Olive Branches

Once upon a time, my sister and I were friends. We had survived a difficult upbringing and become each other’s life preservers in the rocky waters of post-abuse self actualization. However, as men came into our lives, that changed. My sister married a man after crying to me for months on end about how he had cheated on her. I became engaged to a guy she couldn’t stand to be around. A small rift quickly developed into a gaping canyon between us and, before I knew it, she had children that I was seeing only once or twice a year.

I had always imagined I would be a fun aunt that nieces/nephews would look forward to hanging out with. Instead, I was turning out to be an absent aunt, a stranger as far as they were concerned. Shortly before my nephew’s first birthday, I finally decided enough was enough and that it was not acceptable to me to not have a relationship with my niece and nephew, even if it meant having to wade through the tension with my sister.

I extended the first olive branch in January of this year, asking if I could come visit the kids. Things were awkward with my sister, but we focused on the kids and it felt important to me that I was there. And it was important. Just a few short months later, I became the first non-parental person to get a hug from my nephew. My sister was amazed. For me, it was proof that I was investing my time wisely and it strengthened my resolve.

Slowly, as the kids and I spent more time together, my sister and I began to thaw towards each other. And then a couple of weeks ago she extended a major olive branch of her own. She invited me to join her family for a weekend in Chicago, flights and hotel paid for by her and her husband. (Business class flights, no less. Sweet!)

So yesterday, we spent a fun family morning together at Navy Pier, I spent the afternoon with my niece playing together in the Lego Store (“no-baby day” as she called it), followed by more family time romping around in a park trying to get high fives from my nephew every time he zoomed to the bottom of the slide. Man, I love these kids!

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In the evening, we adults went for a ridiculously expensive, boutique dining experience to a restaurant where the chef decides what everyone will eat and almost every ingredient is something you would never find in your local grocery store. (For example, the first of thirteen courses was snail caviar with matsutake, mojama de atun, cucamelon and avocado.)

The really amazing thing that happened at dinner, though, is that my sister and I had the first real conversation we’ve had in years. We talked about nothing – the temperamental chef, the beautifully crafted food – and everything – family, kids, life.IMG_20150830_211954_edit We took our first photo together since her wedding, and I heard her drunk laugh like she used to in our twenties.

We are healing, I can feel it. We have been through darkness, and I think we have both consciously decided our relationship is worth working for, and that me having a relationship with her kids is more important than any rifts between us.

When I think about how we came to this point, I think of Gandhi’s powerful words: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” I’m finally learning to live that way. I’m realizing that it doesn’t have to be grand acts; it can be small olive branches, because all the small choices we make each day can bring love into the world and compound into one large beautiful change. We have the power to make that happen, we just have to decide to do it.

be the change

Know When to Fold ‘Em

This has been a summer of unexpected events. When I planned my training schedule for Fall races, I anticipated minor diversions but mostly thought each day would gently blend into the next, much like last year. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In early July, I hurt my lower back. I’m still not 100% sure what caused it, but it was definitely a combination of overzealous training one weekend, not warming up and cooling down properly around an intense 8km trail run, and not doing yoga regularly like I had last year. For a month I tried to alternate between resting my back, stretching it, doing more core strengthening, and doing more stretching and strengthening of surrounding muscles. Last week I finally went for my first physio appointment where they recommended I take a break from running while working on healing my injury. Lower back pain – major setback #1.

Just one week before the lower back incident, I had applied for a new job. Throughout the month of July into mid-August, I can count on one hand (one finger?) the number of nights I got a good sleep. Mostly, I spent all those weeks in a whirlwind of stressing out and preparing for interviews, navigating emotional storms about leaving my current job, then madly training everyone at my old work and gearing up for the new job (which I started last week). It has been exhausting and, having cut out caffeine a few months ago, it all feels like a strange dream that I travelled through in a semi-conscious state of barely functioning. Changing jobs – major setback #2.

So, I have finally made the difficult decision that I’m not going to run either of the Fall races I signed up for because there is absolutely no way my body is going to be ready for them at this point. Maybe I’ll still go to the events as a volunteer to cheer on the other runners, and I’ll definitely plan to run these races next year because they look like super fun events I’d still like to participate in someday, but it’s just not feasible for me to push through them after so many weeks of lost training.

Last year, when I faced the possibility of not being able to run my first half marathon due to injury, it felt absolutely unacceptable. This year it’s not ideal, but it’s ok. This year just isn’t going to be the year that I make big gains in running. Instead, this is the year of making big gains in life and learning to take better care of myself. It’s not the win I had planned, but it’s a hell of a win just the same.

know when to hold em


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My Reluctant Resignation

Three years ago, I began a relationship that developed into the love of my life, thus far. Yesterday, I ended it. This is the story of my reluctant resignation from my dream job.

I work at a women’s centre. It’s a community organization where women come for a range of programs and services to make positive changes in their lives – personal, social, financial. It’s a welcoming space where women feel safe to be vulnerable, to share their stories, and to form personal connections with staff and with each other. I have had the honour of supporting women who are struggling with abuse, poverty, mental health, social isolation, physical disabilities, systemic oppression, and more. Every day we have meaningful conversations about what it’s like to be a woman in this world, and what it’s like to be sensitive people in an insensitive society.

In April, due to financial difficulties, our Centre had to start closing on Fridays and several staff were told they would be laid off for the summer. Like most workers in social services, our pay is low enough to begin with so any further reduction is a financial blow. I was lucky to keep my job through the summer, but I did get hit with the 20% pay reduction. We were told this change would be in place for a year at which point the situation would be reevaluated, meaning if fundraising managed to bring in enough money then we might be able to expand back to a 5-day week. All eyes turned to fundraising.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll cut to the bottom line: I don’t believe we have the right person in fundraising and, for a number of reasons, I have no faith that she will be able to raise the kind of money we need. Unfortunately, this person is also best friends with the Executive Director, so it’s likely going to be some time yet before a much-needed change is made. Therefore, it’s going to be an even longer time yet before Fridays are back on the table.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that we have no health benefits. In fact, most of the staff would be considered to be financially vulnerable by our region’s standards, and most of the staff qualify for the poverty supports we provide to clients. We work there because we love the work that we do and we believe in the Centre, but while we are empowering other women, we are not being empowered ourselves.

When the Friday decision was made, I gave a lot of thought to what it would take for me to leave the Centre. Financially, I could continue to subsidize my career from savings, but that wasn’t a long term plan and I realized I had to start thinking about next steps. I decided that I don’t want to give up working with women, I don’t want to give up my 5-minute commute, and I don’t want to give up key elements of my job. This narrowed down my possibilities to literally one organization, and only one position within that organization. On June 17, that position became available and so began the whirlwind that ultimately led to my resignation.

When I walked into the Executive Director’s office yesterday, I closed the door, looked up at her with a sad face and she knew. “You’re leaving us, aren’t you?” she said. I nodded. She came over and gave me a long tight hug while I sobbed in her arms. This is a far cry from the gleeful resignations I had made in my corporate career. As my best friend said, this is “like breaking up with a high school boyfriend. You know in your heart that it wasn’t going to last, but there’s a sweetness to high school boyfriends that makes you nostalgic about saying goodbye.”

So, I guess it’s time to break out the wine, grab the ice cream and tissues, and start saying my goodbyes. Breakups suck, but they pave the way for new adventures. And maybe, hopefully, if I’m really lucky, in two weeks I’ll be embarking on what will turn out to be my next great love.

time to move on

The Other Side of the Story

Recently a friend of mine had to meet with my ex for work reasons. She wasn’t sure if he remembered her from four years ago, but throughout the meeting she felt very uncomfortable. In a moment of anxiety when he left the room, she shared with a woman in the room that it felt weird for her and that she used to work for his ex-girlfriend. The woman tartly replied, “Well I know the other side of the story.”

Over the four years since the breakup, I’ve heard from various people snippets of what the Other Side of the Story sounds like, and it’s pretty amazing to me how he has managed to reframe himself from perpetrator to victim.

I bet the Other Side of the Story doesn’t include how he was making plans with me one morning to get a shared financial advisor to plan for our future, and then on the same day after I left for work how he packed every single item of his from my house and moved out. He even thought to grab the kayak – on a cold February morning – and drive it home 45 minutes away. He then even stopped to get a new haircut before he finally showed up at our shared workplace, came to my office at the end of the day, closed the door and announced, “I’m not going home with you, I’m breaking up with you.” No conversation, no dialogue, the decision had been made and that was the end of that.

Maybe the Other Side of the Story talks about how he repeatedly asked me to take him back just a few months later, but I bet it doesn’t include the part about how I had told him on the day he broke up with me that he’d better be completely sure that’s what he wants because there would be no going back from this decision, the way he was carrying it out.

Probably the Other Side of the Story includes how “controlling” or “selfish” I was because ‘we always did what I wanted to do’, despite my constant requests that he tell me what he wants and needs, something he was ultimately unable or unwilling to do. I suppose it’s much easier to blame someone else for your unhappiness than to take responsibility for it yourself.

But definitely the Other Side of the Story doesn’t include the night he raped me about a year after we had broken up. I was extremely vulnerable, having quickly entered a complicated relationship with an emotionally abusive man who had effectively crushed whatever self worth I’d had left after the breakup. And despite the fact I told this ex he could stay over but I absolutely didn’t want to have sex with him, and despite the fact that I said no several times as he kept climbing all over me, he didn’t care and ultimately got what he wanted when I gave up and laid still to hurry up and get it over with. The next day he had the audacity to tell me how special the night was, I replied that I was angry and reminded him that I didn’t want that to happen and that I had told him so repeatedly. I didn’t call it rape that morning, but he recognized that’s what it was and eventually I was able to name it that, too.

I can’t help but remember stories he’d told me about how his ex-wife (before me) was disengaged during sex, and how after several unhappy years and a period of time without sex, he decided maybe if they had sex again it would help the relationship. She ended up getting pregnant, the relationship didn’t get better and he left her while she was still pregnant. I wonder if that’s part of the Other Side of the Story he tells other women about his ex-wife? Probably not, though I remember when he told me, he still managed to somehow come out sounding like the victim. If I knew then what I know now…

I don’t tell people the bad things he’s done because I don’t want my experiences with him to cloud other people’s friendships/working relationships with him, I don’t want to put people into difficult positions of feeling they have to take sides, and I believe whatever happened between us should stay between us. But I’m getting pretty tired of hearing from third parties that so many women are sitting around saying “that poor guy, he deserves to have a nice girl.” I bet girls say the same thing about the emotionally abusive asshole who came after him, too. People have no idea.

So please, if ever you feel compelled to take sides after an acquaintance’s relationship ends, try to remember that no matter how nice this person seems, there’s an OTHER Other Side of the Story and you have no idea what it is. But maybe if you knew it, it might change the way you see the person, maybe in pretty significant ways. At the end of the day, all you know is nothing more than just that… a story.

New Shoes, New Lessons Learned

Today was a hell of a day. After a couple of days of not feeling great and skipping training runs, I finally pushed myself to go out for my first 10k on a trail. The incentive? On the way to the trail, I would stop off at the store to finally pick up my first pair of trail runners. My Saucony Guides have been getting pretty beaten up doing double duty and I need them to last until my half marathon in September, so I’ve been on the hunt for a pair of trail runners that offer similar support and width to the Guides so they can work side by side with them through the next few months of training. After a few visits to Running Free to get fittings and advice, I finally decided on a pair of Brooks Cascadia 10 men’s runners today – free, thanks to the sweet sponsorship of Brooks and Team Running Free!

I immediatelIMG_20150702_171708y headed to the trail, a little nervous about doing 10k in a brand new pair of shoes but knowing I could always switch out to my Sauconys mid-run if I needed to since they were in the car. There was no need. The Cascadias were super comfortable and the tread on them was incredibly helpful on those uphills… so many uphills! (I’m beginning to hate uphills.)

Though the run was a beast to get through – I really struggled to find any enjoyment or motivation today – I ultimately did manage to crank it out and finally arrived back at my car after almost 11k of ups and downs only to discover that my car key was gone from my pocket. Somewhere in that maze of forest trails, my little black key had fallen out. After a few minutes of searching, I realized it was a hopeless endeavour and accepted that it was gone.

Thus ensued a series of phone calls to roadside assistance and a new friend to make arrangements to first be able to get my house key out of the car, then be driven to my house to get my spare car key, and finally driven back to the forest to get my car.

So today I have learned three important lessons:

1) Don’t store your car key in your pocket while you’re running, no matter how secure you think it is or how many times you’ve done it before. Sooner or later, it will fall out.

2) Always make sure your phone is fully charged before you go out for a run, because you just don’t know how much you might need to use it before you’ll get a chance to charge it up again.

3) No matter how miserable the hills feel, you will get through them. And I think we all know quitting feels more miserable than hills anyway, every time.

Notice that not one of those lessons was don’t run too long in a brand new pair of shoes. My body feels no worse than it would have after a trail run in the Sauconys and I think the hills actually felt marginally easier thanks to the wicked treads on the Cascadias.

So despite the car key foibles, I think today was actually a pretty successful day. And I’m happy to welcome Brooks into my running shoe family – I get the feeling we’re in for a hell of a ride.

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The Day I Lost My Mind (or…)

I either lost my mind today, or today is the day I dared myself to be greater than I ever thought I could be.

You see, I’ve been struggling with running motivation this Spring. A month ago I finally picked a half marathon for July, set out a training plan and then promptly strayed from it just 3 weeks in. July quickly began to feel like an unrealistic goal so I decided to give myself more runway and started looking at Fall races.

I had two possible goals in mind for this year: one was to run another half marathon, and the other was to consider running a 25k. Every year I hope to push myself just a little bit more with my running and I figured 25k would be a safe little jump. What I didn’t realize was that 25k races are rare, and almost exclusively trail races (as opposed to road races).

I’ve never been a trail runner. I experimented with a trail run a few weeks ago, and have done two since then and that is the full extent of my trail running history. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, trail running requires a lot more strength than road running, burns 10% more calories and is quite a bit harder because there’s no room for error. You can’t sloppily trudge your feet forward when you’re tired or mentally check out to help the time go by because you’re too busy dodging roots, adjusting to changes in terrain, and dealing with hills… so many hills. My poor quads.

legs day

However, there are many things I love about the idea of trail running – being in nature breathing fresh air, lots of shade on those hot muggy days, staying mentally engaged figuring out where the next footfall will go, and the fact that it’s less about time and more about completing the distance. I also love that it will turn me into a super strong, kickass athlete. I am in love with the idea of trail running.

So, this Fall this crazy girl with only one half marathon under her belt will be running a 25k trail race just two weeks after completing her second half marathon. I’m not sure why I like to terrify myself by setting overly ambitious goals, but maybe that’s what it takes to keep me moving.

Now I’m in the process of creating a blended training plan that focuses primarily on getting ready for the 25k but still builds in enough road running so that I’ll be able to (hopefully) get through the half marathon without any injury. I think the key to success will be lots of strength training and lots of hill training; it looks like squats, planks, and lunges will be my new best HardisGreatfriend. Just to be clear, nothing about that sounds fun to me, but I’m so drawn to the idea of discovering inner greatness that I can’t resist the temptation to try.

So here I go. Hopefully I’ll have some pretty wicked race reports coming this way in the Fall and some rock hard quads to show off.

Wish me luck!


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Quest for Running Songs: “Planetary (GO!)”

I’m usually late to the party as far as music goes (and fashion, and slang, and well pretty much everything really). Today’s post is a prime example. As much as I had originally planned to keep these Quest posts to current music released within the last year, I have recently discovered My Chemical Romance, a band that was around for 12 years and broke up 2 years ago. But hey, if I missed them then maybe someone else did too, right?

Although their song Teenagers totally perked up a long run last week, this song “Planetary (GO!)” from 2010 is my go-to song from these guys right now. It is so high energy, I challenge you to try to sit still through it – you won’t be able to! Big sound and driving rhythm back these infectious lyrics:

If my velocity starts to make you sweat,
Then just don’t let go
And if their Heaven ain’t got a vacancy
Then we just, then we just, then we just
Then we just get up and go!

Ladies and gentlemen:
Truth is now acceptable
Fame is now injectable
Process the progress
This core is critical
Faith is unavailable
Lives become incredible
Now, please understand that,

I can’t slow down
I won’t be waiting for you
I can’t stop now
Because I’m dancing
This planet’s ours to defend
Ain’t got no time to pretend
Don’t fuck around,
This is our last chance

So what are you waiting for? Click play and just, just get up and go! (And since you’ll probably want to sing along, you can check out the rest of the lyrics here. :))


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