Friday, March 28, 2014

Run Happy!

After last week's rather uncomfortable run I was determined to run happy! We had enjoyed two wonderful weeks of Spring weather and I was almost convinced that we would smoothly transition right into summer! I was clearly living in denial; as a long time Albertan, I should have known better!

Photo: :)

The morning didn't start out too well; waking up to a world of white, Stephen forgetting to put the lid on the Vita Mixer...twice and me suddenly remembering that I had left my Altras Zero-drop shoes outside a few days ago to air out. They were completely filled in with snow and frozen stiff! Breaking the cardinal rule of switching shoes every other run to decompress them, I only have one pair of running shoes. Unless you count my Vibrams which are out of the question in this crummy weather! So, I dug out my former Sauconys and shoved my feet into them. It didn't take me long to remember why I had long ditched them! My daughter's feet are more narrow than mine so she doesn't mind wearing them but my toes have enjoyed the extra roomy comfort and were not willing to go back. It didn't take long for the blisters to pop up.

We chose to run loops around Gold Bar Park where we had completed the 50km Fast Trax ultra last June. It's very pretty country around there; lots of up and down terrain dotted with trees and a tiny ravine, all snuggled under a blanket of snow. We were delighted to see the cross-country trails so nicely groomed. It made it so much easier to run on. Our goal for this run was 38 km. The first hour went by fairly smoothly, each lost in our own thoughts. I was letting my thoughts run free, following the advice of the influential martial arts instructor Bruce Lee: "Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless like water."

It worked for a while but it was so cold that the ice sticking to our eyebrows and eyelashes stung our eyes. It was too cold to take anything out to eat and refuel and our water had turned to ice in the bottles. Even through my baklava, I got an ice cream headache! My pace slowed as I struggled to keep up with Stephen. He was also struggling in his own way and we tried to make conversation to take our minds off. It's one thing to let your thoughts take flight with every breeze of fancy when you are running by yourself  but when you run with a partner, the dynamics change. You become aware of each other, you become conscious of their body language and their struggles. Unless we talk out loud, we can only infer what the other person is thinking and that usually doesn't bode well. For some reason, we always assume negatively. Training is some physical but mostly mental. Training ourselves to make conversation even through the times where we would really rather just be silent and get through it is just as tough as the physical efforts! I have a hard enough time sucking air into my lungs when I run but if I start talking too, it always ends up being a compromise between speed and conversation.

We both tried our best, struggling to reign in emotions and simply focusing on the task at hand. Run Happy! Run Happy! Run Happy! We concentrated on the reasons why we were doing this again; to spend time together, to raise money for families affected by muscular dystrophy, to touch something that is bigger than ourselves. I think the early mornings are finally getting to me and I was feeling exhausted emotionally and physically but I have made a commitment to some very special people and I can not let myself be overcome! So far our fundraiser has gone up to $325, every little bit counts! As Stephen mentioned in his earlier posts every effort, no matter how small ensures forward progression.

And at the end of the day, it is not the distance or the training that matters so much as the people who touch our hearts...

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Good, better, and best

Okay, I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, commonly known as "The Mormon Church". I tend to wear my Religion on my sleeve, and have a firm belief in God, and certainly something greater than myself. I believe that there is a plan that involves me, and it grants me purpose and meaning in my life.

Life is not all rosy because of my faith though...

One of the things I hear the "brethren" or leaders of the church talk about is the difference between "good, better, and best". I admit when given a choice, anything less than the best is often not good enough. I've always seen myself as hopelessly not good enough. Truth be known, that's actually true. I'll explain why in a second.

When it comes to training, Virginie and I certainly have good run's, then better run's, and then the best runs. Yesterday was just "good". You know, I suppose that some are not even good. Think of good as eating a healthy snack that you hate... but it is healthy, and so you do it because you know even though your taste buds hate you, you body is likely thanking you. That's what yesterday was like for me.

We were up early in the morning. 3:00 am to be exact. The day was going to be a busy one.

  • 9:00: Drop off one child for swimming lessons
  • 9:30: Drop of another for Violin lessons. Take time to stretch
  • 10:45: Pick up the swimmer
  • 11:30: Get chores done
  • 1:00: Meet with our campaign organizer
Note that there are no meals in there. For me, I burn about 3500 calories per marathon that I run. That is about 4 full meals for me. It means that after our 42.2 km training run, I would be behind perhaps 3 (if I eat properly during the run). That gave around 3:45 to about 8:45 to get our 42.2 km done. I felt 5 hours would be pretty close. I tend to run faster than Virginie and it's tough for me, because I constantly feel like I'm demotivating her. It's easy for me to run fast. I don't feel winded, but my muscles scream at me. Because I tend to handle the muscle discomfort well (I've been running for almost 10 years), I get the feeling Virginie starts to wonder what she is doing, and if she's just holding me back. I try to encourage her, but it's often not too effective. 

It's funny... training seems to be a small part physical for me, and I'm assuming it's the same for Virginie. The big part of training for a 100 mile race is the emotional and mental training. If you are exhausted ... keep running. If you are frustrated or angry ... keep running. If you feel misunderstood ... keep running. I'll think to myself, "If I just get to the end of the run as quickly as possible, it will be over". The thing is, I cannot get myself to the end of the run as quickly as I want. Virginie is such a strength to me in so many ways, and so I must choose to accept her frustration and her pain as my own. To genuinely look outside of myself as a feeling and caring husband and allow her to feel and work out her own "demons (as she's begun to call them)" on her own. I allow her to rely on me, only when she is ready and able. If she's not ... keep running! I think this is what I pulled from the run yesterday. Yes, we did finish, and yes, it stunk, but that day, I'm just choosing good, and that will be good enough

You know, when I met Virginie's brothers Lehi and Mathoni, I remember that they could no longer walk. They spent all day in their wheel chairs by that point. Virginie would tell me stories about them though. When they were young, they would climb up the stairs by sitting on their bum, and using their hands on the stair above, pushing up until they could sit on the following step. They would repeat the process until they were at the top of the stairs. They were always exhausted when they got to the top. Perhaps yesterday, I can empathize a great deal better with them that I ever could. Perhaps this is what takes my run from good to better, perhaps even best? It's the realization that when you are at the end of your rope, you still have a choice ahead of you. It's a choice to improve, or to regress. I believe that just "staying the same" means your actually regressing. A choice to accept being "good enough" is actually a choice to be complacent. Lehi and Mathoni lived life with a constant focus on improving themselves, and living each day like it was their last. Lehi was awarded the award of fortitude for fulfilling all every single cub merit badge requirement. Yes, he received all of them. Lehi and Mathoni became very good at Unreal Tournament. One boy would play the movement, the other the aiming and rotation. I could scarcely get out of my hideout without getting shot when I played against them. Working together, they would get a head shot almost instantly when I was visible to them. Frankly, after a while, I stopped playing them. It just was not fun anymore.

Super Cub Scouts - Lehi and Mathoni Sanson
My conclusion? Things are not always as we see them. We do good, and that's good enough, because good paves the way to better. Good makes you appreciate best. Good get's you thinking outside of the proverbial box. Don't ever think good is not good enough. It is!

Sweet. We've lived in Edmonton for 10 years, but I never knew about this tunnel going under Anthony Henday Drive. This opens up a whole new world of potential roads and trail!
At the half way mark (21.1 km). We had wanted to run on a new trail, and we've never run on this one before, but we arrived at the trail head, just as we were supposed to be turning around :). Oh well!

This is a classic Alberta run, running in front of the Strathcona refinery.

Git on home!

Git on home!

It would be unfair of me to share only the good, fulfilling runs. I wish every run were like that but unfortunately, it doesn't work like that. Mental and emotional training are just as important as the physical training and I might dare add that they are even harder because reality is perceived in the mind of the beholder. I have run all day and all night before during the Canadian Death Race but my demons come out with a vengeance when I am emotionally weak; and they are ruthless! To my credit though, this is the first time they have shown up this running season. Every training run last year was plagued with them. I don't remember a time when I didn't break down in tears at least once during our long runs. But I became resilient and mastered the art of slaying them down and keeping them at bay. So, when they attacked yesterday, I realized I had let my defenses down. 

It started on Friday after having a sinking feeling that I had flunked a midterm in one of my favourite classes. Negative self-talk is very destructive and I felt sorry for myself all afternoon so when the alarm went off at 3 am yesterday morning I was already starting my run on empty. My husband tried to be so loving and encouraging but after a few hours, he became annoyed at my constant "sandbagging". I would have become annoyed at myself much sooner than that! We had found new paths to run on and the scenery was fresh and new but I could not snap out of my lethargy. My pace was unbearably slow so my husband was forced to either run at his regular pace or risk injury. It wasn't long before he was a speck in the distance but he would always wait for me to catch up. It was a rather mild morning but when you work up a sweat, it doesn't take long to shiver if you stop. Stephen suffers from Raynaud's (In medicine, Raynaud's phenomenon is excessively reduced blood flow in response to cold or emotional stress, causing discoloration of the fingers, toes, and occasionally other areas.'s) 
  1. so this constant stopping and waiting was challenging for him. 

For a while, I was somewhat successful at running ahead of Stephen because I knew he would be nipping at my heels and I did not want to slow him down. But my biggest challenge is still trying to keep up on my calorie intake. Trying to breath and chew and swallow all at the same time drives me to a near panic and so I don't eat. But it drastically slows me down as my energy wanes. Stephen is great at reminding me to carb up again. The general rule is 15 oz every 15 minutes. For those of us who love to eat, this a a great excuse to eat all the time! Last year we ran on Cliff bars and gels. But let me tell you, I am so sick of eating them I can't even stand the thought! We prefer eating whole foods like peanut butter and honey sandwiches, pieces of fruit, nuts and green smoothie. My favourite is plain macaroni with a little bit of olive oil and some half and half salt. It practically slips down right to the stomach. 

Stephen is always saying that there is nothing better than doing something you love with someone you love. But I didn't feel that I deserved his love this morning! My demons were howling with pleasure and I felt completely trapped in their talons. There was a dualism playing out in my mind, a childlike whimpering persuading me that I could not take another step and another firm and confident voice, more familiar convincing me that I would make it. I chuckle a little while writing this. The distance covered this time was marathon distance, 42 km. I had successfully completed over three times that distance last year! Why is it that humans are so forgetful?! 

With only five ridiculous kilometers left, I suddenly stopped in my tracks. I couldn't do it anymore! I broke down in sobs. Stephen was way too far ahead to notice, there was no one else around, no one to come pick me up. The training distance had to be covered if I wanted to succeed. That firm, steady part of my brain finally got angry! "Look, stop being a crybaby! You know you're better than this! Smarten up and git on home!" I thought of my brothers with Duchenne's muscular dystrophy, trapped in a body that refused to do their will. There was no one to come rescue them from their physical ailments, there was no end in sight to their daily struggles, no place for them to finally stop running and take a sigh of relief. I only had a few more kilometers before I could finally rest, Lehi and Mathoni had had a lifetime ahead of them before they could finally rest. And they had done so with style, grace and humour. "So dry your tears, catch up to Stephen and git on home!" 

I found something deep inside to get me going, I did catch up to Stephen and completed that horrible distance! The last 100 meters, Stephen offered me his hand and we walked back to our van. Fresh tears of gratitude and love for this man pricked my eyes. He declared that the best remedy right now would be to come home to a Ginger, a cuddly companion with soft brown eyes and warm golden fur to bury your face in, a true friend who would love unconditionally, no questions asked. Oh, how I miss her terribly! Animal therapy is God's secret weapon...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

That first step...

That first step...

That first step out of a warm bed onto a cold floor is the hardest! But I just realized, that movement is one I take for granted. I remember one or both of my brothers who suffered from Duchenne's Muscular Dystrophy calling out to Mom in the mornings declaring they were ready to get up. It was an hour long process, carefully moving one son's limbs into the commode chair and rolling to the shower. Then back to his bed so Mom could get him dressed and finally into his electric chair. The process would be repeated for the other son. 

Stephen and I don't talk much at this wee hour of the morning, both being half asleep still, our blurry eyes barely making out the numbers on the clock. We each have our tasks; I get the camel backs ready with water and orange flavoured Gatorade along with the food we usually carry on our long runs and Stephen makes the smoothies. It's been over two years now since we've been making them. Stephen has become an expert at knowing which flavours blend nicely and which ones don't. The general rule is to stick to similar coloured foods and always have an emulsifier. We stopped using spirulina (blue-green algae) a while back. Although it's a runner's superfood, who wants to smell dead fish at that hour of the morning?! 

The frigid temperatures do a great job of slapping us awake and suddenly we are eager to run and get warm! Our bodies usually complain the first few kilometers, trying to convince us that it is way better back in bed where the rest of the sensible world is! But we press on and our weird little aches and pains seem to dissipate into the darkness. Our world is reduced to the bubble of light dancing directly ahead of us, coming from our headlamps. It is such an intimate setting, shrouded in darkness and stillness. Nothing moves, no sound is heard, except for the soft landing of our feet and that freight train rumbling by. Oh wait, that's me breathing... We are different runners that way. I have never suffered an injury in all the times I've run but everyone can hear me coming! On the other hand, Stephen always looks like he's strolling through the park on a sunny Sunday afternoon but he always seems to be recovering from some injury or another. That is the beauty of our partnership. Our children always say if we could become one body, we would be the perfect runner!

 It feels like we are the only two people left on this planet. The River Valley belongs to us this morning, we have ran all along it's length and back again. I carry a map in my head, I am familiar with all its curves, every foot bridge and single tracks. I can't help but smile, like hanging out with a close friend. There is no where else I would rather be but here, under the stars, running alongside my soul mate. There is an unhindered connection between mortal and deity when the body is coerced into doing something difficult, retreating into the dark recesses of the mind. The mind suddenly has free reign and dominates over matter. Unfortunately, those moments never last very long. A bump in the road or an upcoming hill will jerk the body back into consciousness and the battle of mind over matter is fought, over and over again. I refuse to let my body win! It has put me through too much already to claim that victory.

 In 2006, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. In 2011, I developed a serious reaction to one of the medications I was taking. My doctor said it was one of the worst cases of psoriasis he had ever seen. I should have been hospitalized. My skin was raw and my hair fell out. I could suddenly sympathize with lizards who shiver from cold when it gets below 25 degrees C! I admit, at times, I had thought of ending it all but I would think about my brothers; how they lived every day betrayed by their bodies and still finding strength to smile and play practical jokes. They had no choice but to rely on those around them for every movement, every action, every task. So, I would fight back as best I could too! I ran, willing my body to push through the pain, willing my mind to focus on my Heavenly Father with whom true power lies. By the end of my runs, my feet would be bloody and raw from the lesions but my heart soared from triumph! Endorphins are so addicting! 

It is a slow realization that we can see details around us, no longer relying on our headlamps. The magic of the night is burned away with the first few rays of sunlight. We are privileged to be witnesses of this day's first sunrise. My heart pinches a little thinking about all those sleeping people who are missing this ordinary miracle! I cannot help but feel a strength beyond my own reviving my limbs, my heart, my dreams. These moments are the ones that make it worth the struggle! I can't help but see the faces of all the boys we run for; my brothers Lehi and Mathoni, my nephews Shadamerhr and Cedric, our friends' boys Benson and Nich and all those families affected by muscular dystrophy for whom we are rooting for! Tears always threaten to throw off my breathing pattern and so I swallow them but I cannot express my gratitude for all those ordinary heroes who may never be recognized but who inspire countless others like me to see the good in life and become bigger than their bodies. 

                                   Saturday March 8, 2014 around 7am

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What are we doing?

Well, you have found us. However you ran across our blog, let us introduce ourselves. Our names are Stephen and Virginie Closson, and we love to run. Running started out as a means to spend time together, and continues to be one of our favorite past times, but when we finished the canadian death race last year, we accomplished something that we realized was much greater than ourselves. We believe in God, and we both felt his help when we participated in that experience.

So what are we doing now?

Well, it took about 3 weeks to go from "I'm never doing that again" to "maybe that was not so bad?". I guess the rest is history. Late last year (2013) we decided to do a fundraiser for muscular dystrophy canada. Virginie has two brothers who passed away from the effects of duchene muscular dystrophy. We thought we could do our part by sharing our running experiences, and trying to raise money for a cause which has been such a big part of our family.

To that end: Virginie and I are going to run the Sinister 7 Ultra this summer in support of raising awareness and funds for a cure for neuromuscular disorders. We'll post updates on our training, as well as any other thoughts including many lessons learned here on our blog. We hope to see you back here often. Our 100 mile trek is just starting!

To hear the theme song for our fundraiser or donate, check out our fundraiser webpage.

All the best,
Stephen and Virginie