

There will be moments of weakness and fatigue but if you slow the pace and focus on working through, the period will pass and you will rebound in time. The disappointment of stepping off the trail is far harder at the end of the day than working through a rough patch and waiting for your energy to return.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

You inspire me!

It's been a journey, this time training for an ultra marathon. To recap, we started out methodical and strong, but quickly frustrated. Virginie struggled with trying to find her place in our running relationship. This went on for months, and before long, became all we could see in front of us. Running became a chore. It became a frustration, and it became demotivating. We stopped talking, stuck behind the paradigm that we were ultra marathon runners, and without the label, we were in and of ourselves, of no worth.

It's okay, self worth has never been my strong suit, and I can imagine all these people responding to my post, ensuring me that I'm an inspiration and to not listen to negative self talk. I can imagine me wondering how to reply to them, not knowing what to say. Consumed by the self imposed requirement to respond with perfect eloquence.

Perhaps there are those who can relate to my struggles. Those who know what it was like to be bullied while young. To feel helpless and alone. To learn to not trust anyone, and to isolate myself from people, because in the end, they would only use me to advance themselves socially, and that requires them to demean, insult and ostracize.

Then running came along.

It gave me an identity, it saved me from the chronic depression that runs in my family. I was able to get off medication, and felt I had something to offer people socially.

But I wasn't social still.

I could see that the changes were only skin deep. My running served as a means to prove to the world that I am not broken. That I have worth. I began running hundreds of kilometers per month. Literally thousands per year. There were people who told me that it was unhealthy, but I was too vulnerable to listen. I felt that their solution was to deprive me of the one thing that was providing me hope and healing. I felt they wanted to take away my running.

This past weekend something wonderful happened as I watched my one and only best childhood friend push beyond his own limits to conquer a difficult 100 mile course. His efforts, and enthusiasm for the sport have been an inspiration for me. I think my kids get annoyed hearing me talk about him. Seriously though, I had one friend until grade 9. That was him. Our friendship was something that held me together as a child.

The last couple of weeks, I have decided that I really do love to run. I love the sport, and I love the people. I started running intervals with the Fast Trax run and ski shop the last couple of weeks. The friendship, comarderie, and enthusiasm brings to my mind one word in particular.

...  Healing ...

Nobody will ever know this, and sometimes I hope nobody does, because I don't want to be treated differently, because I have been so insecure in the past, but honestly, all you folks from the shop are restoring my faith in friendship. Something I have denied myself all my life.

This weekend looks like it will be very hot for the Sinister 7. Perhaps 30 degrees. If that is the case, it will be a very difficult run. But, with that said, I still plan on going out there. It's truly different this time. I'm not going out to impress anyone. I'm going out to take part in an event because I'm not only passionate about the sport, I'm passionate about the people.

Runners: thank you for all you do for me. Seriously. This means anyone who has got off the couch, tied up their shoes and put one foot in front of the other, repeating the process for whatever length of time until you arrive at your destination. I don't esteem myself above any of you. You are all an inspiration to me. This includes all those boys out there who would run, but can't because their bodies simply won't allow it.

I love you all.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The storm before the calm

When Virginie and I first moved to Edmonton we visited the West Edmonton Mall to look around and get a feel for getting around in it. While there, we were admiring the paintings in one of art stores. There was one in particular that caught my eye. It showed a dimly lit wetland area surrounded by a shadowy boreal forest. In the foreground a nervous elk cast his eyes heaven ward, there to see a looming black sky. The elks mouth opened perhaps announcing it's warning to nearby friends to seek shelter right away. I was enthralled. I could feel the electricity in the sky. I could feel the cool breeze shoving it's way through the heavy moist air. I could hear to unnerving rumble of approaching thunder.

Virginie and I have often talked about that picture. As avid storm lovers, we both would love having a chance to go to the central States, and have a shot at seeing a real tornado. For now though, it's the storm before the calm for me. All of those questions that naturally pop up prior to a big race.

- Did I train hard enough?
- Will everything go okay?
- Will it be hot? (I'm hoping for cooler)

It's the storm before the calm. Frankly, when I line up and the gun goes off, my energy can finally be directed. Then I feel calm and free. The excitement of race day is contagious. If you can, come out to the crowsnest pass and see for yourself. There is a magical energy.

Really, it's all tapering from here. I'll do a half marathon tomorrow, then intervals Saturday morning. Then next week, only enough to keep me from going stir crazy :) I'm not sure what that will be, I am planning on listening to my body.

Last year at the Death Race, Virginie and I set expectations as: Enjoy the journey, don't go for the finish line. The strategy seemed to work well for us. We did not want to loose the focus that if we stressed about the finish line, we would miss all that happened in between.

As I look at the weather report, it keeps bouncing between hot and cool for race day. Hopefully it will be cool. It's what I am trained up for.

I want Lehi and Mathoni, my brothers in law that have passed away from duchenne muscular dystrophy, to know that I love them. Oh, how grateful I am that you are in a better place. How I hope for Cedric, for Shad, for Nicholas and Benson, even for the healthy Elijah, because he will take on the role of the caretaker older brother, for Spencer, because he's is the protector older brother, and for Sam, dear Sam. If there ever was an older brother to be proud of, who quietly helped, hoped, loved, and protected unconditionally, it is you my friend. I hope that with all of the wonderful technology that we have  been blessed with in this day and age, that my offering, how big or small will provide some hope to you, and to your families. I've said it a lot in my blog before, but I know that things will get better. We will have good times and bad times, but as assuredly as the sun sets, and then rises again, so will new hope, new treatments, and new technology. I hope the best of these will find you.

When we love someone, anything is possible

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Define: Failure?

At supper time, we'll often use our phone to search for definitions. It's fun. I'll lift up the phone and say "Ok, Google", and when the voice search dialog pops up, we'll say "Define: <something>". We've defined a whole bunch of stuff. On request, by my Son, we were all enlightened to learn the definition for Poop. The voice on the cell phone read over each word in a semi-robotic voice, while my Son giggled.

If you actually googled "Define: Failure" you would come up with either "A lack of success" or "the omission of an expected or required action". Over this past year, I have been learning that many things are both true, and false, or at least my mind has made them both. Let's take running an ultra marathon... For me, success would require me to run 100 km, or 4-25km loops through a stunning, but difficult river valley course. The course started in Gold Bar park, and snaked it's way through Goldstick park, Capilano park, Strathcona Science park, Sunridge Ski-area, and Rundle park. The weather was perfect for running.

I won't hide it... I did not finish the course. There are lots of reasons, and now that I have had time to sleep on it, I realize how easy it could be to let thoughts slip, and drown myself in failure. It is easy because according to the definition, I did fail. I failed at completing the required 100km distance. I did run 55km though, and that's no small feat. If I had entered the 50km race, I would have succeeded. Another point. There is a difference between failing at the "required action", and being a failure. I am definitely not a failure. Far from it. The road we've taken to try and get to a point where we could run the Sinister 7 has been far from easy. Virginie is still injured, and our runs have been very depressing. Go ahead, read through the earlier posts, it was the same thing every week. I will often tell people that ultra-marathoning is a sport for the mental. It's 90% mental. The other 10% is all in your head. I lived in my head yesterday though. On the first lap, I had for the most part mentally signed out. I just did not want to be there. I made good time though, and almost equally good time on my second lap. There are many "if's" that run through my head:

  • If I had kept going
  • If I had trained harder
  • If I had brought more music
  • If I had more people to talk to
  • If, If, If...
Anyone else go through this ridiculous ritual? Well, I'm choosing not to. I am a unique person, worthy of compassion. I try my best all the time. Unfortunately, due to the activity I've chose, failure is a super easy thing. It's often very easy for me to choose it. Sometimes, it's healthier to find a sport or activity that will give more positive feedback. You can argue the opposite though. So where am I at? 

My brother in law "Lehi" passed away almost years ago. He had a reputation for being a very honest person. His older brother Sam told me once "When Lehi says something, he means it." I came to know him as the epitome of honesty. After our reception, I found myself back in the church looking for something. I don't remember exactly why I was there, but I do recall getting cornered by Lehi in his wheel chair. He looked up at me and told me "I love you". The quiet gesture of love and acceptance has touched me to this day. I write it now with tears in my eyes. I go back to our theme, "When we love someone". 

Mathoni would call us every Sunday. I admit, some Sundays I just did not have time for him, but the thing that really impressed me is that he was consistent. In his own way, he left a big mark by doing a simple thing. He did not just call us, he called his other Brother and 3 Sisters every week. I remember while visiting him, I would give him the "I'm watching you" gaze. You know, the one you give to trouble-makers by holding to fingers towards your eyes, and then pointing at the person. Whenever I would do this, he would hint that he was going to run me over by inching toward me on his wheel chair. That was our way to kid around. I loved it.

The moral of my post? I choose to not look at yesterday as a failure. I choose to look at it as a success. It was not easy, in fact, it was really really hard. I give it 100% and then some. Today, I choose to love myself.

Now, what of the Sinister 7? I'm still leaning toward running it. Why not? I'm super stiff from yesterday. I must have gotten something out of it. If I give'er really hard for the next week and a bit, who knows? My goal is to raise funds and awareness of neuro-muscular disorders. The next is to run 100-miles.

Perhaps the lyrics of this Toby Mac song summarize it better. 

Oh, by the way, we're just over $1000 into our $7000 goal. That's good, but not great. Please, share this post. Let's get the word out.

When we love someone, anything is possible.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Bugs, Sweat and Tears

Last Friday night, I let my fears overtake me. Stephen held me close as I let the tears silently fall on my pillow. I've never been injured before and this is really bad timing with only 6 weeks to go and so many expectations riding on my shoulders. Something has changed, I'm not sure what. I used to take pleasure in running with my husband but now, it has become emotionally and physically painful.

We watched an excellent movie called The Book thief about a young girl who finds freedom in books amidst the horror of war. Her simple acts of courage inspired me, reminding me that courage does not have to be big, bold or even obvious. Any act of courage makes a difference, even if no one else sees it. So my act of courage was to get up at 3am yet again and take that first step. Every step is an act of courage in facing my fears. With my husband's inspirational blog "Defining success" running through my head, I determined yet again to make a go of another run.

My jumbled thoughts usually come together when I run, as if all the jostling tumbles them into place. I suddenly remembered an incident from my childhood. My father, not knowing that I was sitting within earshot, leaned over to my mother and asked "Wouldn't life be easier if we didn't have the boys?!" (Referring to my two youngest brothers with muscular dystrophy.) My mother angrily silenced him but his words rang in my head. I determined then to prove my value. As I run, I ponder on those words. Yes, perhaps life would have been easier without them but would it have been worth it? NO!!!!!! I think about how those words affected me for all those years. They chained me to a belief that I always needed to prove my worth, my usefulness or else be a burden. For the past few months, I have been a burden on Stephen through my fears, my tears and my inability to improve my running, made worse now through my injured calves.

I think of my brothers, Lehi and Mathoni. They certainly were a burden on our family but aren't we all?! Haven't we all, at some point been a burden on those around us? Does that lessen our worth? NO!! I'm willing to bet that if you were to ask those loved ones if they would have traded the burdens for an easier life, most would say, "Not on your life!" Lehi and Mathoni gave me more that what I could offer them! They taught me what it was to truly love, to live life fully, no matter how short. They touched my heart when it was aching and they cheered with me when I accomplished a goal; big or small. They laughed with me, cried with me and picked me up when I felt I had no strength left. I miss them terribly! But they taught me that worth is value in and of itself. We are all worth it, no matter the burden because we are precious children of God. We don't have to prove ourselves, we just are! Like a twenty dollar bill; it doesn't matter if we're wrinkly or crispy, shiny or faded. A twenty is still worth a twenty!

Stephen's gift to me was running beside me, wanting my company more than he wanted to run by himself. Stephen's gift to me was reminding me of my worth, regardless of my efforts or abilities. And what right did I have to reject his gifts?! Once I accepted his gift, I was running with a little more happy in my step! It was a tough run but it was worth it because we were able to talk about this subject and be reminded of our enduring love for each other.

Even at 3am, the weather was mild, perfect for running! As the sun came up, so did the temperature (and the bugs!), accompanied with a delicious breeze to cool our sweat. I did pretty good for the first few hours, running on Ibuprofen and Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem. We were trying the orange-vanilla flavour but don't be fooled. It doesn't taste anything like orange or vanilla! More like watered-down cornflakes. But I wanted to say "Where have you been all my life?!" I'm sold! When the Ibuprofen ran out, the fire in my calves burned with a vengeance but I was determined to get to the end! Stephen put on When we love and that started the tears because it reminded me of why we were doing this! And that's worth it!! About three or four kilometers from home though, my calves declared mutiny and it was either walking faster than I could run or run slower than I could walk!

Yesterday, Stephen and I traveled to the Sinister 7 course for some training. Within a kilometer, I was in tears again. My calves were once again a raging inferno until the Ibuprofen kicked in. How am I going to get through this?! The hardest part is not the physical, but the emotional. When we first started running, it was a way to spend more time together, to enjoy something together that made us feel alive and deepened our bond together. But something has changed and it feels like a loved one has passed away, a chapter of my life that I can never recover. I will need some time to mourn, to find myself again or maybe discover something new...

Thank you to all those who have donated! Your simple act of generosity has not gone unnoticed and on behalf of my brothers and all those families affected by Muscular Dystrophy, THANK YOU, FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR HEARTS!!

And we couldn't have come this far without Rachel Chan, Fundraising and Community Development Coordinator. Her tireless efforts and guidance made our idea a reality. Thank you!
Also, thank you to Garry and Linda Sigsworth from HillCrest Mines for housing us this weekend and during the Sinister 7 weekend. They made us feel so welcome and right at home!

Thank you to all those who have supported us throughout this journey! And most of all thank you to my soul mate Stephen for your love, patience and understanding!


Monday, May 19, 2014

Defining success

Okay, 2 really cool things happened last week. The first is that I had wanted to complete a 100km week. I've been close to a 100km week before, but my body would usually quit before my will would. For whatever reason, when I started death race training last year, I decided not to count my weekly kilometerage that much. I guess in some cases ignorance is bliss? We (meaning Virginie and I) were always very careful to follow the 10% rule, at least when it came to our long runs.

This time around, I've been interested in my weekly kilometerage. A number of weeks ago, I had done 84km for the week. 100 would be pushing the 10% rule a little, but I figured, listen to your body. Remember, 3 strikes and your out (If I feel pain in the same area 3 times, I stop running). Stretch lots, and if a muscle gets sore, strengthen it. This usually means right after the run. It's funny, sore muscles are not obvious sometimes. For example, pain in my hips could come further down my quads. Now, I'm not a doctor, but right now, my hamstrings are really stiff, and I think that's contributing to a little pain in the inner thighs. It's not enough to stop me, but I really want to be careful these days. I guess it's called red-lining, where you push your body to the limit, without injuring yourself. With all that said, the more I learn about my body, the more I'm impressed on how it adapts to longer distances. So long as I'm "mentally there", I'm usually good to go, and my body will albeit unhappily sometimes, adapt.

That was not the case this last week though. I did 24km on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday (well 22 on Thursday), for a total of 94km for the week. It was with this in mind that I found myself running in the green area behind our home in my barefeet at 11:00pm on Saturday. By that time, I was not really motivated too much other than the goal for completing a 100km week. However, when I began running, I felt my feet connect with the soft cool grass. I heard the frogs "chirping" in the small stream beside me. It was dusk, and I could smell a few wood burning fires. It was finally spring, and I was free. I felt as though Mother Earth granted me energy above what I had, because I had chosen not to hide myself from her with my shoes. I started off at a 5:30 pace, but only 20 minutes later, it had quickened to 4:00 min/km, yet I felt in control of my breath. I was relaxed. I was feeling "the flow". I did not bring a headlamp with me, so I had to trust that my feet would know what to do. If I stepped on anything, they would be able to detect, and compensate almost instantly.

We sure do have amazing bodies!!!

Here is our fundraising website.

Please visit. Learn about Duchennes Muscular Dystrophy. Support our cause.

I get a little worried for Virginia, because she's really struggling, but I realize that it's never too late. Last year at the death race, I visited the physiotherapist 3 days before we were to run. Why? because I could not run. My IT band was so tight it was impossible to run through the pain. She needled me, wished me luck. I swore off running until race day and on that cool August morning, I rose with my Wife, checked in at the start line, and began running.

22 hours, 7 minutes, and 45 seconds later we crossed the finish line.

I often wonder what made that day successful. I guess it was a lot of things. The point I'm trying to make though is that it's never too late. It's never too late to try. We only fail, when we fail to try. I guess this is how I'm defining success.

My love and prayers go out to Virginie. My message is: We'll make it. We'll do it!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Careful what you wish for...

couple holding hands : A close up of a silhouette of a couple holding hands. Stock PhotoStephen and I walk in the warm Edmonton evening, arms around each other' waists. We are barefoot and walking in perfect synchrony. It reminds me of our dating days when the world seemed so carefree in hindsight. I love the feeling of freedom that barefoot walking offers me. This connection with the earth reminds me of why I love running so much!
 My sides are still aching from laughing all night. The shroud of darkness that has seemed to be my constant companion lately had lifted for a few hours as I laughed to tears with my family watching episodes of Mr. Bean and America's Funniest Home videos.

There are 6 weeks left until Sinister 7 and I haven't been able to run in a week. My calves have become so tight that I cannot run through the pain any longer. Believe me, I have a very high pain threshold! When I was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I ran on a swollen ankle anyway and applied ice afterwards. When I had psoriasis on my feet, I would run anyway and come home with bloody feet. But last week when I tried to run a kilometre, the pain took my breath away and I had to take the LRT the rest of the way home. I wondered if a muscle could get so tight as to break a bone? My legs felt wooden and would spasm if I tried to roll them out.

I ride my bike to the University and back every day to attend my classes in hopes that I can make up for lost training runs somewhat. I have also gone to see Leigh Garvie at Coronation Physiotherapy to get needling done on my calves but it's a game of patience and I don't have much time left! My husband has been deep-tissue massaging my calves for a few days now trying to break up the knots. It always brings me to the very edge of panic and I really have to concentrate on my breathing. At any moment, it feels like my muscles will suddenly give out and relax and relief will come flooding in but I just can't seem to get past that intense moment, nearing blacking out. It's so frustrating! What if I can't make it in time for the Sinister 7? What if I can't make the power of our combined strength a reality? What if I let down all those who are counting on me on their behalf?!

A few weeks ago, I secretly wished I would break a leg so that I wouldn't have to go through with it. The emotional and physical toll of the past year has left me hollow and I am so tired of the pain from both! So careful what you wish for, you might just get your wish granted! Only this is worse because there is no honour in this and I have failed our cause! Two years worth of rising way too early in frigid temperatures, two years worth of holding out for something better, two years worth of tears and training and mental toughness! I haven't lost hope quite yet but it's looking pretty grim, the clock is ticking unmercifully. To some this may not seem like such a huge deal but for someone who has never had a runner's injury and with so little time left, I feel that I let down a lot of expectations, most of all my own...

When my husband and I first came up with this fundraising idea, I had sky high hopes of making a difference, of changing a life, of carrying on the the legacy. But I realize now that I am not very inspirational and I no longer have my brothers' strength and faith to carry me through, to wipe away my tears or to crack a joke when life got too tough. My brothers with Duchenne's Muscular Dystrophy taught me that strength may not have anything to do with the physical and everything to do with the will! I miss you, Lehi and Mathoni and I could use a miracle right about now!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Speedwork and friends

Yesterday I did to 12k runs to the office and back home again. Tuesday is usually our interval day. I have a love-hate relationship with interval training. I live the results, but they don't come right away, and it hurts to get your heart rate up that high. On the other hand, sometimes I get into the zone and feel the "flow", at least that's the term Virginie learned in University to describe that feeling of euphoria and connectedness with ones body that happens, but sometime not so frequently for me. On my way to work, I ran to work to get there. I tried to keep an aggressive pace, but found myself often stopping to catch my breath. I did not time myself either. Lately, I've not been timing myself at all. For one thing, I have the GPS watch to Virginie. I miss is a little bit, but not that much. The way I see it, the watch can tell you when you need to pick up the pace, but can also tell you when you are going to fast. If I have no running watch with me, I am forced to run by feel. I find this helps me. I tend to run faster than I think I am. Still, this morning in particular, I was struggling for breath. In contrast on the way home I felt great. There was definitely some "flow" felt then. I was light on my feet, moving fast, and even though out of breath, able to sustain the pace for substantially longer.
I'll be doing some strength training tonight and 15k tomorrow morning. Best pace as possible. When I cannot hold the pace any longer, I'll take two minutes to recuperate, and then try to match the pace again for as long as possible. This type of training helps with the lactate threshold. As I understand it, it's that area between aerobic and anaerobic activity. The higher the anaerobic threshold, the faster I can run on just fat metabolism. This is a pretty basic way of looking at it, but it's worked for me.
Likely 10k on Friday night and 45 to 50 on Saturday morning. I think we'll be well prepared. Well do the Sinister Seven training camp in early July, and two weeks later River Valley Revenge 100k. Two weeks later, race day!

If you have not had a chance to support our cause for Muscular Dystrophy, please visit our fund raising site and donate. Perhaps we can have some of these wonderful boys running with us eventually.

Zero Drop

Well, my Zero Drop Mizuno Wave Cusoris shoes are taking a pounding this week. Late last week I was getting excited for "barefoot season" and walked to the LRT station in my Vibram 5-fingers. I really do like those shoes. In the past on Saturday mornings, the Kids and I have gone out to the green area behind our home, and run in our bare feet. There is really no feeling like it to me. A couple of years ago, I decided to take it to the next level, and started running in my bare feet on the pavement. I really did love it, but I could not go for very long before my feet got a little sore. I read that in time, they toughen up, and to not give up, but I always have some race I'm working towards, and so have never been able to slowly build up my foot pads enough to do anything more than 3 km or so on the sidewalk.

When Virginie and I started training for the Canadian Death Race last year, we decided to use a "zero drop" shoe. A zero drop shoe basically has no rise in the heel. Your foot sits evenly parallel to the ground both at your toes, and at your heel. Zero drop shoes mimic the positioning of your foot during barefoot running, which I like. I personally feel that by doing so, I keep my feet and ankles strong, and avoid potential injury. It's not that easy. I've had lots of chances to injure myself over the years. Avoiding injury has been a learning experience, and there really is no "magic bullet" to it. For me, regular stretching has been important, but still not enough. When I feel that familiar "pull" at the end of a muscle (usually in the hips, knees and ankles), I head straight to Leigh Garvie at Coronation Physiotherapy. She uses IMS needling to loosen up the muscles and it really works wonders for me. Stretching keeps the next visit a little further away.

Another really important thing has been learning the difference between "good" and "bad" pain. I've been using the "3 strikes" rule myself. Basically, when you feel some sort of pain, tighten up your form. Make sure your landing light. I prefer a midfoot/forefoot strike myself. It took a while to get use to, but barefoot running really helped to develop this. In a nutshell: You work toward striking the ground 180 times per minute, or 3 times per second. Your foot should connect with the ground slightly behind you. Your literally falling into your next stride, and then catching yourself. Running this way maximizes my energy through "elastic recoil" or your foot's natural rebound mechanism using the arch and Achilles tendon. Tendon's, unlike muscles don't wear out. As a result, landing with my foot behind me forces those tendons to stretch and propel me forward into my next stride. I can conserve valuable muscles for later.

This week I decided no running early Saturday morning. So, I'm trying to get all my kilometers in during the week. This means running to and from work everyday. There are no hills, so that's what I'll have to switch to next week, but it's great for endurance training. It's 12km each way, and I'm going for a 100km week. 4 days * 2 times per day * 12 km is 96 km. Then, I'll do 4 km in my barefeet Saturday morning (10:00, not 4:00 am) haha!!!

One last thing to say. A couple of weeks ago we visited a family who had 2 boys with Duchennes. They were a wonderful family. Kind, and generous, and very blessed (they had a super nice home). Virginie has touched on most of that experience, and so I'm not going to try and add too much, but there was one moment that evening that really stood out to me. I saw the older brother dancing with his younger brother. The game would have the cute couple hug and dance together sometimes holding hands. They were both smiling and laughing. The older brother struck me as such a kind and caring person. I was so impressed with him. I think having a brother like that must change you. It makes you more compassionate, and less selfish. He's definitely they type of young man I hope shows up at our door one day to take one of my daughters out. (Sorry, I hope I'm not embarrassing anyone!). To that family, I just want you all to know I'll do my absolute best to raise money so that your wonderful Son's can have as many of life's experiences and treasures as possible. Thank-you so much for the wonderful evening.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Rise up!

It is often when I am in my darkest moments, that I come to find the answers that I need. I suppose it is because only then, do I become open to their possibility. I write freely today. I'm not going to be embarrassed about what I write. I've never really opened myself up to anyone, except my Wife. We've talked a lot about the emotional struggles of running. I wish I understood why our runs go this way. If I did, maybe I could change it. Unfortunately, I cannot. All of our runs lately have been miserable. The weather does not help. Guess what? There was snow on the ground this morning. It hovered around 0 with a cold wind out of the north. The windchill hovering around -7. With 2 months until race day, I get nervous that we're not getting in any hot weather training. Virginie picks up some of these queues. At least, that is how I see it right now.

It's got me thinking. History is replete with those who, under tremendous odds and struggle, rose up in their moment of trial again and again to fulfill. I don't know who any of them are, but look at our society today? We live in a tremendous society, and I think the future looks tremendously bright for us. There are perhaps many who will suggest that we will over populate the earth, and destroy the ozone layer, but I look at the rising generation, and I see in them the type of people who think outside of the box. I believe they are ready to face the challenges of the future, and will face them with optimism. They may reject many of the ideas of past thinking, and that may be difficult, but in the end, I believe the rising generation will "rise up", and provide solutions to many of our most difficult problems.

My circle of influence is quite a bit smaller. Frankly, I have a hard enough time controlling myself :). With that said, I offer my commitment. I will also "rise up". I will not give up. Virginie told me that this morning. She won't give up until she's told she can't try anymore. Rising up may be different this time. If I had to choose between my Wife and running, then see you later running, Virginie is the most important person in the world to me. Perhaps people can still donate to that cause. Either way, each of us will arrive at a point at the road (or trail), where the trail does not go where you expected. You'll be expected to make a decision at that point on which way to go. I may be facing that decision. I guess it's my turn to "rise up", pick a direction, and run on. I tend to see life in black and white. Meaning, once I make a decision, there is no going back. That's not true though. If I pick a direction, and after running it a bit, I can always turn back and take the other. Perhaps it's the case that it would be better to take the wrong way. You see, the quicker I learn which way is wrong, the quicker I can get back on the way which is right. I just cannot fear making mistakes.

If you have some encouragement to offer though, please add it in the comments. We really need it right now!!!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

That's why we do what we do!

Nich comes in through the door holding a grocery bag filled with yummy smelling Chinese food. As he lets it slide down to the floor, he readjusts his balance then ambles his way to the bannister, the classic Duchenne's posture evident in his walk. In order to counterbalance their top heaviness, boys with Duchenne's will stick their stomach out, their heads pulled in to their neck like turtles. They carefully pull up one foot at a time and using momentum, swing it forward, then the other. They tend to swing their shoulders and arms as well to help with the forward motion. I can't help but feel a little nostalgic emotion as I watch him, remembering my brothers when they were much younger. There is a tendency to jump right in and help but that just enables their feelings of helplessness and strips them of their dignity and accomplishments. As much as possible, they should be encouraged to do as much as they can on their own.

I immediately recognize that spark of fun and mischievousness in Nich's eyes as he comes over to say hi. It's the same one my baby brother Mathoni always had shining in his eyes. You always knew he was up to something and it usually didn't take long for him to spring it on you! I resist the urge to wrap him in a big hug because we have only met a few times even though his mom Laurel and I have known each other for quite some time now. His father Ricky comes over carrying Nich's older brother Benson over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and ever so gently positions him on a kitchen chair at the dining room table where supper is waiting for us. Benson reminds me of my middle brother Lehi; quiet and reserved but with a light of great wisdom and compassion shining in his countenance. His deep love and concern for his mother is so touching, something I had also noticed with my own brothers toward our mother. There is an intimate bond between mother and sons, a mutual respect stemming from sharing such a heavy load. 

Watching them discreetly throughout the supper conversation, I realize they already hold a piece of my heart because they remind me so much of my own two brothers and how much fun we had growing up together and how much I miss them both! But for fear that they think to themselves "Why in the world is this psycho woman paying us so much attention?!" I stay at a socially acceptable distance away. My attention turns to their oldest brother Spencer. He reminds me of my brother Sam. Is it human nature to draw comparisons with something familiar in order to understand and relate to something or someone? Just like Sam, Spencer received the "good X", so he does not have the disease but I wonder if he carries the weight of the implications of it on his shoulders just like my brother did? In my mind, I imagine them both standing side by side; stalwart guardians, protectors and keepers of their younger brothers. They spare no thoughts for themselves but serve their younger brothers with unfailing loyalty along with a healthy dose of an older brother's duty to tease. They are the ones left to carry on the family name.
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Benson, Nicholas & Spencer

After supper, Nich rides on the chair that will take him downstairs to the family den. I'm trying to remember that movie where I've seen this type of chair before. I turn to my teenage daughter for help. "You know that movie with those cuddly creatures and if you feed them after dark they turn into monsters...?" Nich pipes up, are you talking about "Gremlins"? We both chuckle. Ricky comes down the stairs with his sack of potatoes again. Benson quietly and confidently gives directions to family members who pass him the X-Box remote while his father makes sure his son has established his balance on the chair before moving off. I notice he is wearing those plastic braces that my brothers used to wear which support the ankle and foot to prevent the foot from pointing downward and keep the Achilles tendon stretched. The idea is that wearing them hopefully delays the need for the Archilles tendon surgery performed to release the resulting contractures. In the late stages of the disease, both my brothers had that surgery done because their legs would get so tight and painful. 

I watch Spencer interacting with his brothers throughout the evening. They are normal brothers with the usual bugging and teasing but infused with intense patience and brotherly bond. It seems that what boys with Duchenne's lack in dystrophin and gross motor skills, they make up in fine motor skills and dexterity! Watching them adeptly manoeuvring in racing games is amazing! I remember watching my own brothers playing Unreal Tournament. They would both play as one character, Lehi usually doing the strategy and shooting, Mathoni taking care of the manoeuvring and directions. They always had deadly accuracy and it didn't take long for others such as my husband to declare that it just wasn't fun anymore to play with them. No one could come close to their combined skill level!

Laurel talks about their many travels around the world. They realize that the time will come when travelling will no longer be feasible due to the limited mobility and progressing fatigue of her sons but also because of the weight of the power chairs that will soon become a necessity. But wherever they travelled her sons were treated like celebrities; the red carpet was pulled out, they were ushered to front row seats and granted special privileges. One Sunday, the whole congregation stayed after Church to shake their hands and thank them for their inspiration! It warms my heart to think that there are still people in this world who recognize pearls of great prices when they see them and treat them accordingly.

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                                                      Ricky & Laurel with their beautiful family!

I cannot end this post without mentioning Harvey and Marley, their two cats. Not enough can be said of pet therapy! Animals can sense when their presence is needed and they are usually happy to oblige. When one is having a bad day or is suffering, the mere sound of a purring cat or the stroking of a velvet ear or even the comforting weight of a warm body against an aching heart is the best medicine anyone can prescribe!
The evening ended too soon for my taste. The older I get, the more room in my heart there seems to be to accommodate all those who wiggle their way in!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Muscle, muscle, who's got the muscle

A couple of weeks ago I  had an epic week of training. I don't always want to be pushing the envelope this way, but it worked out okay for me this week. Generally, my rule of thumb is no more than 10% of my longest run, or my weekly  kilometerage. This means if I did 40k long run and 60 for the week, I would do no more than 66 for the week and 44 of that for the long run. It helps to avoid injury. Something I have been prone to since I started running 10 or so years ago.
The week I speak of had a 24 km run on Tuesday, 15 on Thursday, and then 42 on the weekend, for a total of 81 kilometres. My muscles were definitely sore after the week was over, and I spent a great deal of time rolling out my quads and it band. For sure, I feel the fatigue in those two muscles the most.
I'm not sure what it would feel like to have Duchenne muscular dystrophy, but Virginie tells me that when her brothers were transitioning from life walking to life in a wheelchair, that they would often cry because of the pain in their muscles. Her Mom would lovingly apply hot packs, and massage their muscles for them, often to tide them over. Both Virginie and I have said it many times in our blog, but because of their lack of strength, we feel they put for ultra marathon effort many times.
We keep trying to get out to a family that have a couple of boys with Duchenne's. I think it happening next Saturday. We are all busy, so it's a sacrifice for us both to meet, but I am really looking forward to it. I'll be sure to post our impressions after.
When I got back from 46 km this last weekend, I was really exhausted. Virginie was feeling strong this week. A couple of days ago I told her I thought she was being merciless near the end. When we get tired, we will often pick a target and run towards it. Then walk for a whole. The little mini goals really seem to help. With that said, Virginie picked a goal that was more than 2 km away. This was too much for me, but I did not want to be wimpy, so I ran anyway. When I asked her why she had picked such a far away goal she responded "I did not want to be wimpy" lol! There was a nice thing about are run this weekend though. We ran in an area where we had previously not set foot. It was brand new, and exciting. For Virginie and I, that's saying a lot. I don't mean to brag, but our training has brought us from one side of Edmonton's river valley to the other. We really needed some new ground.
Oh, and no snow :-)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Because of Him

I run slightly ahead of Stephen and our son Baden, their laughter still ringing through the quiet Kennedale Ravine from the imagery I left in their minds. I had explained to Baden that some master yogis apparently are able to meditate so effectively that they do not feel the cold as they sit crossed-legged up on snowy mountain summits in their underwear. I'm not sure what those pant things are called. The imagery of wise old men in their underwear must have tickled Baden's funny bone because he was still laughing about it a few minutes later, his complaints of "runner's gut" forgotten for a while. It's that feeling that all newbie or out of shape runners feel when their stomach has been shaken up and down for a few kilometres. Although my son has a lot of heart, the fact that he really hasn't done much running all winter can't be ignored. Father and son are training for a 10 km night run called Storm the Fort this weekend.

The all too familiar sound of our running shoes crunching on old snow is really getting tiresome but Baden feels confident in his new shoes from Fast Trax. If there is ever a best place to buy shoes, it's there. The small shop with the huge reputation known all across western Canada has the best knowledgeable staff you could ever ask for! Every staff member lives the vision of owner Jack Cook in serving their customers until they are more than completely satisfied. A staff member spent over 45 minutes with my 11 year old son, treating him like a fellow runner, helping him chose from over a dozen pair of shoes until Baden was beaming from ear to ear in his final purchase.

 There are little pillows of snow on top of the pine boughs and the sky is the same colour as the ground; a uniform egg shell tint. It would be very pretty if not for the fact that according to the calendar, Spring arrived several weeks ago. Maybe Mother Nature didn't get the memo?! After last week's disastrous run, I spent a lot of time thinking this past week, in between studying for final exams. It has been a very long and tough semester, not just with school but with lots of other challenges coming our way. A family friend teases us saying we don't have enough trials in our lives, we add our own set through our running! I do find it annoying that even though I did say I was quitting last week, there is a fighting spirit deep within that will not let me be! 

Seeing my son courageously running alongside his overachieving parents inspires me so deeply! He does not find anything wrong with the idea that he is only running a tenth of what we are training for. That boy seems to have no fear when it comes to running! It is obvious to see his sense of entitlement as a fellow athlete and I am so proud of his courage and uninhibited vision! The reaction we get most often when we explain our goal to people is an instant declaration of their inability to run even a few kilometres! It's as if we are immediately placed on a pedestal so high that no one can touch us. It creates such a feeling of isolation! Can't we still be friends even though running may not be the commonality that connects us?! I used to be one of those people, not being able to comprehend why anyone would possibly want to put themselves through that? Why? 

How did I get from there to here? Because of love. Because I wanted to share in my husband's world, I wanted to get to know him, to understand what made him tick, what drove his passions. My first official 15 km just about killed me! That is what I absolutely love about the running community-- whether it is the first step of your running career or the last step across the finish line, there is always that sense of camaraderie, that understanding that we have been there too, that willingness to share your pain and your triumphs, your setbacks and your comebacks. 

Last week, I had lost sight of that vision. I had forgotten where my true strength lies. I had forgotten to laugh, to have fun even through "runner's gut" or any other physical trial. I had forgotten the bigger picture, I had forgotten who I was doing this for. As I open my eyes and more especially my heart, I tie my laces a little more tightly, I run with a stronger dose of determination, I squeeze my husband's hand a little more firmly and I look to God and live! Let me show you those moments that bring me inspiration...

 My hubby will always be the keeper of my heart and my dreams!

 My son, the little runner with the huge heart!

 The husband and wife team from Winnipeg who inspired the theme of our fundraiser! They are even more inspiring in person! And so dynamic on stage! :D

 And ultimately Because of Him, I have been given a second chance... or fifth or sixth....

I don't think running for me will ever be easy but I am a fighter! And I have the example of my brothers to thank for. They never stopped fighting until their last breath! They ran countless ultras back to back to back. I only have to run a 100 miles. So here's to you, Lehi and Mathoni; Shadamehr and Cedric, Nich and Benson, and all those families for whom I am running for. You inspire me! You are part of my strength.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Who's Bars?

I've had a chance now to read what Virginie wrote about our run today, and a chance to think about everything throughout the day. What can I possibly share that would be motivating, or inspirational? It would seem that our Blog has focused more on the "emotional" aspects of our training rather than the physical ones, but I can tell you that I'm sufficiently tired today. We were up at 2:30 am this morning. The alarm was supposed to wake us up at 3:00, but we were already wide awake so we decided to get up and get at it. 30 minutes earlier means done 30 minutes earlier does it not? I had taken the time to prepare all our food the night before. I cooked macaroni, got couple of snickers bars as well as a new one we are trying called "Tho's Barz". I'm not sure if it's right, but I've been calling them "Those Bars". Clever eh? I imagine myself talking to another runner...
"Hey, have you tried Tho's Barz?"
"Which Barz?"
"Tho's Barz! I love Tho'z Barz!"
 We have our route all planned out. Our goal is 46 km. 23 km towards Terwilligar Park in the south end of Edmonton, and then the 23km back. There was quite a bit of trail on the route there, which makes it even more exciting.

All week long, we've had spring weather, so when I checked the weather report last night, and saw that Environment Canada predicts -7 with a winchill, and some other forecast is predicting -2, I have my fingers crossed that Environment Canada is wrong. Seriously, I'm very much TIRED of running in the cold. I've had it up to "here" (pointing to forehead). However, fortune is not on our side this morning. It is cold, with a bitter wind coming in from the north. The hardwood floor is cold in our home, and as we shuffle along it, trying to make our preparations, I've got a little anxiety about what we need to go out and do. There is always that question... What if? What if we don't make it? What if we get frustrated, angry, or injured and we are far from anywhere? What then? Of course those thoughts don't get you to the finish line, so for now, the only way to know is to get out there, and get it done.

It's 3:30 by the time we've arrived at the starting point. Our worries are true. The wind is cold, and with the windchill, it's between -12 and -15. A little while ago, I lost my favorite running face mask on a trip to visit my Parents. So, I've been living without it. This is a morning where I miss it the most.

The sky is overcast. I can see this because the lights of the city reflect softly on the bottoms of the clouds. They are threatening flurries this morning, but so far there is nothing "new" and white on the ground. I hope it stays that way, but I'm committed regardless of what the weather can throw at me. I'm thinking about what I'm going to be writing, though the experience has not yet unfolded, I mull over things in my mind about where we are going, and why we are going there. What should I write? What would be inspirational. I wonder if people come to our blog to learn about running, and they mostly get a series of blogs that describe our emotional struggles.

I'd be writing all day if I described all the little things that happened. Running for 6 hours just to train is pretty epic in itself. Our goal of 46 km will take us way down the river valley, hopefully past Terwilligar park, and then back again. 23 out, 23 back. Everything is going great too, until we run into a completely iced over portion of the trail, and it is not just a short section either. The ice follows the trail clear from the high level bridge, to the bridge on Groat Road, perhaps a 3km stretch. It takes it toll on the both of us. We tackle some sections on our hands and feet in a "crab walk" style. We tackle others by stepping gingerly in a section to find it provides no support or traction at all. In fact, I start to cool down because I'm not moving very fast. To complicate things, I can tell I'm getting frustrated, and so is Virginie. By the time we get to Hawrelak Park, we're looking for any signs of pavement. We find a fork in the trail. We've gone right before, so we start with that. What do we find? Ice... So we turn around and go right. Ice... It's okay though... we continue on. We eventually find a road through Hawrelak Park, and when we get to the other side, the trail looks clear. At least for a while. It ice's over eventually. Something has also gotten into Virginie. Perhaps it's me... by now, I'm ready to file a formal complaint with Mother Nature. I'm mean really! How fickle can you get??? I guess the one saving grace I can think of is that at least it's good training. If we can mentally and emotionally get over this, all the better shape we'll be in when race day comes. So, we continue on.

This is the general theme for the next hour. At one point, a low-lying area has collected all sorts of snow melt, and its iced over, and that ice has a fine layer of snow on it now. Virginie steps on one spot, and her shoe immediately goes through the ice, into the freezing water underneath. We end up scaling the side of the trail in the prickly wild rose bushes to try and get away from the ice water. It works! I start wondering if I can find an alternative trail back.

By the time we get to Terwilligar park, the effects of everything (the weather, the emotions, the distance) are becoming obvious. Virginie's pace has slowed, and my temper has unfortunately escallated. It's not a temper that is flaming hot... it's more of a smolder. I try to help out, but I don't think I'm helping anything. We've been running with headphones on for a while, to try and get some motivation. By the time we are heading out of Terwilligar though, after about 26 km, things are looking pretty bleak. I walk to let Virginie catch up, and wait for her to pass. It's always easier to have her in front, and match her pace. Once she passes though, she takes a wrong turn, and I decide not to say anything. It's still not that clear why I did not... but the reality is, by the time Virginie realized what happened, she was done. She grabbed a bus ticket from me, and ran across the street to take the bus home.

I realize this is not the end of our story. It's the beginning of the rest of it. We can always choose to get back up and try again. I love running for that reason. It's only over when I decide. My body can complain, and my mind can complain, but I don't have to listen to any of it. My heart is in two places. Be with my Wife? Finish the run? In the end, I feel it's better for Virginie to work this one out. I don't think I'll be able to help. So I continue on.

There is so much to tell about the remainder of the run. How I got lost, how some dear friends provided encouragement in my hour of need. How I thought of a great friend that lives down where it never snows, and has become quite an inspiration to me. How I decided I love Ginger in my smoothies because it soothes a sore tummy, and how if I just ever so slightly jut forth my hips while I'm extending for the next stride, I seem to find a little "free speed". Yup, I could write forever.

Why am I doing this? Well, it's not for me. We are going to be having dinner with a family in St. Albert in the next few weeks that have boys with Duchennes Muscular Dystrophy. I met them at a church activity a couple of weeks ago. I was really struck with their eyes. They are so full of life. They wheel around like there are no issues, with a trust that is simple and honest. I don't know if they realize that they won't be able to feed themselves eventually, or even roll over in bed. Apparently, a cure is close, and new treatments are coming out all the time. With a new treatment, these boys, and many others (especially in my own extended family) will have the opportunity to have a life that I often take for granted. Even getting angry at their Wife while trying to run. Virginie, if you are reading this, I apologize. Please, let's try again. I know it will be better next time.