The Power of Perseverance: My First Half Marathon

This month, I ran my first half marathon and, let me tell you, The Other Half was the perfect race to take my half marathon virginity! Not only was it extremely well organized, but at so many times throughout the race I found myself in absolute awe of my surroundings, thinking what a gift it was to be there on that glorious sunny day, surrounded by tall red cliffs and breathing in that clean Utah air while miles flew by under my feet.

Getting to that point had been a struggle, though. I had expected the physical training to be a challenge but to my great surprise it was the mental training that almost broke me. Just two weeks before race day I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to participate. To be perfectly honest, by then I didn’t even know if I cared anymore. Here’s what happened.

Despite the fact that I’d set out a nice long training period to avoid injury, two months before race day (when I’d hit 18k on long runs) I started to burn out and ultimately ended up with an achilles tendon injury. For a month and a half, I couldn’t run, I was relegated to using the elliptical for all cardio. As I’m sure you can imagine, the elliptical does nothing to increase one’s confidence as a runner! As each runless week went by, I became increasingly frustrated.

A running friend asked me, “What’s the psychological cost to you if you can’t do the race?”

I replied, “Very high. That’s not an option.”

But over time I could feel myself starting to give up. My tendon wasn’t getting better, I could feel all that hard work slipping away, and the thought of causing myself further injury by running a race without adequate training was too disheartening to consider. Psychologically, I started letting go, and every day became a mental battle to try to ‘stay in the game.’

Finally, two weeks before the race, I gave myself an ultimatum: try one more outdoor run and if there’s any pain, then you pull out of the race. That’s it. So, I strapped on my shoes, headed out, and finally had my first pain-free run in months! I tried again a few days later, with a slightly longer run, and again no pain! However, when I tried a longer run , not only did the tendon start to act up again, but my knees weren’t too happy either.

So, when I showed up on race day I did so with much trepidation and a set of revised expectations. Instead of hoping for a sub-2:00:00 finish time, I just hoped to finish – period. I didn’t want to get pulled out with an injury, and I didn’t want to get pulled off by a sweeper car. I just wanted to make it to the finish line within the allotted time, limbs intact.

I started off nervous. After a couple of miles, I started to let myself feel comfortable and settled into a rhythm. It wasn’t until mile 9 that I began to believe that I was actually going to make it. I wanted to laugh, I wanted to cry. I was so overcome with gratitude and joy that after that long training roller coaster, everything had actually come together to allow me to fully experience and enjoy this moment.

I crossed the finish line grinning from ear to ear, and with great pride in my heart I leaned forward to have the medal placed around my neck.

Because of everything it took for me to get to that point, that medal now symbolizes so much more than physical ability. To me, that medal symbolizes the power of perseverance. As Winston Churchill said, “This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never.” I’m so glad I didn’t. Though the journey to my first half marathon was hard and full of missteps, it just made the reward that much sweeter.

half marathon

10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Running

miracle of runningWhen I first started running almost two years ago, I thought all I had to worry about was being able to run without passing out or giving up, whichever would come first. Now, seven weeks away from my first half marathon, I’m still discovering unexpected pitfalls and obstacles. So, if you’re new to running, here’s a heads up on the things not everyone will necessarily warn you about:

1) Toenails will die. At first maybe just one will throb and turn dark after a longer than usual run. Over time it will turn black, get crooked, and eventually fall off. Hopefully, a new one will have grown in underneath by the time it falls off, but that can take a LONG time. If you’re attentive, you *may* be able to prevent the death by popping the blood blister under your nail if you catch it right away. However, I clearly haven’t mastered the timing and currently have 3 black toenails. Dark nail polish is your best friend, girls. Closed-toe sandals for you, boys.

2) Food matters. Protein helps repair muscles, carbs give you energy. If you don’t fuel up properly before a run, you’ll run out of steam and motivation. If you don’t fuel up properly within 60 minutes after a longer run, your body can’t recover properly and you’ll impede your own progress. You really need to find the formulas for fueling properly for your body weight, because it really does make a difference, and it’s not all about the protein powder!

3) Long runs can make you sick. Be careful what you eat before you head out to run 12 km or longer, because all that up and down can make your stomach very upset and have you running your fastest time ever to a washroom. I thought fuelling for a 15k with a peanut butter and banana sandwich would be a great idea, but I didn’t leave enough time for digestion and was sick for hours after the run. Even when I’ve given myself enough time for digestion, I’ve found that having a protein shake after a long run makes me queasy, so tread carefully with food on long run days! Little bites until you figure out what works (and doesn’t work!) for you.

4) The blister phase never really ends. I worked hard and suffered through many days waiting for the blister on the bottom of my foot to turn into a callus, but it was worth it. I enjoyed many months of comfortable running after that, until one day, for no immediately apparent reason, I suddenly developed a painful blister again. Did I wear the wrong socks on a hot day? Did I slightly adjust my stride? I have no idea. All I know is that I had to go through that blister phase all over again.

5) Shoes get old. I’m not referring to the rule that you should replace your running shoes after every 400-500 miles. I’m talking about when you see your exact model of shoes in a warehouse sale for an awesomely low price, and you immediately want to grab every box they have to stock up for the rest of your running life… wait! The materials in shoes break down over time even just sitting in a box, so that awesome deal might turn into a dud by the time you get those shoes out on the road or trail. If the shoes are more than a couple of years old, resist the temptation to save a few dollars and just buy yourself the newer model when you need it. New shoes are cheaper than rehab.

6) Do yoga. Those roadside stretches are all well and good, but running is about more than just your legs. Yoga will help you stretch and strengthen all your muscles, even the ones you don’t realize are absolutely essential for runners. I credit yoga almost entirely with eliminating my iliotibial band pain because it helped me loosen up my hip fexors! Who even knew there was such a thing as hip flexors, and that they could be at the root of knee pain?! Even just 20-30 minutes of yoga a few times a week will make you a stronger, better, safer runner.(Runner’s World has a great section of free yoga videos online.)

7) You’re always at risk of injury. When I first started running, my shins hurt. Then my hips. Then I encountered a pretty persistent knee problem. With each new pain, I investigated recovery and prevention techniques and incorporated them into my routine. However, inevitably, a new pain eventually crops up. This time it’s my achilles tendon. I literally didn’t even know where the achilles tendon was until I googled the sudden pain that took me from a fantastic speed workout to a hobble in 10 seconds flat. Now I’m learning about even more things I should have been doing differently, and have even more prevention techniques to add to my regular routine. Don’t get cocky, you’re never infallible. Proceed with caution.

8) Cramming doesn’t work. If you miss a workout, you can’t make up for it the next day. If you have a bad week, don’t try to work twice as hard the next week. Don’t try to improve endurance and strength in the same workout. Cramming doesn’t work! It leads to injury – maybe not that day, maybe not even that week, but it will come. The more you try to cheat your training plan by cramming, the sooner your body will be reminding you who’s boss. And there’s nothing more frustrating in running than feeling like you’re finally improving, just to be sidelined for several weeks feeling all those gains just slipping away. Be patient and be kind to yourself, and don’t try to cram your progress.

9) It’s harder than it looks – for everyone. You know those people who speed past you with their perfect ponytails, lean bodies and barely a drop of sweat to be seen? They’re working hard, they’re out of breath, and they also have trouble motivating themselves to get out the door. They also wish they were faster, or stronger. They’re not looking at you thinking they’re better than you, they’re in their own struggle to dominate their bodies and their minds just like we are. If anything, they’re happy to see another runner out there too. Remember, we’re all in it together, no matter what level we’re at.

10) Running will change your life. It will become one of those things that you love and hate. Sometimes you dread it, but you can’t live without it. When you’re not doing it, you’re thinking about it and talking about it. You will look forward to the high of accomplishment every time you tackle a new distance, speed, or route. Every slight incline in the road will suddenly look like a hill to you, even when you’re driving. You will start to identify yourself as a runner, and you will be so proud to be known as one. Your life will never be the same again, and that will make you the happiest person alive..

you know youre a runner when

Motorcycles are H-O-T

I can’t believe I’m turning 40 in a few months and I’ve just learned this now: motorcycles are hot. I don’t mean hot like the exhaust pipe will cause third degree burns to your leg if you brush against it (which it will). I mean hot like sexy, super sexy.

This past weekend a friend asked casually if I wanted to go for a ride on his bike. I’m usually up for pretty much anything, so I said sure, why not. 

As he pulled up on his bike, my heart began to race. What was I thinking, agreeing to throw myself onto the back of this death machine? I pictured my body being flung off into a ditch, rocks tearing easily through my Old Navy fleece pants, helmeted head lying at an awkward angle from the rest of my mangled body.

He glanced at me and paused. ‘You ok?’

Deep breath. ‘Yup, just a little bit nervous. I’ll be ok. Let’s do this.’

He slid the helmet onto my (apparently large) head, I hopped onto the back and he started up the engine.

As we began rolling down the road, I hung onto him for dear life. I worried about the little rocks on the road under the wheels, remembering how easily those rocks can throw off the balance of my bicycle tires.

‘So, um, this bike is pretty steady on gravel?’

‘Oh yeah, this one’s great on gravel. I could even take if off-road if I wanted to. How are you feeling about the speed?’

‘So far so good. If we stay at this speed, I’ll be totally fine.’

‘OK, well, we’re going 25 km/h, so I’ll probably speed up a little bit once we get onto a main road.’

Oh my god, speed up? Deep breath. I never would’ve imagined 25 km/h feeling fast to me, but at that moment I couldn’t imagine going any faster. I hung on a little tighter.

We slowly made our way through beautiful forested roads, lakeside trails and vast farmland. With every mile, I slowly loosened my grip, settled into my seat, and began to be able to soak it all in.

That’s when I started to realize how completely exciting it was – the vibration of the motor beneath me, my body pressed up against a strong man who literally has my life in his hands (and who I trust completely with my life), my legs gripping him tighter as we lean through turns. Holy mother of God, I thought, this is HOT.

Ladies, I don’t want to get all 50 Shades of Grey on you, but trust me: if you’ve never been on the back of a motorcycle, you need to add this to your bucket list… nowMy heart is racing again just thinking about it.

We rode around all afternoon exploring the area, stopping off at little bays and beaches, quiet diners along rural roads. As we rode, I stretched my arms out, lifted my face to the sky, listened to the flapping of my jacket sleeves in the wind. It’s the closest I’ve come to feeling like I’m flying while still on land. By the end, we were racing along at 90 km/h on a long open road, feeling free and invincible.

That night I didn’t sleep much, the excitement still coursing through my veins.  Life is a gift, and every minute I was riding on the back of that motorcycle I was squeezing every little bit of life out of every moment. That was a day well lived.

After I dismounted and shook the helmet head out of my hair, he grinned, gave me a look like he was impressed and said, ‘You’re a great passenger.’

Well, this girl is sold. I feel like I’ve just been let in on a huge secret and I’ll be a passenger again any day.

Awesome, Not Awful

I had been dreading this past weekend because it was going to be my first weekend alone since my breakup. Now, on the other side of it, I’m feeling pretty giddy and frankly proud of myself for getting through it like a champ! So, what turned things around to make this weekend awesome instead of awful? I can think of three things:

Goals Saved the Day! – Last week I gave some thought to what I could do at home over the weekend that I would actually be interested in, and decided it would be fun and useful to try to expand my culinary horizons. Since I’ve been thinking increasingly about reducing meat in my life, on Friday I printed off a stack of vegetarian recipes I wanted to try out. On Saturday, I started off by making pesto quinoa – yummy! I  then inventoried all my spices at home, went out and stocked up on all the new spices I would need for my recipe adventures – turmeric, cayenne pepper, garam masala, coriander, red curry paste, etc. On Sunday morning I woke with a sudden craving for scones and thought hey, if I’m trying to expand my horizons, maybe I can make my own scones – so I did! And while my tasty cinnamon scones were baking I made aloo gobi for the first time, which was surprisingly easy to make and quite tasty. Tonight, I’m going to try making malai kofta – mmm, can’t wait!

Forced Sociability – A couple of weeks ago I had committed to going to a party on Saturday night. It was being thrown by a friend of a friend to celebrate her birthday, and the party’s theme was “Parti de l’amour” (groan). I was dreading it. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to know anyone there, but because it was this girl’s actual birthday and it didn’t look like she was going to have a great turnout, I didn’t feel like I could cancel. I reluctantly hauled myself there full of dread and misgivings. Well, it turns out one of my best friends was a last minute RSVP and, even though there was just a small group of us, we all had a great time chatting and laughing until 1:30am! Once again I learned how important it is to go out and do things, even if I don’t necessarily feel like it in the moment.

Fabulous Friends, Old and New – Throughout the weekend, various invitations popped up for future events. Notably, my best friend asked me to be her Valentine’s Day date this Friday since her boyfriend will be working (just like last year), and an old friend proposed a dirty girls’ day doing a Mud Run this Spring – in just a few hours, we had a team of 5 confirmed and are now planning our costumes. So fun! As for new friends, I joined a few new meet-up groups last week and enjoyed the steady stream of social options pouring in. I’m really looking forward to having new adventures with new people in the coming weeks. Ok yes, the introvert in me is a bit nervous about it, but knowing there are so many people like me out there just looking for people to do things with is actually super comforting!

So, I consider this weekend a win. Of course there were tears now and again, but overall I really enjoyed it. Today I’m in a great mood and frankly wish I had more time at home to keep enjoying all the things I started over the weekend! Life is truly amazing. 

Why We (I) Stay(ed)

I started this post a week ago. What a difference a week makes.

My friends struggle to understand why I am in a relationship with a man I constantly fight with, continuously think about breaking up with, and regularly feel unhappy with. Some of my friends have quit the struggle and prefer to stay out of it altogether. A precious few accept it – whether they understand it or not – and just keep waiting for something to give. 

I’ve known him for almost 4 years but we’ve only been dating officially for maybe 6 months. We have a tumultuous past that began very quickly after my ex-fiance broke up with me unexpectedly. I fell in love quickly, even though serious problems were evident from the start. I remember saying to him then: “You are the most selfish person I’ve ever known.” We only dated for 2 weeks back then. We broke up, tried to stay friends, and when that didn’t work we went through cycles of not speaking for months and then reconnecting into a highly charged “friendship” with loose boundaries. Very loose boundaries. I kept going back. He was persistent, I was attached, and we had incredible chemistry.  

When he approached me 6 months ago asking me to reconsider a relationship with him, I turned him down. I had a vision of the kind of relationship I wanted, and I knew he couldn’t provide it. I wanted to feel comfortable, and loved. I wanted easy conversation and mutual respect, stability and support. I wanted a partnership. Eventually he provided a compelling enough case and I agreed to give it a try. Two months later I ended it, then again 2 months after that. My friends were shaking their heads.

Three weeks ago we had a fight and I thought, “That’s it, this has to be the end. It’s just not working.” Fights were starting to become a regular weekend occurrence for us. I try to avoid making permanent decisions in anger so, as usual, I told myself to sleep on it. Of course I got no sleep that night. The next day I told myself not to make permanent decisions when I’m tired and, well, you can see how this goes. Eventually, I finally got a better night’s sleep and told myself the next day, “See? Things aren’t so bad.” He was being sweet, and I was relieved to be feeling a little better. 

But the problems were still there, and they were still keeping me up at night. They were on my mind all the time. Half the time I was thinking about how insurmountable they were and how I needed to end the relationship. The other half of the time I was trying to figure out why those problems existed – what were we both contributing and what could we both do differently to avoid those problems.

The following weekend I thought for sure the relationship was going to end. I had spent a week thinking things over and couldn’t see a way out. It just wasn’t working. I was unhappy, I didn’t feel valued, I didn’t feel like I had a partner. In fact, of all the things I had envisioned for my next relationship, I could find very few of them in this one.

And then, in the middle of that weekend’s fight, he said, “You know it’s because of you that I say felt that you were attacking me (for example). In the past I would have said You attacked me.” And I suddenly saw that we were making progress, that he actually was trying to do better even if he’s not really one to openly acknowledge it. He had quietly noted the need for change, and was trying to work on it. I value that. It brought tears to my eyes, my heart grew three sizes and I instantly recommitted. If he was willing to try, so was I. 

I’d never known anybody like him before, and he said he’d never known anybody like me before. Of course it would take time for us to learn how to be with each other – we just needed to try harder. It was becoming a common refrain for us – we just have to try, we just have to try harder.

Since that day just over a week ago, we fought again, twice. In fact, one night we fought (“discussed”) until 5:30am. It’s amazing how much truth comes out in exhaustion. And truth is kind of like a brand new comforter – once you pull it out of the packaging, there’s just no way you’re going to be able to fold it all tightly enough to get it back in. Once it’s out, it’s out for good.

So, today we broke up. The few friends I have left are being kind and sympathetic. They’ve run the marathon with me. They passed the ‘I told you so’ marker long ago and have just been waiting to see the finish line. They also know that often the finish line is a mirage, so they will cautiously stand by to make sure this is permanent before they say too much. 

I loved him. I do love him. I knew we had the odds stacked against us but I thought I was onto a special secret – that this guy who was troubled and emotionally distant was really a sweetheart just waiting to be loved into happiness. He was incredibly smart, funny, driven, and relentless in trying to get a foothold in life. In so many ways I admired him.

I love discovering people who have unexpected layers of amazingness the rest of the world can’t see. I guess on some level I think that makes me special. Now I think it just makes me like every other person who stays in an unhealthy relationship. We try too hard. We stay too long. We’re hopeful to a fault. We’re a dime a dozen. 

But I’ll tell you this: we’re not weak and we’re not stupid. We know what’s happening. We see the bad, we just whole heartedly want to believe it will get better. And we have the strength of armies because we will go to great lengths and endure great sorrows in the hopes that it will get better.

So the next time you’re frustrated with a friend for not leaving a ‘bad’ relationship, or you find yourself saying “why doesn’t s/he just leave?”, please try to remember that person is just trying their best to be happy. They are hopeful and they are strong. They need your patience and support, not your judgement and ultimatums. 

Ironically, in the end, it was a Facebook post from one of his female friends (who had been the subject of previous fights between us) that tipped me over. It didn’t say anything particularly amazing, and it wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before. It just said the right thing at the right time:




2013: Year in Review

As I sit here looking ahead to what 2014 may (or may not) bring, I thought I’d take a moment to appreciate 2013 and reflect on the things I value most about the year:

1) Rediscovering My Roots – Visiting Prague with family was something I had somewhat dreaded, but it ended up being a wonderful experience. I fell in love with the city again, reconnected with family, and rediscovered how much I value having European roots. Even though I don’t actually have that many ties to the Czech Republic, I love knowing that who I am is bigger than this life I lead in Canada.

2) Monkey Business – Mid-year, I got it into my head that I had to go to Costa Rica and I had to see monkeys in the wild. It took many months of deliberation and negotiation, but in December I finally made it to Liberia and was greeted by a troop of angry, territorial white-faced capuchins. These were not the Marcels and Curious Georges of my fantasies! Luckily, a day before departure, fate had me walk below a tree full of howler monkeys feasting on tree buds. These adorable black monkeys grabbed branches with their hands, swung by their tails, and looked expressively just as I’d always wanted to see monkeys do in the wild. Thanks to a chance encounter on Coco Beach, my Costa Rican monkey business was complete!IMG_3573

3) The Year of Running – I can’t believe in 2013 I went from being able to run 5k to running a 10k and then a 15k. I’m super proud of myself! Not only did I learn to challenge my own beliefs about what I’m capable of, but I learned how to cope with setbacks. Between my pre-10k foot injury and my post-15k knee injury, there were many days when I thought ‘well that’s it, my running days are over.’ However, inevitably, with time and patience and discipline, eventually I was lacing up my shoes again and, even though I felt like I was starting over at square one, I always felt pure giddiness at being back out there pounding the pavement.

4) Stepping Up in Social Services – When I had the opportunity to write my own job description and create a new position for myself in my organization, it seemed too good to be true. But here I am, 6 months later, still saying “I LOVE my job.” After 15 years in a career I never liked, words can’t express how grateful I am to have an amazing job that I’m proud of, that was tailor made for me, and that is exactly what I want to be doing.

5) Personal Growth – I started the year with a couple of revelations: that I can trust myself and my feelings, and that my inner critic is actually working against me. Over the course of the year, I made some good progress on boundaries and self-acceptance and I love that, these days, I am much kinder to myself. I know I still have a long way to go, but at least I’m heading in the right direction and it feels great! Perhaps 2014 will be the year I finally find some courage to start tackling my conflict avoidance issues, but if I don’t then that’s ok too. :)

So, not too shabby for a year in the life! I’m excited to see what I have to say at the end of 2014. Let the adventure begin!

Hot Air Balloons

Hot Air BalloonSome days, you feel like you’re floating in a hot air balloon, high up in the sky where everything seems beautiful, manageable, serene.

Other days, you feel like you’re on the ground in your basket, ropes tangled in a mess all around you, fabric lying limp on the ground with no hope of rising.

What makes the difference? How do you get from one state to another, sometimes in the blink of an eye?

I am in my head a lot. It’s a curse. I can take any situation and find a really good way of looking at it, or a really bad way of looking at it. People talk about the yin and yang of life and they’re right – it’s all there, all the time, the good and the bad, the easy and the hard. We choose how to see it, how to perceive it, how to respond.

When I am gliding along happily in my balloon, I forget to work hard. I let the wind carry me and I don’t worry much about setting my own course. It’s a very enjoyable time. I get to be lazy, and I like that because life is so busy so much of the time, being lazy is a wonderful luxury.

The problem is, when I’m mindlessly gliding along, any little gust of wind can change my direction. Sometimes it happens so subtly that I don’t even realize it’s happened until I’m completely off-course, fighting a storm that’s threatening to throw my balloon to the ground. It’s disorienting, and terrifying.

Afterwards, I inevitably need a period of time to find my bearings and to remind myself that if I just invested a little energy into navigating continuously, I would be better able to avoid being tossed around by sudden gusts of wind in the future.

Life requires discipline. Sometimes I don’t like that but I’m beginning to realize it’s a non-negotiable reality. I must take responsibility for my direction. I must not sit back lazily drifting in the air currents. I must not forget to navigate my own life. Today, and every day from this point forward, I will try my best to set my own course lest some new gust of wind push in to set it for me.