Quest for Running Songs: “Delilah”

After a long hiatus, I’m finally getting back up and running – literally! – and am excited to introduce some of my new musical discoveries to fellow runners out there. Today’s selection Delilah comes from Florence + the Machine’s new album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. 

Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge that I have never been a fan of this band. When everyone else was going crazy for Dog Days Are Over, I didn’t get what the fuss was about; it just wasn’t my thing. But when I heard Delilah for the first time earlier this year, I was blown away. Within the first few seconds, this song pulled me in with its dark desperate drama, starting with a foreboding undertone that made me want to stick around to find out where it was heading. Hints of anger and frustration pepper the song as it slowly builds with an urgent energy to the driving chorus with the recurring line “It’s a different kind of danger”. Everything about this chorus – the lyrics, the duelling vocal layers, the driving rhythm – combines brilliantly to tap into my primal fight or flight instinct and gets my feet moving as if my own life depended on it.

Not only is this a great song for your next run, it’s really a great song all around. Just one tip: listen to it loud. :)

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Run for the Toad 25k

This year, I had lofty goals to complete my second half marathon as well as my first 25km trail run. Unfortunately, those goals were thwarted by a sudden back problem that started in early July and just wouldn’t go away. After selling my bib for the half marathon in September, I had resigned myself to not participating in the 25km race I’d signed up for. However, the runner’s gift was so good (a Nike backpack), I couldn’t bring myself to let it go so I decided I’d drive the 1.5 hours to Cambridge anyway to pick up my pack and then would go hiking in the area instead of participating in the race.

However, as race day drew closer, I started thinking ‘well if I’m going to go hiking, I may as well hike the race route for a bit to check it out for next year.’ I spoke to my physiotherapist who cautiously gave me permission to do part of the race as long as I agreed to walk the first 2km, then gently run/walk before bailing out at the halfway point. Of course I did none of those things, and so: here is my race report for the Run for the Toad 25k.

run for the toad logo

To spare myself an early morning wakeup, I got a cheap hotel in Cambridge via Priceline for the night before and enjoyed a nice leisurely drive to the race site arriving at a respectable 8:30. Parking was getting full but they had lots of attendants directing us which made it go very smoothly.

I had read that it’s a bit of a hike to pick up race kits and that’s true, but I treated it as a warm-up so I didn’t mind. (This is also how I later justified not walking the first 2km of the race as I’d promised I would. After all, I’d already walked 2 kms or so back and forth from the car so that’s gotta count for something, riiiight?)

Arriving at 8:30 gave me plenty of time to pick up my race kit, go to the washroom, have a coffee and check out the exhibitors. I was glad I hadn’t arrived any earlier, especially since it was a cold day. Happily, Tim Horton’s was very well-stocked with lots of free coffee, timbits, and cookies for everyone – I think most of us were drinking coffee just to stay warm.

Each distance had its own wave, so 25k runners waited a while for their turn to take off. As we all gathered at the start line, one of the race organizers walked through the crowd, front to back, shook people’s hands and wished us good luck – what a nice personal touch! It reminded me why I prefer smaller race events over those huge several-thousand people races.

When the race started, we all took off running but that didn’t last long because within the first kilometre the path narrows a little and goes up a hill and everybody – I mean everybody – walks. I could feel the diehard runners were frustrated at being herded like cattle, but I had purposely started myself at the back of the pack and expected some clogging so I didn’t mind. I imagine you’d have to start yourself pretty close to the front of the pack to avoid that traffic jam, there’s just no getting around it once you’re in it.

The first few kilometres were an easy run over mostly dirt roads and paths. Although it felt like a while before we got into forest, the run was pleasant and the slopes weren’t too bad. It wasn’t long before I started getting cocky, thinking ‘why does everyone say this course is so hilly? I was really being overzealous with all that hill training in June.’ I kept reminding myself that I was only a few kilometres in and really had no idea what the rest of the course would look like, which was a good thing because around the 11th km I met the hill that all runners groan about in race reports. It looks like this (except worse in real life):

run for the toad 25k hill

Photo by Jeff Wemp

At this point I’d like to remind you that the 25k race is two 12.5km loops, so what you encounter at 11k you will encounter again at 23.5km. Ew. I tried not to think about that.

However, one thing you can look forward to encountering a second time is the breath-taking lookout at the sixth kilometre (and again around 18.5). After running on dirt roads and through forest, it is such a lovely surprise to turn a corner and emerge onto the edge of a field with a view as far as the eye can see. It’s one of those moments that just fills your lungs with air and makes you want to spread your arms out wide. (And then the cold, unbroken wind hit and it felt a little less glorious!)

As I approached the end of the first loop, I was feeling pretty strong. I knew the sensible thing to do would be to pull out of the race at 12.5km as my physio guy had instructed, but I was feeling good and figured I knew what was in store for me and that I could handle it.

I was wrong.

There is a reason people follow training plans to prepare for races, and my IT band decided to start reminding me of that around the 14th kilometre. Walking became painful, and downhills were downright excruciating as my knees started locking up. At the 18th kilometre, I hobbled over to the aid station to speak with a medic who offered me a ride to the finish. I hummed and hawed. Once again, I knew the sensible thing would be to accept his offer, but at this point I had come so far and I just hated the idea of a DNF next to my name! I decided to carry on and make judgement calls at each aid station. (A side note on the aid stations – they’re great! So many tasty treats like ju jubes, M&Ms, and chips which I didn’t take advantage of because I was in so much pain but, believe me, next year I will come better prepared!)

At this point I was fully resigned to walking the rest of the race and taking as many knee-resting breaks as needed. The goal was simply to finish without causing too much damage to my IT band. I had seen that, in the previous year, someone had taken 7.5 hours to complete the 25k so I figured I had plenty of time to get this thing one. It was a good lesson in swallowing pride, and the beautiful thing is that I didn’t feel at all looked down upon for walking.

That’s the thing about running – it has a community of amazing and supportive people, which seems to be even more true of the trail running community. I loved how encouraging random strangers were to one another, and I was so grateful when one woman suggested that if I walked backwards down the hills, the IT band pain wouldn’t be so bad. She was right! I really think she saved the day for me. And this woman (below), who was in the same painful boat walked along and chatted with me for a while, telling me about her training goals. (She was training for the Disney Dopey challenge – 4 days of racing starting with a 5km, then a 10km, then a half marathon and finally a full marathon – which sounds absolutely insane to me!)

Run for the Toad 25k 2015

Photo by Jeff Wemp

As I crossed the finish line, a man was directing me to get my medal. With his arms outstretched and my sheer joy at having actually completed the full 25km, I leaned in and announced, “I’m giving you a hug!” He laughed and hugged me back. Man, I love runners. I moved on, got my medal, and hurried to the tent for the meal I’d heard so much about.

The post-race food was catered by St. Jacob’s Catering and it was delicious – salads, grilled chicken, cherry pie. Given that it was such a cold day, it would have been nice if at least some of the food had been warm, and it would have been really nice if the tents had been heated, but I really appreciated that it was more than just a bagel and a banana. This event is a class act.

Unfortunately, I was so completely frozen through that I sat and shivered while I quickly wolfed down my food, then grabbed a coffee (Tim’s was still serving!) and hustled to my car where I sat for several minutes with the heat blasting just to warm up. Next year I’ll either leave a bag by the finish line with a warm hoodie, or I’ll go back to the car to change before I sit down to eat. Lesson learned.

Overall, this was a really well-organized, fun event which offers, in my opinion, great value for the entry fee. I’m really looking forward to doing it again next year, injury-free, and taking full advantage of all those M&Ms along the way!

Run for the Toad 25k 2015 medal

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Before You Apply For That Job: 10 Harsh Truths for Applicants

I am in the midst of hiring for a position in my organization. On Friday, the posting went up onto a fairly well-known online job site which forces applicants to submit their postings through the site. Every day, I tackle the deluge of applications determined to find the gems in the quarry but I am quickly become fatigued. Having now seen how it works on the other side, I have some tips for applicants:

pruned a tree1) If you’ve never done the most important aspects of that job before, don’t apply for it.  If you once did a placement alongside somebody who was doing the job, or you once imagined you would love the job and are very confident that you have the skills to do it well – that’s not enough. This is a competitive job market. Get the experience through volunteering or placements that will actually let you do the work hands-on, or you will just not be able to compete with the other people who have proven they can do the work.

2) I’m probably not going to read your cover letter, but you still have to submit one anyway. I’m serious. I can’t believe how many people aren’t submitting cover letters. I realize it’s obnoxious of me to demand a cover letter since in many cases I won’t even read it, but not submitting a cover letter sends a message of apathy and very minimal effort. If you don’t care enough about the job to tell me why you want it, then I don’t care enough about giving you a chance to come in for an interview.

3) If you don’t update your resume and cover letter to state the current position you’re applying for, I will instantly delete your application. I am spending my evenings reading through applications because I’m too busy at work all day. If I open up your application and you haven’t bothered to update your career goal that states how ardently you hope to obtain some other position in some other company, I will assume you care more about that other job and will not consider you for the one I’m hiring for. And hey, I get it, I’ve been there, it sucks to make mistakes like that, so make sure you check over your application before you submit it and don’t just automatically use whatever file you’ve uploaded before.

4) Don’t submit a four-page resume. If I can get my 20-year career summarized into two pages, then I’m sure you can get your ‘I graduated 3 months ago’ resume edited down from 4 pages. I don’t have the time or the will to wade through four pages of words to try to figure out if you have the skills for this job. If anything, four pages is a red flag that alerts me to the fact that you’re trying to talk your way past having absolutely no experience.

5) If you call my workplace to try to ask about the job, I will not be impressed with your passion, I will be annoyed with your inability to follow rules. We are averaging 20 applications a day for this position, and maybe 2% of them are actually suitable. If I want to talk to you, I will call you after I’ve reviewed your application. If you disregard the request for no phone calls and you call me anyway and interrupt my very busy day, I can promise you that call is not going to go well and it’s just going to work against you.

6) Emailing your resume is not necessarily to your benefit. This may not be true for every other hiring manager, but because I am reviewing applications on my own time outside of the office and ranking those applications directly within the job site’s backend, by emailing your resume I have no way of ranking you or keeping you in the shortlist pile. You are now – at best – sitting separately in a pile of miscellaneous papers on my desk where there is a chance you will get lost in the shuffle. You also risk not having your resume read at all because I don’t actually have time to read resumes during the day, whereas when I go onto the job site I am dedicating time to reading every application.

ability to smell fear7) Having a full page (or more) where you list all your skills in detail is not fooling anyone into thinking you have experience. All I’m doing is scrolling past that long skills section to try to figure out what your actual hands-on work experience is, and the longer I have to scroll the more annoyed I’m becoming with your application. Don’t take it personally. I believe you have the skills but in some positions the lack of experience can result in real damage to both yourself and your client and it would be irresponsible of me to hire someone without meaningful hands-on experience.

8) Proofread. Again. I can’t believe in this time of spellcheckers that people are still submitting resumes with so many mistakes. Use your spellcheck, ask a friend to edit, go to an employment agency. Do whatever you have to do, but don’t submit an application with spelling mistakes, especially if you’re applying for a job that requires any amount of computer work. If you’re making mistakes on applications where you have all the time in the world to get it right, I have every reason to believe you are going to make a lot of mistakes at work and mess up all our record keeping. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

9) If an online site gives you the opportunity to upload a document, put your cover letter and resume into the same document. In the past, I have submitted my cover letter as a separate document but I will never do that again. Every separate link I have to open is more time out of my day/evening, so I am going to the meat and potatoes document first – your resume. In almost all cases, I am making a decision right from there – shortlist or discard. Those applicants that included their cover letter are having it read before I look at the resume, and those applicants that included the cover letter as a separate document are most often not having that letter read. If you want to make sure I see it, include it as the first page in your resume document.

10) Apply for jobs you really, really want. I can’t believe how easy it is to tell when someone is just blanket applying to every posting just to get a job. I understand, you need a paycheque. But I have a team that needs someone who’s going to be in the trenches with them, I have clients that are going to put all their hopes into the hands of this someone, and I need to know we’re all in this together because it’s hard work and you have to love it to do it well. Write compelling objective statements, give meaningful details about your work experience, and tie it all together with a cover letter that tells me why you want this job, not why you want a job. If I like your resume enough, I will read your cover letter.

To those of you doing it well, thank you – you are sitting on our shortlists. You are rising to the top, and it will pay off eventually. I hope to be meeting some of you gems in person someday soon.


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!

IMG_20150830_121912     IMG_20150830_184552

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.