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.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


It was wonderfully sunny and warm all week long, even going up to 16 degrees on Wednesday! My heart rejoiced and my feet were quick and light. This is truly the joy of running; the sun shining, the birds singing and my best friend beside me. Who could ask for anything more?! Thursday's run was supposed to be a recovery run but I had a hard time keeping my pace down because I was so carefree! I felt alive!

This morning, we woke up at 2:30 am to see snow on the ground and the temperature hovering around -6! What kind of cruel joke was Mother Nature playing on us?! My last few posts, except the one about my Spring Companions have been rather bleak so I tried hard to think of something insightful and inspirational to blog about. The first two hours weren't too bad. I tried to run happy. We passed by these teenagers who seemed a little tipsy... or a lot. They saw our headlamps and started panicking. "Are you guys cops?!!" We reassured them that we were only runners. Their attitudes changed from alarm to disbelief that someone would purposefully get up at this time to train. We had a good chuckle over that incident.

We found a new trail which totally made me happy but all the lower trails in the River Valley were atrocious! Previous pawprints and footprints had hardened into cemented ice which threatened to roll our ankles. On slopes, the ice was slick forcing us to grab unto trees to get up or we slid on our feet and hands like a crab, going down. And because of blisters on my toes which I had duct taped to prevent them from rubbing against each other, I tried to avoid puddles but a few times, I stepped onto thin ice and my feet would go through into the freezing water. It was so frustrating and with this agonizing slow pace, the wind chill got the better of us. I had to bite my tongue to keep from swearing!

Some couples yell at each other, we hash it out on the trail. I could tell Stephen felt bad that I was struggling so much, not only with my breathing and my pace but also with every slip on the ice and my gagging trying to get food down. He felt guilty thinking he kept going too fast and I felt guilty because I was slowing him down. The cold was seeping into his fingers, making his Renauld's act up. I was trying as best as I could and he felt like a lame husband, not being able to make it easier for me. But it was because of him that I had made it this far in my running career! His constant encouragement, his loving attitude; his desire to be with me overriding his risk of injury! It was so sweet, it made my heart ache and I realized that I was trapped! That we were trapped! I would never be able to match his speed or grace and he would always have to wait for me, never being able to attain his personal bests!

Like a dark tidal wave, discouragement yanked me down and I was swept out to sea. Every slow step was a crushing realization that I was just a sham. Here I was boasting of the distance and the early hours and how great I was when really, the credit goes to Stephen for uplifting me on every run for the past two years. I've been riding his coattails and he has had to put up with so much emotional crap for so long. He actually enjoys running, he talks about it all the time, he looks forward to the weekends, for our long runs, for the great bonding moments we'll experience and instead, he gets... me and my drama.

We were on the very opposite side of the city. There's was no way we would make it at the pace I was going. I was swarmed by demons and there was no way to rescue me this time. I did not have the emotional strength to reach out to some higher power or rely on the strength of my brother. I didn't look back as I boarded the bus, the tears blurring my vision and making my throat ache. Stephen doesn't deserve this, no one needs to hear about all my failures week after week. There is no inspiration to gain from this. I hate myself for quitting but I'm signing off. I don't know where this will take me from here but I cannot let those families down! Perhaps it's the case that I need to find my own path...

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Not my strength

I guess I've thought a lot about what I would be writing in my blog. I sometimes suffer from perfectionism (write the most insanely amazing blog post, or don't write it at all). Truth be told, it's something I have to regularly do my best to manage. I have to keep reminding myself that if I don't try and control perfectionism, that it will likely try and control me.

On Tuesday's we always do intervals. Our training program goes like this:

  • Tuesday: VO2Max workouts. This means we get our heart rate up to 100% as many times as we can, and keep it there for just a little bit. These are intervals where we are going all out. 
  • Thursday: Lactate Threshold workouts. We get out heart rate high enough that we are going from that magical moment of burning fat (aerobic activity) to burning the glycogen stored in the muscles (anaerobic activity). The idea is to push that threshold up. For me, it's about 80-90% of my maximum heart rate.
  • Saturday: Distance running. We increment 10% from the previous work out, if (and only if) we've recovered from the previous workout. For me, to avoid injury, it's really important to take the time and recover properly.
I'm often reminded when running that my strength is only temporary. I have a lot of will power, but eventually it does run out. At this point, I have a choice to make. I can stop, or I can trust that my strength is bigger than what I can understand it. It's almost spiritual at this point. I could blog about it, and it still might not make any sense, but suffice it to say, I'm convinced of a very kind being, greater than myself, that provides strength when I've exhausted my own. I remember during the Canadian Death Race last year, as we ascended Mount Hamil, that my legs were sooooooo tired. It was literally one step after another, reminding myself that the goal was still possible, if I could just believe. When Virginie and I summited about 3 hours later, I knew there was a higher power that had provided that strength when I needed it.

When it comes to boys with muscular dystrophy, I wonder sometimes what will power they have to develop? Do they also have to rely on a higher power when their strength is gone? One of the things I take for granted is being able to scratch my own nose when it's itchy. I asked Mathoni, one of Virginie's brothers, what he did at moments like that. He told me he just forgot about it. What self control! It serves as an inspiration to me. With a reliance on a higher power, and self control like that, I know that anything is possible.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Spring morning companions!

Tuesday morning with a little more sleep in us, life was a little easier to handle. The weather was warmer, only in the single below zero digits. My two younger children Baden and Mimi agreed to accompany me (riding their bikes) on my run since they were on Spring Break. The run was fun! I remembered that I enjoyed running because it made me feel good and it encouraged me to go outside, into sun and fresh air. I tried to stick to quieter roads so we wouldn't be hassled by cars or intersections. We ran up old Fort Road, past the Alberta Hospital and down Lehi's Lane. (It's not really named that, it's the road I was running on the morning my brother Lehi passed away. He was finally free from the body that had imprisoned him for over 20 years with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Before returning home to his Heavenly Father he had announced that he was planning on running a marathon around the universe before settling down to whatever work they do up there.)  But with the construction of the Anthony Henday, (the highway that skirts around the city and promises to cut travel time by quite a bit) there's definitely an increase of traffic trying to dodge all the roadblocks.

 The first part of the run was basically a long interval! Baden was leading the way with Mimi staying right behind me. They were pushing me to sustain a 5 minute/km! This was great training for me as I hadn't run in a week but I wasn't sure how long I could keep up this pace! From our house, down to the end of Lehi's Lane which meets at the highway was about 8 km. Mimi was starting to struggle and her pace was slowing drastically. I'm not sure at what point I realized that it was no longer a matter of training and simply getting home but I didn't want Mimi to stop having fun and never wanting to join me again. I loved their company so much! I offered to have her take breaks and walk for a bit but she seemed just as content to go off to her own little world. From a distance I could see her adorable animated face and her lips jabbering away. Baden and I would run ahead and then circle back to round her up. The sun and warmth was so enjoyable, I really wasn't in a hurry to head back home anyway. 

In the end, we had covered over 17 km! That's a pretty big distance for a little girl who hasn't trained all winter! What a heart she has! Baden wasn't phased at all and I knew he could probably have done double without blinking an eye!