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!