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For James On His Birthday

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To my darling son James,

Nine years ago today, you finally decided to leave the comfort of the womb and join us in the world. You were a week overdue: either you were very comfortable where you were, or you figured that we would need an extra week of quiet before the adventure began.

The day of your birth was incredible, filled with little moments that I will never forget – like the little kid in the hospital coffee shop who was convinced that I was Santa Claus. You can’t blame him: it was Christmas morning and I had a massive belly and a Santa hat. The best moment of all, though, was when you came flying into the world like a cannonball, screaming in outrage. There was never any doubt that you had a very healthy pair of lungs and an abundance of energy.

Since that day, you have filled our lives with a very special kind of magic. You are never afraid to explore and discover not only what is in the world, but what is within yourself. Your massive imagination takes all of us on weird and wonderful journeys, and the front of my fridge is covered with your fabulous artwork. Your creativity combined with your love of animals has given us a zoo of animals that have been lovingly crafted by you. As I write this, you are transforming ordinary cardboard into a set of Wild Kratts creature power disks.

You have the biggest heart of anyone I know. You are one of life’s true givers who experiences absolute joy through the act of making other people happy. Every single day, I am on the receiving end of your spontaneous hugs and little handmade gifts and notes. I see the kindnesses you extend to your friends without even having to think about it. Being a caring person is so much a part of who you are that your school gave you an award for empathy.

The love that you have for your brother is genuine and complete. You do not take anything for yourself without first making sure George has something too. If George’s autism is making things difficult for him, you calmly and patiently do whatever you can to soothe and comfort him. You play with him, you share with him, you protect him. You take care of him so beautifully, and yet you think of him as your hero.

I know that sometimes I cannot keep up with your boundless energy and your constant chatter. But I absolutely love that those things are a part of your character, and I would not change a single thing about you.

I love you, and it is a joy and an honour to be your mom.

Happy birthday.

Lots of love,
Mommy

 

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Running For Autism 2013

There are few things more surreal than waking up on the morning of your biggest race of the season – the event that you have spent all year preparing your body and mind for. You know that this is it. This is what everything you have done this season has been leading up to – every race, every long run in the pouring rain or blistering sun, every gruelling session of slogging repeatedly up the same hill.

As I got ready for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon on Sunday morning, I alternated between eerie calmness and frenetic nervousness. On the one hand, I felt ready. I had trained hard, and there was no question that my body would be able to handle the half-marathon – a distance that I had already run seven times in the last four years. On the other hand, I had just been through several months of the most mind-bending stress. My body was ready, but was my mind strong enough?

And would I be able to run 21.1km wearing a cape and a funny hat?

For the first time ever, I had decided to run a race in costume. This involved an autism-oriented logo…

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… a hat spouting weird hair…

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… and a cape.

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The day before the race, I wavered on the whole costume idea. I was going to feel very self-conscious at the start, walking around among thousands of people with blue hair spouting from my hat. But then I remembered what I had written on the message wall at the runner’s expo – the reason I was doing all of this.

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As it turned out, I didn’t feel self-conscious at all. In the start area I saw several people wearing costumes. Besides, I was hanging out with Charlie, who like me was running for the the Geneva Centre for Autism. I was having too much fun to feel self-conscious.

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When Charlie and I made our way to the start line, we found ourselves further back in the pack than we had intended, and we felt as if we waited forever before we finally started to shuffle forward. I wished Charlie luck, stepped across the timing mats, and the race was on.

Right from the start, I felt marvelous. The costume didn’t bother me in the slightest, and I didn’t have any of the awkward stiffness that I sometimes feel during the first couple of kilometres. For a change I didn’t start out too fast. I ran the first 7K at a nice easy pace – fast enough to keep up a respectable average speed, but not so fast that I would run out of steam before hitting the halfway mark. About a third of the way into the race I kicked it up a notch, and by the time I ran over the 10K timing mats I was cruising along very comfortably.

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Three kilometres later, I reached the turnaround point, and I was feeling great. I was starting to tire and I still had eight kilometres to go, but I was now physically heading towards the finish line. I contemplated increasing my speed, but decided not to. I tend to struggle in the 18th and 19th kilometres of a half-marathon, and I wanted to make sure I would have the energy to get through that patch.

As I was running up the only real hill on the course, my fuel belt came off, and I had to stop to pick it up and secure it around my waist again. I was worried: my pacing had been so perfect, and this was just the kind of thing that could break the rhythm. But fortunately, I was able to get right back into it without losing more than a few seconds. I made up the time by sprinting for sixty or seventy metres, and then settled back into my regular pace.

As soon as I started the 18th kilometre, I hit my customary struggle. My legs started to feel like jelly and my brain started to tell me that I couldn’t do this anymore. Telling myself that this was only in my head, I ran on. I allowed myself to slow down a little, but I kept going. I got through that kilometre and the next one by counting in my head – a neat little trick I figured out that distracts my mind from what I’m actually doing.

All of a sudden, I saw what I had been waiting for – the marker indicating that I was now in the 20th kilometre. Just like that, my mind cleared and my jelly-like legs started to feel strong. I had just over two kilometres to go – less than 13 minutes of running. I could do this. I told my legs to go faster and they willingly obeyed. With one kilometre to go, I slowed down briefly to remove my ear buds. I didn’t need music now. There were crowds of spectators lining both sides of the road – they would carry me to the finish.

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500 metres to go. About ninety seconds from now the finish line would be in my sights. Spectators were cheering for me by name and I was smiling and waving cheerfully, loving every moment. With 300 metres to go, I put every ounce of remaining energy into my legs and a mental picture of George, my son and inspiration, into my head.

I crossed the finish line with a time of 2:16:42 – a new personal best time. My legs were hurting, but my spirits were absolutely flying.

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When I got home, I gave my finisher’s medal to the person I was doing all of this for. The smile on his face mirrored the feelings in my soul.

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This year’s race is done, and I am already looking forward to next year’s event.

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Running for Boston: Toronto Yonge Street 10K

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There is something very strange, and very uplifting, about standing at the start line of a race less than a week after a marathon was targeted in an act of terror. Especially when you are one of several thousand participants, most of whom are wearing special bibs declaring their support for the city that the bombing happened in.

To say that the atmosphere at Sunday’s Toronto Yonge Street 10K was amazing would be a gross understatement that does not begin to describe what it was really like. Start-line energy is phenomenal enough as it is. Add in the fact that thousands of runners are all banding together in solidarity for those affected by the Boston bombing, and you have something truly spectacular.

For that reason more than any other, I was mentally ready for this race. I should have been nervous, considering that my worst race ever was just two weeks in the past. I had not exactly had a resounding start to the season. But instead of being nervous, I was excited about this race for days. Judging by the fact that you could almost reach out and touch the atmosphere at the start, my 6000 or so fellow runners were excited as well.

Not only was I mentally ready for the race, I felt physically ready as well. Just a week before the race, I had gotten my training back on track, and I had also moved back to a cleaner way of eating. I was realistic enough to know that I probably wouldn’t make a personal best time, but I thought I had a shot of beating a pace of 6:30 minutes per kilometre, which would have given me a time of 1:05:00. That would be enough to set me up for a good solid few weeks of training leading up to my next half-marathon.

As is my custom, I placed myself quite far back in my corral, and so when the race started, I found myself boxed in by runners slower than myself. For the first kilometre or so I kept having to slow down and dodge around people. I didn’t mind – in fact, I counted on it. If I didn’t get slowed down at the start, I would go out too fast and run out of gas before the first aid station.

As it happened, my first couple of kilometres played out exactly as planned from a pacing point of view. Sometime during the second kilometre, I found my space to run and I settled into my pace. In spite of the fact that most of the first 7km or so are downhill, I deliberately held back for the first half of the race. Downhill running can be easier from an exertion point of view, but if you’re not careful, it can be absolute hell on the knees and quads. Apart from that, I feared that if I went nuts on the downhills, I wouldn’t have anything left for the last 3K or so.

I made the halfway point in a little less than 32 minutes. I was happy with that. I was going at a pace I thought I could maintain for the second half, and I was on track to beat my goal time. I had a buffer of a minute or so, which would come in handy if I started to fade near the end.

Instead of fading, though, I ran the second half faster than the first. I was tiring physically, but absolutely uplifted mentally. The crowd support along the route was fantastic. There were little kids holding out their hands to high-five passing runners, people cheering us on by name, and folks holding handmade banners that said things like, “Run for Boston!” It occurred to me that coming out to support the runners in the aftermath of the Boston bombing was as much of a big deal for these people as running the race was for me. In a sense, I was running for them, for these wonderful folks who were showing solidarity with the running community, and I couldn’t let them down.

And so I sped up. I smiled and waved at everyone who cheered. I high-fived the children who stood there with their arms stuck out like traffic policemen. I gave a thumbs-up to the people holding banners. I drank in the positive energy that they all offered, and before long, I was sprinting for the finish line, where spectators and runners alike were cheering loudly, not only for the victory of runners crossing the finish line, but for the triumph of a community absolutely united against violence and fear.

In the end, my time was 1:02:48 – more than two minutes faster than my target, and only 68 seconds off my personal best. Not a bad showing at all.

During the winter and the early weeks of spring, my mojo went into hibernation.

I’m pretty sure it’s awake and ready to go for another season.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

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My Mojo Tripped And Fell

On Saturday evening I had a Very Bad Run. This is something that happens to all runners from time to time, and to be frank, my running has been going so well lately that I’ve been overdue for a bad one. But still, when it happens it leaves me feeling negative and slightly anxious about the prospect of lacing up my shoes and going out for my next run.

The fact that I went running at all on Saturday is somewhat unusual. Apart from a loosening-up jaunt on the treadmill right before my morning coffee, Saturdays are designated rest days. I go for my long runs on Sundays, when the pace of the day is leisurely and the husband does not have to go rushing off to work. In my household, Sunday mornings have been established as my time to run.

On this particular week, however, I decided that a Saturday evening long run would be a better idea, for several reasons. There were thunderstorms in the forecast for Sunday morning. I’m completely fine with running in the rain, but thunder and lightning do not make good running partners. On Saturday evening it was clear, and I was itching to go for run, having kept myself off the road for a few days due to an injured foot. In any case, the Olympic women’s marathon was being broadcast live on Sunday morning, and I really wanted to watch it.

Although it was evening, I knew it would still be quite hot, but I was not quite prepared for the hazy wall of heat that hit me when I walked out of the house. Having been glued to the Olympics for the better part of the day, I hadn’t really taken notice of the weather. I second-guessed this grand running plan for a moment, and then reasoned that if anything, conditions would get cooler as I went along. I was not planning on breaking any ground speed records, and I was well stocked up with water, so dehydration should not be a problem.

For the first eight or nine kilometres, I was fine. I was pacing myself well for a long run and keeping myself hydrated. It was brutally hot and I was melting all over the sidewalk, but I thought I was managing the conditions reasonably well. And then, with about nine kilometres still to go, I abruptly started to fade.

Fading during a long run is par for the course. Usually I start to feel dips in my energy during the second half of a run, and when that happens I simply adjust my pace, and then pick it up again when I feel recovered. This time it was completely different. My energy took a nosedive and I just couldn’t recover. I didn’t give up on the run, of course. I knew that if I saw it through to the end I would at least feel good about having completed the distance. But I felt like hell. I kept having to slow to a walk, and far from enjoying the running as much as I usually do, all I wanted to do was get home. I was drenched with sweat and getting a headache, my legs were screaming at me, and my sore foot was – well, sore.

I like to think that I have mastered the art of “running through the pain”, and usually I can do just that. Not this time. The pain just ran right along with me, preventing me from finding my rhythm. The only thing that kept me going through this run – the only thing – was my music. I kept stopping to pick out different songs that had a beat I could run to.

Finally, I found myself within shouting distance of my house, with about four minutes of running left. I wasn’t entirely sure that I had four minutes of running left in me, but I had a choice between running home and simply lying down and spending the night on the sidewalk, so I soldiered on. I stopped for one final time to select a different song and somehow managed to sprint home with the sound of Queen’s We Are The Champions in my ears.

In the end, I completed the distance I set out to do, and I’m sure the run benefited me somehow. But I did not feel good doing it.

All I can do now is put that run behind me and look ahead to the next one.

(Photo credit: Ryder Photography)

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A Midsummer Night’s Run

 

At the finish line!

No matter which way you look at it, fifteen kilometres – almost ten miles – is a long way to travel on foot. For the modern human being, who has all kinds of conveniences available that are designed to help us get places and do things quickly, the  only reason to travel fifteen kilometres on foot is for the fun of it.

Many people just don’t get my preoccupation with running. They don’t understand how I  can actually enjoy the feeling of being on the move for two hours straight, and seeing how fast and  how far I can push  myself. It is beyond their comprehension that I wear my blackened toenails with pride, like badges of honour.

I don’t expect everyone to understand, just as I don’t always understand other people’s interests. I do find it intriguing, however, that many of the people who don’t understand go to all kinds of lengths to tell me all the ways in which running is bad for me.

If only they could see the incredible energy – the special kind of buzz – at the finish lines of races. There is no way you can be in the midst of hundreds of runners basking in the glow of achievement and still think that running is bad for you.

Last weekend, I got to experience that buzz for the first time in quite a while. I participated in the 15K event at Toronto’s Midsummer Night’s Run. Admittedly, I wasn’t too sure about doing this race. Thus far, my season of training can be summed up in one word: abysmal. There has always been one thing or another getting in the way of my training, and I feared that I had simply lost the spark of last year and the year before.

To compound matters, the race was on the same route as a disastrous race that I did last summer and vowed at the time never to repeat.

I knew I was going to be able to go the distance, but I wasn’t too sure how good I’d feel about it.

Despite my misgivings, I started to feel the usual pre-race adrenaline rush as soon as I got to the starting area. As I sat there on the lawn an hour before the start, eating my peanut butter sandwich, I felt the energy of the people around me start to fill me up. By the time I lined up with ten minutes to go, I was literally hopping in my eagerness to get going.

All of a sudden, I was determined to nail this race. I had a score to settle with this route that had soundly defeated me last year.

The run did not disappoint. I followed my usual strategy of running in 2km chunks. This method really works for me. I simply do not allow my mind to think beyond the next 2km. Only in the last 3km or so do I start aiming for the finish line. Running in this way keeps me physically focused and mentally strong.

The last 5km were hard. They were not made easier by the fact that the last water station ran out of both water and Gatorade by the time I got there. Add to that the fact that both my shoes and my orthotics were on their last – um – legs, and you have a couple of kilometres that inevitably felt very, very long.

But eventually I got to the point that I love in any race: turning the corner and seeing the finish line ahead of me, like a shining beacon. Just seeing that banner emblazoned with the word “FINISH” and hearing the cheering and applause of the crowds infused me with the energy that I needed to sprint – yes, sprint! – down the home stretch to the end.

With just metres to go, a well-meaning spectator yelled out that I was looking good.

I was looking like death warmed over, but it was kind of them to say so.

And so I finished another race, carried over the finish line not only by my legs, but by the collective energy of the crowds.

What a feeling. What a magical feeling.

This, my friends, is why I run.

(Photo credit to the author)

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He Lives To Fight Another Day…

For those following the story, Captain Snuggles chugs along.  Last night was a bad one.  There was much bleeding, so much that a blood transfusion was called for.  Amy’s full update can be found here.

I want to take a moment here to spare a thought for a special group of people: donors.  Baby David is still with us – albeit in a tenuous state – because of a liver and Lord knows how many pints of blood that originated from other human beings.  Blood and organ donors save lives.  They give hope where otherwise there would be none.

I have my usual request tonight, which is to please keep thinking those positive thoughts.  Keep saying those prayers to whatever supreme being you happen to believe in.  Continue to send out that vibrant, life-giving energy to Amy and her son David.

And Amy, may you feel the love of a thousand hugs, and know that there are many people rooting for David and reaching out a hand to hold you steady when you need it.  Know that you are not alone.

Kirsten