I’m a sponsored athlete!

Life is just full of surprises. After running my first half marathon last Fall, I was searching for ways to get more involved in the running community when I stumbled across an application form for a sponsorship program. It claimed to be “for all levels and abilities”, with a tagline: “You don’t have to be elite, just motivated and passionate about running, triathlon or cycling.” Intriguing! I decided to call their bluff and sent in an application.

A couple of months passed by. I amused myself wondering if I would ever hear back, and almost fell out of my chair when the email popped up in my inbox one quiet afternoon at work. The squeal was heard by many! I ran out of my office jumping up and down, “I made it! I was accepted for Team Running Free!”

I decided not to write a post that day because it just would’ve had a lot of “eeeeeeee!” and “yaaaaaaay!” in it, but now that I’ve settled down I really have to say I am so honoured to be representing Running Free in 2015. They are a small chain of stores that is aligned not only with my athletic passion but with my personal values. From their Re-Use Shoe Program that collects and distributes used shoes to local homeless people and overseas, to Mission Haiti that turns used shoes into a viable microloan program for Haitians, to their support of Run and Read, an after school program focused on children living in some of the most impoverished communities in Canada — they are doing really cool things in the world!

I am so grateful for this sponsorship program that gives amateur athletes like me a chance to step up and get involved in the running community in new and exciting ways. I will wear my uniform with pride, and to my fellow team members, I can’t wait to meet you out on the road!

teamrunningfree_logo2

Suicide Warriors: Twenty One Pilots

I believe in this world many of us are suffering in silence, feeling alone among the masses with nobody to truly expose our pain to. I’ve written about this before, and every once in a while – especially on Bell Let’s Talk Day - the conversation about mental health and depression swells up into the mainstream for a while before it swiftly subsides back into the darkness.

Last year I discovered the band Twenty One Pilots thanks to their catchy song House of Gold hitting a local radio station. It intrigued me enough that I checked out the rest of the album and slowly, song by song, I became hooked. I even spent an entire 1.5 hour training run last spring listening to the same six songs on repeat. There was clearly something about Twenty One Pilots that was striking a chord within me.

After watching hours of interviews today, I’ve finally put it together: singer/songwriter Tyler Joseph is one of us. He wears his vulnerability on his sleeve rapping and singing about contemplating suicide, about feeling alone in the world, and about fighting just to get through the night. What sets him apart from every other ‘life sucks’ singer out there, though, is that he comes down into the pit with us and hands over a branch of hope to cling to. For example:

Am I the only one I know,
Waging my wars behind my face and above my throat?
Shadows will scream that I’m alone,
But I know we’ve made it this far, kid.

And I will say that we should take a day to break away,
From all the pain our brain has made,
The game is not played alone.
And I will say that we should take a moment and hold it,
And keep it frozen and know that,
Life has a hopeful undertone.

 (Migraine)

He is in the battle with us, holding our hands so we can try to get through those dark times, together. He shares in this terrific interview his struggle to find self-worth, the importance of journaling, and what might be the real meaning of success for him, while in his music he tries to teach us ways to gather up strength to push forward:

You think twice about your life, it probably happens at night,
Right? Fight it, take the pain, ignite it,
Tie a noose around your mind loose enough to breathe fine and tie it,
To a tree, tell it, “You belong to me,
This ain’t a noose, this is a leash,
And I have news for you, you must obey me.

(Holding On To You)

I know that I can fight or I can let the lion win,
I begin to assemble what weapons I can find,
‘Cause sometimes to stay alive you got to kill your mind.

(Migraine)

And guess what, he’s saving lives. If you look up Twenty One Pilots videos on YouTube and check out the Comments section, you will find comments like “TOP (Twenty One Pilots) saved my life” over and over again. Watch their PinkPop Festival performance and you won’t see fans waving signs that say “I <3 U Tyler”, TOP lovelythey are waving signs that say “Thank you.” A recent tweet on fan account @thankfulforTOP reads: “they stopped me from killing myself. honestly. i could not be more grateful, i love them more than words can say.”

Watching Tyler talk about each song on the hit album “Vessel”, his struggle is written all over his face. He doesn’t hide it but he also doesn’t wear it like some great marketable badge of rock ‘n’ roll. He puts it out into the world with a quiet, humble honesty. He’s a suicide warrior, fighting for his life and fighting for ours.

In that same interview, he talks about how he pushed to have an extra song added to the end of the album to deliver one last message to listeners:

“I will fear the night again. I hope I’m not my only friend.
Stay alive, stay alive for me.”

(Truce)

I hope this band keeps making music for years to come. They are a much needed voice in the world.

And now, to put a smile on your face after a bit of a heavy post, here’s a short clip of the two of them on the lighter side. (Who couldn’t love these guys?!)

 

Suppression of Oppression

Today I went to a conference organized by the Women Empowerment Club of a local university. The conference theme was “Suppression of Oppression.” Given that the conference was at a university and my special price was only $5, I had really low expectations.

When I arrived this morning and discovered their “full breakfast” was a bag of bagels and no coffee – I repeat no coffee on a Saturday morning – I feared that I had made a bad decision, but I was 45 minutes from home and figured I may as well stick it out. I’m so glad I did.

Today I was inspired by women sharing their voices in the hopes of helping us to uncover little pieces of the activists within us; I was inspired by university students expanding their views in ways I could not even have imagined at their age; and I was encouraged to see a handful of men there, listening and learning about women’s experiences of oppression in the world.

We talked about being silenced and feeling shame, and how those things are so pervasive and deeply embedded in our lives that we don’t even know how they got there until we start ‘unpacking’ them.

We talked about online violence and about ways that we can and must become involved. We talked about how bystander involvement isn’t always about confronting the bully, sometimes it’s about getting someone else to help and sometimes it’s about offering support to the target. (Read more about the 4 D’s of bystander involvement.) We have options, there are lots of ways to make a difference.

We talked about how going to the police rarely results in justice for female victims because the judicial system, and really society at large, is not set up to support or even believe the victim. How many women had to come forward about Jian Ghomeshi before the first woman was believed? Why do we give so much benefit of the doubt to somebody just because he’s famous? Well-spoken? A man?

We talked about the use of rape as a war tactic, and how young girls who were taken from their homes to be raped for years by Japanese soldiers are now old women still waiting for the Japanese government to acknowledge and apologize for forcing them to be sexual slaves to the military in the second world war. (You can read more about “comfort women” and sign a petition here.)

And we talked about our own battle against rape here at home, finally taking a step forward with consent finally being added to the sex education curriculum in Ontario.

At lunch, I shared with a group of young women the story of a Manitoba judge who only a few years ago didn’t send a rapist to jail because the judge felt the woman’s attire, drinking and flirtatious behaviour that night made it reasonable for the man to believe she was up for sex. The judge called the man who raped her “a clumsy Don Juan”. I remember that story was the first time in my life that I really began to think about victim-blaming and slut-shaming, and began to question my beliefs and my understanding of the world around me.

One of the women at my lunch table had recently begun to work for an agency that supports immigrants and newcomers, organizing programs for women. She asked if I would come speak at a future event she is organizing. I smiled and politely declined her offer – I hate public speaking – but it seems inevitable that I am heading in that direction.

Though I’m not ready yet to speak quite as loudly and publicly as the inspiring women who presented today – I am still finding and shaping my voice – I can feel my voice is becoming clearer and stronger every day, as is my awareness that in this world every one of us stands for something. We can show it through our action or we can show it through our inaction, but either way we have an impact in shaping the world we live in; the world we will leave to the generations of women who will come after us. Today, inspired and emboldened, I choose for my impact to be in the suppression of oppression, and it’s clear to me that I am in great company.

Dating Efficiency

I love the movie “P.S. I Love You.” It can make me cry within 2 minutes – any scene, anytime. There is one aspect of it I used to not be too fond of, though, and that is the way the main character’s older sister Denise (played by Lisa Kudrow) screened out men for dating.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, you can watch the clip here. Basically, when Denise first met a man she would say the exact same things:

  • I like your [tie, chain, whatever].
  • Are you single?
  • Are you gay?
  • Are you working?

If they passed those three questions, the next test was a kiss to see if there was chemistry. If they failed any of the tests, she would literally just turn and walk away without another word.

I’ve always thought this was a callous way to try to determine if someone was dateable. I mean, shouldn’t there be more time to get to know him? Shouldn’t there at least be an attempt to gain context if he says he’s not working or if the kiss didn’t launch fireworks?

I’m not so sure anymore.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m 40, or if it’s because I’ve spent so much time getting to know myself that I no longer feel the need to win other people’s affection, but today I found myself behaving not that differently than Denise.

I was at a party that was also being attended by a guy my friends have been wanting to set me up with for over a year. For the first half of the party, I avoided him – I hate situations with that much pressure on them – until suddenly I found myself unexpectedly standing next to him. I looked over, smiled, and paid him a compliment. Within 4 minutes, I learned that he wants to have children (which I do not), after which I quickly wrapped up the conversation and went back to my friends.

As they all giddily raised their eyebrows and leaned in to find out if this handsome man had sparked my interest, I simply said, “He wants babies.” End of story. Nice guy, but I’m not interested in negotiating.

I suddenly felt like Denise. (Well, to be perfectly honest, I thought ‘Oh my god, I’m just like Phoebe’ because I still struggle to see Lisa Kudrow as any character other than Phoebe Buffay.) But this time I saw Denise from a different perspective. She’s a woman who knows what her dealbreakers are, who doesn’t care what people think of her, and who doesn’t want to waste her time on small talk because she has way more interesting things to do with her life.

I don’t think it needs to be done as directly or coldly as Denise does it, but at the end of the day isn’t this what all single people are trying to do when they’re in the dating pool – figure out who passes those minimum requirements for consideration?

As we get older and feel less of a need for validation and approval for others, I really don’t see too much of a point in extending a conversation far beyond its purpose just to try to be polite, especially when it’s unlikely we’ll ever see that person again. In fact, thinking back to earlier years of dating, I’m sure that politely extending the conversation is what got me into a lot of awkward situations and misunderstandings, which then required more long polite unwanted conversations to straighten out.

I think I’m at the age, or maybe just at the point in my life, where I know what I want and what I don’t want. I’ve learned my dealbreakers. I know how the dating game works, both with the good guys and with the bad guys. The good guys might find this approach a little cold but ultimately I believe they’ll appreciate not feeling misled and not having their time wasted. The bad guys don’t deserve one second longer of my time than they manage to steal, so no harm done by cutting those conversations short.

So, I guess I’m turning into that girl. Maybe that will make me seem a bit bitchy but I say it just makes me a much more efficient dater, and I’ve always been a fan of efficiency. :)

yes i'm single

2014: Year in Review

As I happily leap into 2015, I’d like to take a moment to look back on the last year, because what a year it was! This year has been pretty incredible and, because of some big steps taken, I am so looking forward to the adventure that lies ahead in the coming year. I already have some exciting things in store, but I’ll introduce those as the times draw nearer. For now, here are my highlights of 2014:

1) I finally took out the trash! After years of gingerly trying to make everyone around me happy, I finally decided it was time to make me happy and the first step was to stop tolerating toxic relationships. So, I started this year by dumping a soulless manipulative abuser who had been wreaking havoc in my life for years, and slowly re-evaluated and rme and sandraefined my social circle to include only those who truly have my best interests at heart, who nourish my soul and who value me as I am (like my bestie in the photo). The result is that my life is now filled with people I respect and admire, and my days are filled with peace. Three cheers for decluttering!

2) Climbing the career ladder. In the Spring, I was offered a promotion to Business Manager. I turned it down. I wasn’t 100% sure that was the best decision because promotions are hard to come by at my work, but it just didn’t feel like the right direction for me. Not long after, the management team approached me with a promotion tailor-made for me and I became a member of the management team on my own terms. I got to keep doing what I love with a title that will help me transition to even greater opportunities in the future. It never ceases to amaze me how life works out when you trust your gut!

me in utah3) I got giddy in Utah. Truth be told, at first I felt a bit nauseous at the thought of going on a trip alone, but taking a solo trip was on my bucket list so I figured I may as well muster up my courage and get to it. I’m so glad I did! The excitement started to hit me at the airport, and I don’t think it ever went away. I spent every day feeling absolutely giddy, hiking beautiful trails breathing in clean crisp air, looking out over unbelievably breathtaking landscapes, and meeting people from all walks of life. I discovered that I really enjoy my own company, and I never tired of that moment when someone learned that I was a girl travelling alone and said, “Wow, you’re amazing, I could never do that.”  I used to be the person who said that to others, but I like it much better being the person it’s said about! Utah will always have a special place in my heart because Utah is where I finally fell in love with myself.

IMG_20141016_180742

4) 21.1 km of WOW. Another bucket list item checked off, this year I ran my first half marathon, something I never would have imagined I’d be able to do when I first started running two years ago. moab raceThe secret for me was choosing a beautiful destination that would inspire me to want to run for two hours, and I sure did choose well! Moab, Utah had me running with a big grin on my face which, I must admit, became tear-soaked a couple of times when I was overcome by the sheer beauty and privilege of it all. In fact, it was such an amazing experience, I’m going to do it again. Next destination has already been chosen – stay tuned!

post half

first 40 years5) Welcome 40! I am THRILLED to have turned 40 last week. My thirties were a difficult decade – a really really really long emotional growth spurt – but I feel this year I’ve finally started coming into my own; I have a way better sense of who I am, and I really like me! It feels like a graduation of sorts, and a fun girls’ trip to Cuba with my best friends was my graduation party. Now I get to embark on my future knowing that I have a solid foundation within me, and I can hardly wait to see what every new day has in store and what exciting adventures I will dream up for myself! What better way to start not just a new year, but a new decade? I’m on top of the world. :)

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