2016: Running To Mars

running a half-marathon

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. If I realize in September or October that something in my life needs to be fixed, I’m not going to wait until January to fix it. Very few of my major life changes have coincided with a new year: I quit smoking in June, I started running in April and I decided to start my own business in August.

That being said, the New Year is a handy time to start new things just from a mathematical point of view. If I want to compare something to prior years – like my weight (which keeps going up) or my bank balance (which keeps going down), January 1st is a good point of reference. Or if I want to try and do something quantitative, like run a thousand miles in a single year, it makes sense to start logging those miles on New Year’s Day.

So while I don’t actually have New Year’s resolutions, there are some things that I am going to start working towards when the clock has struck midnight.

Most of them are centred around my health and fitness. I had such grand plans for my running in 2015, but life kept throwing massive spanners into the works. There were weeks when I barely had time to sleep, let alone run. Circumstances forced me to be a no-show at several races that I had registered for, and I ran my October half-marathon on very little training.

Then I went away to South Africa for a month. I ran a few times and did a great deal of walking, but there were many meals out as I celebrated being with family and friends. When I came back, I flew straight into the Christmas season with its eggnog and turkey dinners and chocolatey treats.

So I am out of shape, and I need to fix that. While I was at my desk trying to decide on next year’s races, two things happened. First, I saw a Facebook post from my friend Frank, who has made great strides in his quest for a healthier lifestyle. He posted that in January he is repeating a thirty-day squat challenge that he did in November, and he wanted to know if anyone was going to join him.

Squats are my least favourite form of exercise. If I were to equate squats with food, they would be like cabbage, the very thought of which is enough to cause a gag reflex in me. But unlike cabbage, squats are not likely to make me physically ill – on the contrary, they will strengthen me and make me a better runner. So I responded to Frank’s post in the affirmative, committing to a month of squats in January.

The second thing that happened was that I received an email about something called the Moon Joggers. This is a group of runners from all over the world, who in 2016 are hoping to collectively log enough miles to get from here to Mars. It sounds like a fun thing to be a part of, so I signed up and set myself a goal of 1,000 miles, or 1,600 km.

I decided to take this one step further. Starting on January 1st, I am going to attempt a running streak. In spite of my husband’s initial reaction, this does not mean that I’m going to run naked. It means I’m going to run for as many days in a row as possible. On my “rest” days, I will run at least one kilometre.

My hope is that through all of this activity, the adjustments I need to make to my overall lifestyle will be easier. I will get more sleep, drink more water and eat more veggies.

I am looking forward to being fitter, healthier, less stressed and more energetic.



2:15:00 in 2015


At the beginning of 2014, I had grand plans for my running. I was going to run my first 30K race with a view to building up from there to a full marathon by 2016. I already had eight half-marathons under my belt, so while I knew it would be a challenge, I felt that it would be achievable. I registered for the Around The Bay 30K which takes place in March, and I drew up an ambitious but doable training plan.

The plan got derailed when the Polar Vortex hit. The temperatures were lower than anything I have ever experienced. Even with all of winter running gear, I wouldn’t have been able to handle running in that cold. The bigger obstacle, of course, was the ice. There were sheets of it on the roads and sidewalk that were inches thick in places. Even the most seasoned of winter runners were staying indoors.

As a result, I was forced onto the treadmill for most of my training. I did do a couple of grueling runs in heavy snow, but for the most part, I was clocking up 18K runs and more at the gym. A month before the 30K race, conditions were still too severe for outdoor winter running, and I decided to pull the plug on my training. I did not think it would be wise to attempt my longest ever distance right at the end of the worst winter in recorded history.

I went with Plan B: I sold my bib for Around The Bay and instead registered for the 30K Midsummer Night’s Run, which happens in August. That way, I would have the summer to train in safer conditions.

Enter the Ankle Of Doom. More than 20 years ago, my left ankle was seriously injured. In spite of a lot of medical intervention over the years, it has never really been right since. It always hurts for about 24 hours after a long run, but as long as it recovers quickly, I can live with that one day of pain each week. Except that this summer, when I was running distances of 22K and more, my ankle wasn’t recovering. It was constantly hurting and I developed a semi-permanent limp. When I set out for my long runs each week, I was still in pain from the previous week.

I knew I was pushing myself too hard, but I kept telling myself that it would improve, that all I needed was time for my body to get used to the longer distances. Even though I knew this wasn’t working, I was continuing on with desperate hope.

I was finally forced to face up to reality one day in July, while I was doing 25K along the lakeshore trail. Ankle Of Doom throbbed the entire time throughout the first half of the run. As I reached my turnaround point, I knew I was in trouble. I took a two-minute walking break and then, feeling a little better, I started running slowly again. About 3K later, I was feeling OK, so I decided to kick up my speed a notch. Five minutes later, I felt an almighty twinge in my ankle, as if someone had pulled back on an elastic and then released it.

There was instant agony. I could still put weight on my ankle, but with every step, I felt as if a hot poker was being skewered through my foot. I forced myself to continue: I was on a trail, nowhere near a road, and I did not have the option of calling my husband to come and pick me up. Only 8K to go, I kept telling myself. You can run 8K in your sleep. This is nothing for you.

8K is excruciatingly long when every step feels like torture. My ankle got more and more wobbly after every step, and I knew that if I wasn’t careful, it wouldn’t be able to carry me all the way home. For about 3K, I alternated fifty steps of walking with fifty steps of running. The counting definitely helped – it gave my mind something to focus on other than the pain, and alternating walking with running enabled me to keep going. Those three kilometres or so went a lot more quickly than I thought they had.

But then I reached a point of meltdown. I sank down onto a rock facing the lake and burst into tears. By this point, I had less than 5K to go, so I knew that I would make it home. It would take a while, but I would get there. But the realization hit me that I would have to forego the 30K. I knew that in all likelihood, I would never get to achieve my dream of running a full marathon.

I went through the rest of the season in a kind of haze. I switched my 30K registration to 15K and had a good race, and I ran my autism fundraising half-marathon, which also happened to be my 10th half-marathon. A doctor told me that if I concentrated on rehab exercises for my ankle for the next year, I might be capable of training for a marathon.

But I’ve decided that enough is enough. After having pushed myself very close to the point of not being able to run at all, I have accepted that a marathon is not a viable goal for me. I am proud of the fact that I can run half-marathons – for someone who, let’s face it, is not naturally athletic, that’s quite an accomplishment.

And so instead of hurting myself trying to chase a goal that could permanently disable me from running, I am going to improve on distances that I have already accomplished. I am going to get my 10K time back to under 1:03:00, and I am going to run a sub 30-minute 5K. Best of all, in 2015, I am going to run a half-marathon in under 2:15:00.

As modest as these goals are, I have my work cut out for me. But instead of making me weaker, working toward these targets will make me stronger.

Am I sad about giving up on the marathon dream? Of course I am.

But I would be sadder if pursuing the dream took away my ability to do anything at all.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: Ludo Rouchy. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.


New Year Roundup


Every time the calendar ticks over to a new year, I invite friends and family members to share moments from the year gone by, as well as their hopes for the year to come. 2014 was a year of ups and downs: some had the best year of their lives, others had the worst. Many of us were on a roller coaster with good bits and not-so-good bits.

My friend Kandita, who I met when I roomed with her at a blogging conference a couple of years ago (that was an insane weekend) started 2014 with one last name and ended it with another. She looked absolutely beautiful and radiant as she married the love of her life.

My former co-worker, carpool buddy and maid of honour Michelle moved to London, Ontario a couple of years ago. Since then, she has dealt with many personal challenges, but she has never lost her desire to help other people. This year was a big one for her. She gave up her liver disease awareness work and started focusing instead on helping homeless and underprivileged people in her city. She also got a job, ending a lengthy period of unemployment, and she saw her daughter through some challenging times.

Karyn, who lives in New Zealand, also went through some major life changes. She decided to leave a marriage that was making her unhappy, and in doing so, she has started to rediscover her inner sparkle. In one of my favourite Facebook statuses on her wall in 2014, she said that happiness has become her default state. She starts 2015 with a goal to build a happier life for herself and her three sons.

Caroline, who lives a short way outside of Toronto, went through the shock and heartbreak of unexpectedly losing a very close friend. This brought home to her that we are not indestructible. Therefore, in 2015, she wants to take time for the things that really matter in life.

Corinne lives on the other end of the city to me, and a few months ago I saw her for the first time in years. She took the leap of reopening her business this year, and she enjoyed reconnecting with a lot of people she had lost touch with. She is looking forward to a year of discovery and success in 2015.

Sara, who lives south of the border from me, has a condition called Chiari, that results in debilitating headaches. Two years ago she had surgery, and in 2014, she finally got a handle on the pain. She is hoping that in 2015 she will be well enough to move out on her own.

Bronwyn also lives in the United States, but I have known her forever, since she was a little girl in South Africa. Last year, she quit her full-time job and went to work at a summer camp. This year she intends to continue the work she has started on her self-development, by getting her weight under 200 pounds and by going back to school full-time.

Fellow Torontonian Tawnya had a mixed year. She lost her beloved grandmother, but she ran her first half-marathon. She had two bicycle accidents, but is alive thanks to the fact that she always wears a helmet. In 2015, she wants to do the Army Run again, simplify her life by getting rid of clutter, and embrace challenges and changes instead of running from them.

My cousin Gillian, who lives in the back-arse of nowhere Tasmania, has family that is scattered all over the globe. Last year, she got to be with her whole family as they celebrated her mother’s 80th birthday. Her wish for 2015 is for health and happiness for everyone.

Noella lives in Missouri and is one of the loveliest people I know. She had a bittersweet year – she had a painful disconnect with her stepchildren, and at times her bills exceeded her income. But somehow her bills got paid, she was able to put food on her table and she got a part-time job just in time for Christmas. Her year did have some high points, like a Mothers Day trip to Memphis and a fancy birthday dinner, both with her son. Her health stayed strong and she received wonderful support from family and friends. Her dream in 2015 is to go to Savannah.

Jennifer, also from the United States, worked with her husband on putting their marriage first instead of focusing solely on their children. In 2015, she wants to find full-time work, get her fitness journey back on track, and go on a couples getaway to recharge and reconnect with her husband.

Elle lives in Australia with her husband Ray. In 2014, they flew back to South Africa where Ray proudly walked his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. This year, Elle hopes to find a job that she will be happy in until retirement.

And what about me? Well, 2014 was a huge year for me. I reevaluated my running goals, and through a bittersweet process I decided to take the full marathon off my bucket list. I also made the leap into self-employment and formally registered my own business. I have high hopes for 2015: I am going to run a half-marathon in 2:15:00 or less, I am going to build on the early successes in my business, and I am going to declutter and organize my home.

What were your biggest moments of 2014? What are your hopes for 2015?

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle, with input from the above-mentioned individuals. Photo credit: Takashi .M. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.


Running Into Unknown Territory


86 days from now, I will be lining up at the start of North America’s oldest road race, the Around The Bay 30K. This event represents my biggest running challenge to date. Up until now, I have been a half-marathon specialist, and recently I started feeling the need to stretch my boundaries a little. I’m not ready for a full marathon, but I began thinking that I might be able to add 9K to my longest distance.

All it takes is the determination to get out and train, right?

That shouldn’t be a problem. It doesn’t matter that it’s middle of the coldest winter I’ve ever experienced, that there is a two-inch thick sheet of ice on the sidewalks or that until the ice storm debris has been cleared, any running I do outdoors will involve hopping over the limbs of fallen trees. It doesn’t matter that I will have to reduce my already-scant sleep in order to get up early to run. It’s not an issue – surely not – that I haven’t actually run at all for a month because of a cold that knocked me right off my feet. And the fact that I’m starting off this year’s season with the longest race I’ve ever done really isn’t a big deal.

I can do this.


Looks around, waiting for nods of agreement.

To tell the truth, I am a little freaked out. I have a history of touch-and-go training early in the year, and I am entering new territory. I mean, if I wanted to do a 30K race, why couldn’t I register for the one that happens in the same city I live in, right in the middle of the season when I’m in my groove? Why did I have to dive into an out-of-town race right after a winter of inactivity?

I recently read a post on my Facebook newsfeed that said something like, “If a goal doesn’t scare you, it’s not big enough.” If that’s the criterion, then this goal is definitely a worthy one. The thing is, I’m a goal-oriented person, which is why I enter so many races every year. I always have to feel as if I’m training for something, otherwise there is the temptation to skip out on runs or cut them short. When every run counts, I’m a lot more focused and dedicated. That’s why I absolutely believe that I will succeed at the Around The Bay 30K.

And by “succeed”, I mean “cross the finish line”. I’m not sure that I will be aiming for a specific time goal. All I really want to do at this point is complete the distance and get my medal and post-race banana. For a week post-race I will spend weird amounts of time lying on the couch eating cheesecake, and then I will pick myself up and start training for the next big thing (the Goodlife Toronto half-marathon in May, in case you’re interested).

My training for Around The Bay starts on Monday. Conveniently for me, it starts with a rest day. I am planning on using my rest day to get my fridge ramped up for clean eating, and on Tuesday I will put my running shoes onto my very restless feet and head out for a tempo run.

I am afraid of this lofty goal that I’ve set for myself, but I am excited. Let the sweating begin!

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.


My Three-Year Plan

In running, as in most areas of my life, I tend to be a goal-oriented person. Some people run just for the fun of it, but I need to have a purpose behind it, a goal to work towards. This, in addition to the addictive feeling of collective start-line energy, is the reason I run so many races. I will keep running through the winter because I have a half-marathon to work towards at the end of it. After that, there will be another half-marathon in the middle of the year. Then there will be my annual autism run in the fall.

I need these races to keep going. They give me the kind of discipline I would never find if left to my own devices. I sometimes procrastinate when it comes to actually deciding on the goals, but once I’ve made up my mind I’m very good at the follow-through.

For some time now I have been wavering about the idea of running a marathon. The full monty – the whole 26.2 miles or 42.2 kilometres. The whole cyclical thought process usually goes something like this:

My husband is driving me to the start of a half-marathon, and I am all excited and ready to go. I am caught up in the pre-race euphoria of it all, and I say to my husband that someday it would be really great to run a full marathon. I carry that thought with me to the start of my race. At the end of the race, when I’ve been running for over two hours and I am crying because of how sore my legs are, I say to my husband, “I must be nuts! Why would I want to put my body through a full marathon when I can’t even walk after a half-marathon? I think I’ll stick to shorter distances.” And then I recover from the half-marathon and the whole marathon train of thought starts all over again.

The truth is that I am not in good enough shape to run a marathon. There is a lot of work that has to be done to get me where I need to be. I need to sort out, once and for all, my intensely uncomfortable relationship with food and my body image issues. I have to lose weight, gain muscle, build up my physical and mental strength. It is a lot, but I can do it, especially if there is a prize – or a finisher’s medal – for me to work towards.

And so I recently set myself a goal: when I turn 45, I will give myself a marathon registration as a birthday present. At some point between December 1, 2014 and November 30, 2015, I will lace up whatever running shoes I am using then, and I will run a marathon.

Having set that goal, I had to decide on the marathon. This is likely to be something I do only once, so it has to be something really special, really meaningful. My first thought was a marathon somewhere in Johannesburg, South Africa, on my dad’s old stomping grounds from his own marathon days. Following in my dad’s footsteps – what could be more special than that? But considering that I live close to sea level and Johannesburg is at an altitude of several thousand feet, that would be really difficult. My body is so unused to running at high altitudes that I’m not convinced it would be achievable.

So where, then? New York? Chicago? Vancouver? Or should I stay close to home and run a marathon in Toronto?

A few days ago, I accidentally stumbled upon the website of the Cape Town Marathon. I took a look at the map of the course and was instantly plunged into Memory Lane. I am an alumnus of the University of Cape Town, and during my few years there a lot happened. I got myself a bachelors degree in psychology, and also did a lot of growing up. Not everything that happened to me there was good. In Cape Town, I was introduced to some ugly aspects of life. I got badly hurt there, and I also unwittingly hurt other people.

There is a lot of myself on those roads that make up the Cape Town marathon – a lot of memory and emotion. There is lost innocence, regret, a sense of wondering about how things would have turned out if.

If I return to Cape Town and run a marathon on those streets, will I be able to start confronting some of those demons that lie within me? Will it provide some degree of absolution for my past and clear a path for me to move forward? Will I feel the presence of my dad, whose ashes were scattered in the sea at Three Anchor Bay in Cape Town?

There is only one way to find out, and I have started to plot out a course of action – a three-year plan – to get me to that start line.

Cape Town Marathon, 2015. Here I come.

(Photo credit: Brightroom Professional Event Photographers)


GUEST POST: A New Journey Begins

This weekend, I decided that I had had enough of not being as healthy as I need to be. I catch too many colds and take too long to get rid of them. I am always tired and run-down. I don’t run as fast as I know I’m able to, and in spite of having lost a lot of weight, I’m still about twenty pounds overweight.

Since I was a teen, I’ve had a one-extreme-or-the-other approach to eating. Either I consume calories as if they’re going extinct, or I live on the smell of an oilrag. That I have psychological issues with food is without question. Part of my problem, though, is good old-fashioned lack of discipline.

My nutrition habits suck because I haven’t tried hard enough to fix them. This weekend I decided that I was going to turn over that particular leaf. Right after I made this resolve, I went to see if anything interesting was happening on Facebook. And there, right on top of my newsfeed, was a status update from my good friend Mimi, who had made a very similar resolve.

I emailed her excitedly, and we decided that as we strive to improve ourselves, we will swap guest posts once a month, to tell each other’s readers how we are doing in our quests.

Mimi is a special needs mom like me, only with way more special needs kids. She is patient and kind, and she knows the true meaning of friendship. I recently did the 2012 Blogathon alongside her, and I am so thrilled to be embarking on another challenge with her – albeit a challenge of a different nature.

Today, Mimi tells us what her goals are. I am delighted that she is sharing her journey with us.

When I look back, I can see myself at various weights.  Some bother me and others make me wish I was back there again.  Before I had my first daughter at age 19, I weighed in at a whopping 97 pounds soaking wet.  I had no shape to my body whatsoever, but as soon as I got pregnant, through those 10 months of pregnancy (yes, my daughter was 28 days late!) I gained 91 pounds!  That was a whole me that I put on!  I worked very hard to get the weight off, and I managed to get most of it off, I got myself down to 120 pounds and was happy there, but then I got pregnant again and up went the scale.  This time I went up to 150 pounds with my daughter and after her birth, I managed to get myself to GAIN an additional 10 pounds.  See, my daughter was born with Down Syndrome, so I was more concerned with her health, than mine at the time.

I got married in 1994 and my weight was 160 pounds, which I was technically happy with.  I had a little pudge on me, but nothing that I was embarrassed about.  But then I had our next daughter and I immediately put on the weight again, and this time with each pregnancy I had, the weight just kept piling on, I couldn’t get back down to 160 no matter how hard I tried.

I remember the day that I was at the doctors office and I stepped on the scale and it said “200” in big bright orange numbers.  I about died right there on the spot!  It affected me so badly that I started eating my emotions, and my favorites are carbs.

I have since given birth a total of 6 times and am currently sitting at 225 pounds.  Just in March I was 216, but I’m stressed, there’s no doubt about it, but to pack on 9 pounds in just a little over a month, that’s a problem to me.

So I decided that now at my age (44) I need to fix this problem for once and for all.  My doctor has promised to take me off of my diabetes medications if I can get down to 175, but I want to do better than that… My goal is 160 pounds, like I was 17 years ago when I married the love of my life.

I want to lose the weight not only for me, but for my family.  If I can do it, then it will show them that they too can do it.  My hubby is over-weight as well and I think this weight loss program that I started would be great for him too.  He had one knee replaced last year, and is going to have the other one done this summer, so if he could take some of the extra weight off his knees, they will last longer.

But really, I’m just tired of looking at myself in the mirror and looking pregnant.  I’m not fat anywhere else except in the stomach, butt and hip area, which is of course where all of women’s weight tends to go.

The program that I am doing is the CTS300 which is sold at Complete Nutrition.  I’m really excited about doing this program because I’ve seen the pictures of the locals who have lost the weight and I am more determined now than I ever have been before.  I’ve tried Weight Watchers, that didn’t’ work for me… So I’m hoping that this program does.

I have an exercise routine that I do two times a day, I walk the treadmill at various inclines for 20 minutes, 2 times a day and I carry two 5 pound dumbbells with me as I’m walking.  By the time I’m done, I’m glistening like a diamond ring – because women don’t sweat!  My thighs are usually on fire by the time I’m done on the treadmill, but that just means I had a good workout, which is what I’m looking for.

So I’m not looking at this as a “diet”, but more as a lifestyle change.  I’m changing the way I look at food now, and I think before I go reaching for something to put in my mouth.

Check out Mimi’s blog at Wife… Mom… Writer… All Blessings!


January Goals: Laying The Foundation

launchpadSo, now that I have started 2012 off with a week of inspiration from guest bloggers, it is time for me to solidify my own goals for this year. In short, this year is going to be about me. That does not mean that I will ignore my children, refuse to cook dinner for my family, and let everyone go around in dirty clothes. It simply means that I will do a better job of taking care of myself.

Since becoming a mother, I have put the needs of my family first. Which is fine – the truth is that ultimately, everything I do is for my kids. The problem is that I have been taking care of everyone else at the expense of myself. This has led to me being overwhelmed, exhausted, and in many instances, frustrated and unhappy. In a way, I have allowed the essence of me to get lost, to be buried underneath all of the layers of responsibility that I have imposed upon myself.

And so, this year, I am going to find some balance. I am going to pursue some dreams that have been in the horizon of my mind for some time. I believe that being more balanced, less tired, and more in tune with myself will benefit everyone around me.

In 2012, I am aiming to make great strides in my running. With the help of my friend and coach Phaedra Kennedy, I am going to break 2:10:00 in my Run for Autism in October. I am going to make inroads in the world of writing. And come hell or high water, I am going to develop a positive relationship with food that allows me to build good nutritional habits. The old pattern of alternating binge eating with starving myself is going to come to an end. Sometimes I’m thin, sometimes I’m fat, sometimes I’m in between. I’m tired of the yo-yo, and it makes clothes shopping impossible.

My focus in January will be to lay the groundwork for success. This is my plan:

  • I will realign my sleeping habits to go to bed earlier, so I can wake up early in the mornings to run without feeling like I’ve been hit by a Mack truck. When I start my training program on January 30th, I will be used to getting up at five in the morning. My body will have already made that adjustment.
  • I will learn how to do the strength training exercises that Phaedra gave me, so I can incorporate them in my training program right off the bat.
  • I have ordered my Precision Nutrition kit (thanks, Phaedra, for the tip). When it arrives, I will not just dive into it like an overexcited puppy. I will take the time to look over it properly, learn how to use it, and plan appropriately.
  • I will contact a web designer about revamping my site to incorporate both my blog and a general writing component. That will make it easier for me to market myself as a freelance writer.
  • Since I already have a day job, I will start to use my commutes for writing. That’s exactly why Santa brought me this nifty little ’puter that I am writing this post on.

By the end of this month, I will have built myself a launch pad, and I will be able to spend the rest of the year in pursuit of my goals.

Hop on, it’s going to be a wild ride!


10 IEP Survival Tips For Parents Of Children With Autism

If you want an autism parent to break out in an instant sweat, just mention the initials IEP. The Individual Education Plan, which is theoretically in place to help children with autism and their families, can instead be one of the biggest sources of frustration. The IEP process, during which the child’s educational goals for the upcoming year are formulated, is about as much fun as a root canal. It is also just as essential. Without an IEP, our special needs kids would be eaten alive by a school system designed to teach “typical” kids who can do “typical” things.

Putting together an effective IEP requires collaboration between the parents and the school, and differing viewpoints can lead to difficulty. The school views the child as one of a number of students requiring IEP’s. They want to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as they can: the less interaction they have to have with parents, the better. From my experience, teachers like to draw up the IEP, send it home for parental signatures, and be done with it.  Parents, of course, view their child as a unique individual. They want their child’s IEP to be given care and consideration. They don’t want a cookie-cutter IEP; they want a plan that reflects their child’s needs. After all, the “I” in IEP stands for “Individual”.

It doesn’t have to this frustrating. There are things parents can do to derive real value from the IEP process. Today I want to share with you some tips that I have learned over the years, both from my own experiences, and from other people who have been through the IEP wringer. If you have tips of your own, please feel free to add them in the comments section.

1. Parents, educate yourselves. Find out the special ed laws in your area. Make sure you know what you as a parent are entitled to request on behalf of your child. Do research on the IEP process. If possible, try to get your hands on the IEP form if you haven’t already seen it. If you know what information the form calls for, you can be better prepared.

2. This is not a battle – or at least, it shouldn’t be. No matter how frustrated you are, avoid approaching your child’s teacher in a confrontational manner. You are not on opposite sides of the table. You are members of the same team, working together for the benefit of your child. If you adopt a collaborative attitude, chances are that the teacher will do the same. At the end of the day, your child will derive a lot more benefit from a cohesive team than from a roomful of bickering people.

3. There is another reason to play nice with your child’s teacher. The special ed community is fairly contained. There is a good possibility that the professional you are dealing with today will crop up in some other role in the special ed world at some point in the future. I’m not suggesting that you give in to what the teacher wants. I’m just saying, be nice. Treat all of the professionals you encounter with respect. Yelling at an uncooperative teacher may get you some short-term results, but it will also burn a bridge that you may need further down the line.

4. Be realistic. Your child’s goals should be formulated with reference to where they are today. A child who has not yet learned how to count to twenty is probably not going to be able to add triple-digit numbers.

5. Instead of requesting goals in absolute terms (“I want my child to be reading by the end of the year”), phrase them as an ongoing process (“The ability to read one- and two-syllable words, with a view to reading simple story-books.”)

6. Remember that kids don’t necessarily do the same things at school that they do at home. My son’s teacher, who is with him for the third year in a row, sent home an IEP draft that included the goal for him to rote-count to 100. I was initially perplexed, because he’s been counting to 100 since he was four, but it came out that this is not a skill he has demonstrated at school. Conversely, he has shown more promise in interactive play at school than he does at home.

7. Don’t be shy about writing comments on your child’s IEP. The IEP form does not allow a lot of space for comments – feel free to break out a separate sheet of paper, write your comments on that, and staple it to the form.

8. As a parent, you have the option to meet with the teacher, or to just add your comments to the IEP and sign it. I strongly recommend that you meet with the teacher. Even if it’s the same teacher for the second or third year, the goals will have evolved, and it can be very difficult to keep things in context without a face-to-face meeting.

9. If the IEP does not include a goal that you feel should be there, be persistent. You may need to compromise on the wording of the goal, but make sure it gets written into the IEP in some form.

10. Remember that the IEP is not cast in concrete. We don’t have crystal balls, and we cannot always say that the plan we come up with in October will still be valid in, say, February. If a strategy or goal that was written into the IEP is not working, talk to your child’s teacher about modifying it.


Is Finishing The Race A Good Enough Goal?

When I came back to running two and a half years ago, I came back from a zero-level of physical fitness. For several years my body had been completely devoted to growing babies and then nursing them. My mind had been devoted to trying to survive post-partum depression, the loss of my father, and my son’s autism diagnosis. With everything that I had going on, physical fitness just wasn’t on my list of priorities.

Therefore, when I started running again, speed was not an issue for me. My only goal was to simply get out there and complete whatever distance I was aiming for. Standing at the start line of my first half-marathon for autism, I was realistic enough to know that I wasn’t going to be a speed demon. I did not aim for any particular time. I just wanted to finish the race; I did not care how long it would take me.

Since that first half-marathon, I have run 12 more races. My approach to each of them has been the same: stumble across the finish line in whatever time I can manage. I have looked at my races not so much as competitive events, but as training runs with added zing.

Two weeks ago, though, I came to within a minute of my 10K PB (personal best) at the Energizer Night Race. This was a race run at night, on narrow park trails, with this weird headlight thing on my head. Most amazing of all, I actually had energy to spare when I crossed the finish line.

That race was a turning point for me in two ways. The first was that it made me re-evaluate the role of music in my runs. The second was that it made me ask the question: if I can put in a performance like that without really trying, what will I able to accomplish if I push myself beyond what I am used to?

I have been a somewhat complacent runner, being happy with just finishing the race. I still advocate that approach very strongly for beginner runners. But I am not really a beginner anymore. Perhaps it is time for me to start pushing the boundaries a little.

Tomorrow: read about how a change in race strategy this weekend worked out for me.

(Photo credit: This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)