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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.

 

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Electrotherapy TENS Unit: Effective Pain Relief From Omron

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Electrotherapy TENS vs. old injury

Over twenty years ago, I sustained a serious injury to my left ankle, and it hasn’t been quite right since. My ankle problems have been such a constant factor in my life that I have christened the offending joint “Ankle of Doom”. It is because of Ankle of Doom that I have permanently abandoned my dream of running a full marathon. Half-marathon training is challenging enough: for at least a week after my long runs, Ankle of Doom puts me through so much pain that I want to weep.

When I was offered a review unit of an Electrotherapy TENS device from Omron, I thought I may as well give it a try. Between Ankle of Doom and the acute pain that has developed in my shoulders as a result of long hours working in front of a computer, I knew that I would be able to give this unit a thorough workout.

TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. It cannot cure the underlying cause of pain, but it provides temporary relief by preventing the pain message from reaching the brain. Many people who have used TENS therapy have found it to be effective and easy to use.

Compact and easy to use

When my Electrotherapy TENS unit from Omron arrived, I was pleasantly surprised by its size – or lack thereof. The unit is small enough to fit comfortably into my hand, and it is very lightweight. It comes with a belt clip that can be used to attach it to the waistband of almost any clothing, and it feels almost invisible when it’s being worn in this way. This makes it truly portable – there is no need to stay rooted to one spot during your fifteen minute treatments.

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The unit is very easy to set up and operate. It runs on two standard AAA batteries which are kept firmly in place by the backing which is removed and reattached with the twist of a coin. It comes with a pair of standard pads complete with a holder, a thin cable with the electrodes (about the thickness and length of the ear buds you use with your iPod), the belt clip, easy-to-follow instructions and a nifty little pouch to store it all in.

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There are nine preset modes on the unit. Six allow you to target specific parts of the body (shoulder, lower back, arm, foot, leg, joint), while the other three (tap, knead and rub) are massage modes.

To operate the unit, you simply apply the pads to the part of your body that is hurting, select one of the nine modes, which are clearly labelled on the display, and select the intensity. The intensity can be adjusted at any time during the fifteen minute cycle, and when the time is up, the unit shuts off.

The results

After using the Electrotherapy TENS unit for a couple of weeks, the results are promising. With at least one fifteen-minute treatment per day, the pain in my ankle has been a lot more manageable. I have not had the week-long agony that usually follows long runs. I doubt if I’ll be able to revive my plans to run a full marathon, but I do believe that training for my upcoming half-marathon will be a lot more bearable, and I think that my recovery from the race itself will go a lot more smoothly than usual.

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If anything, the unit is a little too effective. It blocks the pain signal so effectively that it is easy to forget that there is a problem, and you run the risk of not being duly cautious of using the affected part of your body. However, combined with rest and whatever other treatment your doctor might recommend, Electrotherapy TENS can make life with an injury a lot more bearable.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. All photos credited to the author.

Disclaimer: A review unit of the Omron Electrotherapy TENS device was provided to me in exchange for an honest review. This post is a true reflection of my experiences to date with this product. The experiences of others may differ. This review is not intended to replace or supplement the advice given by a registered medical professional.

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Ready To Race

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Later on today, I will be lining up at the start line of the Niagara Falls Women’s Half-Marathon. Although my season started off with my ankle getting injured and my mojo getting lost, I managed to get back on track about seven weeks ago. Technically, I need a bit longer than that to train for a half-marathon, but I have made these last seven weeks count. My training during this time has been consistent, I have supplemented my runs with cross-training and strength-training, and I have drastically cleaned up my eating habits.

So I feel ready.

I even have a goal. Although a personal best time would be nice, I am not going to set my heart on it. I have changed some aspects of how I train and run, and I am using this race as a test. So instead of banking on a personal best time, I am aiming for 2:20:00. If I can beat that, I will be ecstatic.

Watch this space for a race report. But not before I’ve soaked my sure-to-be-aching legs in my hotel room jacuzzi while drinking my free bottle of wine.

 

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Race Report: St. Patrick’s Day 5K

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Three weeks ago, my sports medicine guy told me that I was not to run the half-marathon that I was registered for the following weekend. Through my own stupidity, I had aggravated my old ankle injury, and the doctor practically guaranteed that if I ran that that half-marathon, I would be out for the rest of the season.

If I behaved myself (in other words, if I followed doctor’s orders), I would be allowed to run the St. Patrick’s Day 5K. So I scaled back my training and paced myself more appropriately. When the doctor told me to run on the treadmill, I ran on the treadmill. I only ventured out onto the road when he said I could. I behaved impeccably, and sure enough, I was cleared for takeoff. When I asked the doctor if he wanted me to exercise any caution during the race or if I could just go hell for leather, he said, “Run like you stole something.”

All right, then.

If I was going to run like I stole something, I might as well have fun with it. I decided to dress up a little, in keeping with the spirit of St. Paddy’s Day. And so on the morning of the race, I got onto the subway with temporary Irish-themed tattoos all over my face, ridiculous green-and-white striped socks going all the way up to my knees, and green and orange hair extensions attached to my hat. I didn’t even stand out. Torontonians – even those not of Irish descent – take St. Paddy’s Day very seriously, so I blended right in. It was the people dressed normally who stuck out like sore thumbs

I got to the start line with about half an hour to spare. Usually I like to arrive at races at least an hour ahead of time, but it was icy cold, so I was glad to have less time for standing around. I checked my bag and did some half-hearted warm-ups. After my injury, I wasn’t really expecting to be a speed demon at this race. My goal was to beat 32 minutes.

Ten minutes before the start, I stood at the start line among about a thousand other runners, almost all of whom were dressed for the occasion. It was fun to see all the leprechaun hats and bright green wigs. The starting siren went, and we were off.

My strategy was simply to go as fast as I could, but I got boxed in by the crowds at first. I was only really able to take off after 500 metres or so. The course was pleasant: downtown Toronto is kind of flat, so I was able to go at a fairly consistent pace. The mood was festive throughout. Runners were laughing and joking, admiring each other’s outfits, and cheering each other on. Some had liquid in their water bottles that looked suspiciously like beer.

The best part of the race was the inspiration I drew from the runners around me. The Saint Patrick’s Day run is organized in support of Achilles Canada, an amazing organization that enables people with disabilities to be athletes. There were a lot of runners on the course with a variety of challenges. There were blind athletes running with guides, people in wheelchairs, double amputees with prosthetics.

It was humbling to witness the enthusiasm and dedication of these athletes. I felt truly honoured to be among them.

I was absolutely spent at the end, and struggled to get through the last kilometre. But when the finish line came into view, I felt that magical surge of energy, and I was able to kick it up a notch, finishing in a time of 30:32.

Not bad for a post-injury first race of the season. I feel like this run has given me the kick-start I have been needing to start my season of training in earnest.

One final thought: the free post-race beer went down very well!

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

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GUEST POST: Back Into The Stride

In March, I received an email inviting me to participate in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge hosted by WEGO Health. “In for a penny, in for a pound,” I thought, and signed up. I had never participated in a month-long blogging challenge before and didn’t really know what to expect. I thought that maybe my readership would increase slightly. Perhaps I would come across a couple of blogs that interested me.

I didn’t anticipate becoming immersed in an entirely new (to me) community of bloggers. During the challenge I read many blog posts that were humourous, surprising, heart-wrenching, thought-provoking, informative, or just downright good. I have been fortunate enough to keep in touch with some of the writers, and I remain an active participant in the goings-on at WEGO Health.

One of the writers I “met” during the challenge is a woman who has much in common with me. She is the parent of an individual with special needs. She is also a runner, and therefore totally gets why the highlight of my weekend was going out to buy a new pair of running shoes.

Today, Gretchen Stahlman tells us about her train of thought as she returns to running after a break.

 

I hadn’t run in about a month, the longest stretch since I started running distance six years ago. I normally run three or four times a week, depending on what I’m training for. Last December I started training hard for the half-marathons I ran in the spring. I had a good base from running the NYC marathon in November and I wanted to capitalize on that, plus I wanted to keep myself motivated through the dark, cold winter months. And it worked: I had a PR at my half in March, and I felt like I was really coming into my own in running. But by the end of April when I ran my last half, my body and my mind were too tired to do what I wanted them to do.

Soon enough I’ll start training for the Chicago marathon, so the month of May was a good time to rest and recover and finally address that twangy right hamstring. When I traveled to Denver on business, I purposefully didn’t take my running gear so I’d be forced to take the time off. As it turns out, I liked resting. And I’m pretty good at it (better at it than running). So I took another week off. I stretched my hamstring and, amazingly, it got better when I wasn’t running on it. So I took another week off. I decided that I would run again when I felt like it. Day after day, I didn’t feel like it.

Then last week, my mind got stuck while working on a new essay. In writing, there is the required butt-to-chair time when the words manifest themselves on the page, but for me, I also need running time that frees my mind to go where it will while my body churns away at the miles.

I made my triumphant return to running last Saturday. Just three miles and I knew it would be hard, making me wonder how I had ever run 26.2 miles before and how I would ever do it again. I ran with a new friend on a route I like a lot, one that takes us on the canal path where there are always other runners, owners walking dogs, couples strolling with cups of coffee. We ran smoothly over the brick sidewalk, saying good morning to those who came our way.

A white haired man in old-school running gear came our direction, not terribly fast and with a little lurch in his stride. His left hand held his right arm to his chest as he ran, and when we drew closer, I could see that it was shriveled to half the density of his left. I said Good morning as we passed, and then Wow to my friend when the man was out of earshot. Wow, she said back.

When my friend slowed to walk, I ran on by myself. Now free of conversation, my thoughts drifted to my son who is 22 and only recently diagnosed with Asperger’s although he’s been this way his entire life. He hit a dark skid last fall where he stayed in bed all day, didn’t shower unless told to, didn’t go out, shrank back from the difficulties of the world. That’s when we sought professional help, that’s when the diagnosis came, and now he’s getting out of bed and doing a few things on his own, more each week, a slow stuttering rise to a new life. The social interactions are hard for him, going new places, doing new things, but equally hard to go old places and see people he already knows. But he’s doing it. He’s putting himself out there, making the effort, like the old man who has found his own way to run, holding himself together, not letting what he can’t do prevent him from doing the things that he can.

The route I ran turned down a dirt road and then along a short stretch of trail. The wet of the morning grass come through my running shoes. The trees arched over the path, dimming the sun, muting the world. When I picked up my right foot to clear the rocks and roots, that old achy hamstring sang out like an old friend. The path ended and I turned onto the road, the one that lead me back to where I started. My first run was done, not as hard as I thought it would be. It felt good to be back, in both mind and body, ready to begin my own arduous climb to the marathon.

To learn more about Gretchen Stahlman, check out her website!

(Photo credit: Gretchen Stahlman)

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8 Things Runners Should Do The Day Before A Race

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

This time tomorrow, I will be about an hour and a quarter into the half-marathon I’ve been training for since February. If things go according to plan, I will have a little less than 10km to go. I will have been injected with the mental boost that comes from passing the halfway mark, and I will be mentally preparing strategies to overcome the energy crash that usually happens at around 18km. I will be visualizing myself crossing the finish line, hopefully with a personal best half-marathon time under my belt.

But that’s all tomorrow. Today I have to get through my final day of pre-race freak-out. I am a bag of nerves and my body is trying to play its usual tricks on my mind. And somehow, while these butterflies create havoc in my stomach, I have to get myself organized for tomorrow, and make sure my body has the nutrients and hydration in place to go the distance.

I have run my share of races, so I have been through this enough times to be in a position to share a few hard-earned points of wisdom with runners who suffer from pre-race jitters.

1. Your body is thirsty. As athletes, we all know that we’re supposed to drink x-number of glasses of water a day. But some of us aren’t as diligent about it as we should be. If I was better about my general hydration needs, maybe it would kick up my race performance a notch. It would certainly be better for my overall health. As lax about it as I am, I always make a special effort to hydrate properly the day before a race. It does mean more trips to the bathroom, but going into the race with at least a day’s worth of proper hydration behind me really does make a difference.

2. Watch what you eat. This one seems obvious. We want our bodies to be properly fueled for the big event. Don’t go nuts on the carbs: it’s actually better to do your carbo-loading two days before the race. The day before, you want to keep your diet simple and healthy. My pre-race day nutrition consists of lean protein, very little fat, and a small amount of carbs. That is what works for me, and it is important to note that something quite different could work for someone else.

3. Now is not the time for experimentation. If you just bought a new pair of six-inch heels, wait until after the race to break them in. Especially if you’re a dude. Keep that new jar of miracle wonder-vitamins in your medicine cabinet with the seal intact. If you’ve never had super-hot Thai curry, don’t eat it today. Everything you wear today should be something you’ve worn before, and everything you eat or drink should be something that you know from experience is tolerated well by your body.

4. Remember that your training is done. Going out for “one last speed training run” is going to serve absolutely no purpose, and may in fact do you harm. It is easy to worry, on the last day, about whether you have done enough training. You start to obsess about the week you had to take off due to a cold, or the fact that you had to cut short your last long run because you turned your ankle on an uneven paving stone. Remember that training is not an event, it’s a process, and you will have built your base long ago. The best thing you can do today is loosen up with an easy run around the block, and then rest for the remainder of the day.

5. Do stuff you like. You are tense and nervous, and you need to relax. Don’t worry about the things you should be doing. They can wait. Keep yourself busy with activities that will relax your mind and help you chill out a little. For me, it’s writing and messing around on my laptop. For someone else, it might be reading or watching TV. If you actually enjoy washing dishes and doing the laundry, knock yourself out. Come and do mine while you’re at it.

6. Prepare your running outfit. You don’t want to be fiddling around with safety pins and your race bib while you’re lined up at the start line ten minutes before the siren goes off. The day before the race, you actually want to put on the clothes you will be wearing, along with your heart rate monitor and whatever fuel belt you will be using. Then you can pin your number to your shirt, and experiment with ways to make the number work with everything else you are wearing. Men and flat-chested women have an easier time of this, simply because they have a larger available flat surface. For women like me who are more rounded on top, more coordination is sometimes required. Don’t wait until race day to figure it out.

7. Pack your bag. Most races have bag check facilities, and it’s well worth taking advantage of them. My bag typically contains several bottles of water for before and after the race, the pre-race snack that I eat right after I get to the start (about an hour before the run begins), a light jacket and track pants to put on after the race, and an alternative set of running clothes just in case I get to the start and find that I have miscalculated the weather. Your race bib usually comes with a bag check tear-off strip at the bottom. Remove this from the bib and attach it to your bag.

8. Get plugged in. Charge up your training watch, your iPod, and any other electronic gadgets that you are taking. Getting to the race and seeing the “battery low” message flashing on your watch can be very disorienting. Leave your goods plugged in for the day, and then unplug them and leave them with your race clothes before you go to bed.

Pre-race jitters are normal, and in some ways they are beneficial. They give your adrenaline a handy boost leading up to the race. Don’t fight the jitters, embrace them. Coexist with them as you go about your final race day, getting yourself ready.

And then, when it’s time to line up at the start, enjoy the run and visualize how great it will feel to cross the finish line.

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Here Come The Butterflies

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Two weeks and one day from now, I will be lining up for my first half-marathon of the season, the Toronto Womens Half-Marathon. I am looking forward to this race immensely. Not only for the chocolate station. And shallow and all as I am, not only for the aid stations manned by shirtless firefighters who douse you with water.

I am excited about the challenge of it. With the help of my friend and coach Phaedra, I have really been pushing the boundaries in my training this season. I have managed to survive some fair significant disruptions, like unexpected travel to South Africa and a couple of bouts of illness.

The two races that I have done this year – the Good Friday Ten-Miler and the Toronto Yonge Street 10K – have both yielded PB’s (personal best times). I am eager to see if I can repeat the performance over a longer distance.

I just have to get through the final phase of training, which is referred to by many runners as Taper Madness. While tapering is an essential part of training, it can be a period fraught with anxiety and mild (or not-so-mild) paranoia.

The science behind tapering is this: you spend twelve or fourteen weeks training intensively for this event, putting in your mileage and your speed work, having a battle of wits with hills, and spending entire Sunday mornings out on the road. You build your stamina and your strength, and you get used to spending long periods of time on your feet.

The training is a long process that should be properly planned and carefully executed. And if you’re not physically capable of running the distance of a half-marathon two weeks prior to the race, chances are that you won’t be ready on race-day either. The last two weeks don’t really have any value in terms of building your fitness level or your strength, so you are better off cutting back your mileage and giving your muscles time to rebuild in time for the big day.

Because you are reducing your mileage, you have more of a build-up of energy, so you get jittery and anxious, and you start imagining that the twinge in your ankle means it’s broken, or that the little pimple on your chin means you have smallpox.

Some runners can get through the tapering period without incident. They are cool, calm and collected, and don’t suffer from any attacks of nerves. “Butterflies? What butterflies?” they ask with infuriating serenity, when you question them about whether they are nervous about their upcoming race.

Other runners cannot sit still. They pace around restlessly, talk a mile a minute and fidget incessantly. They turn into hypochondriacs, anxiously assessing every little ache and every occasion on which they need to clear their throats. Because they stop sleeping, they advance seventy-two levels in Farmville in a two-week period.

Guess which category I fall into? I’ll give you a hint: I’m sitting here typing this at 4:12 in the morning.

Technically, my taper hasn’t even started yet. It will start after my long run tomorrow. But I tend to start feeling the jitters right before that last long run. I feel that there’s a lot riding on the run. If it goes well, I will go into Race Day with confidence, but I will be worried about whether I can repeat the performance. If it goes badly, I will be obsessing about whether I’m ready for the race.

So the butterflies have shown up, right on schedule. No matter what tomorrow’s long run is like, I am going to spend the next two weeks driving my family nuts and breaking out into occasional bouts of maniacal laughter. At night I will be banished to the sofabed because my incessant fidgeting will keep the husband awake. I will constantly bug the children, who will indulge me by playing with me for a while before my six-year-old gets exasperated and goes, “Momm-meeeee. You don’t play the gamethat way.”

Right now, the butterflies are not obeying any air traffic rules. They are flying around in chaos. But it is my hope that when the starting siren goes off on the day of the race, the butterflies will reconfigure themselves, arrange themselves into beautiful patterns, and fly in formation.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilker/287399328/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

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Outrunning A Cold

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

A lovely view of the lake eases the pain of a 23km run

Two weeks ago, I started to feel a cold coming on. The timing was dreadful: I had a 10K race coming up and I was aiming to break my best time. As the race approached I suddenly got obsessive about eating healthily and taking vitamins. Anyone who knows me will know that this is not usually the case. I can get up at five on a Sunday morning to go for a 20km run, but I am oddly undisciplined when it comes to my diet.

Race day came and went and apart from a little bit of nasal congestion, I was fine. I found my zone and ran the best race of any distance that I have ever run. I left my previous 10K best time in the dust and had lots of energy left in the tank when I crossed the finish line.

At some point during the half-hour drive home from the race, the cold that had been waiting in the wings finally struck. As I basked in the glow of a race well run, I stayed home from work for the next two days, with my head feeling as if it had been run over by a herd of stampeding bulls.

Although I managed to drag myself into the office on the Wednesday after the race, I was still not well enough to run. Technically, I could have: running lore holds that as long as all symptoms are above the neck, it is safe to run. I knew better than to try, though. When I’m sick, I need to rest. If I don’t, I just get sicker and prolong my recovery. I decided to save myself for the long training run I had scheduled for Sunday.

By the time Sunday rolled around, I was feeling a lot better but by no means recovered. Looking at the calendar and seeing that my next half-marathon was just a month away, I decided to head out for my run anyway. I had the foresight to shove a few tissues into the pocket on my fuel belt – I knew I would need them.

The thing that really got me going that day was the sunshine. It was such a perfect day for running, and if I hadn’t gone out I would have wasted my time staring wistfully out the window. Instead, I put on my hat and a light running jacket that would end up being removed after the first kilometre, and I hit the road.

Two and a half hours later, I limped back into my driveway, hot and exhausted. My legs were feeling every step of the 23km I had just run, and I was ready for three things: a hefty dose of carbs, some coffee, and a long afternoon of lying on the couch.

Every time I had to move for the rest of the day, I grimaced in pain. But I felt good about the miles I had put in, and the fact that two and half hours in the sun had given me a touch of colour.

And my cold? Well, it’s still trying to linger. And I’m trying to bully it into submission, so it slinks away, never to return.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

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Running: Breaking A Personal Barrier

My Distance Enjoyment Chart

Yesterday morning I went for a 17km run.

As usual, I didn’t get enough sleep the night before. As usual, I seriously questioned the sanity of what I was doing as I got ready. And as usual, I ended up enjoying the run far more than I had thought I would.

Whenever I’m ramping up my distance, 17km is a milestone distance. If you were to plot my enjoyment of distances on a graph, the line would rise steadily from 5km to 10km. Then it would start to drop, and the lowest point would be at 16km – a distance that for whatever reason is hell for me. After 16km, the line climbs and reaches its highest point at 21.1km – the half-marathon distance.

So 17km is like a magic number for me. It means that I have broken the ugly 16km barrier at which I never really know how to pace myself, and I am free to run true to my natural style.

I knew going into the run that it might be a challenge. Two decades ago I sustained a serious injury to my left ankle that flares up from time to time. On Saturday night, I had woken up multiple times feeling as if someone was sticking a red-hot skewer right into the centre of my ankle joint. Sure enough, when I started running on Sunday morning, my foot felt a little tender. In addition, my left hamstring was a little tight, probably due to the fact that I added hill training to my routine last week.

I ran anyway, reasoning that I could always stop if I had to, and yet knowing that I wouldn’t. Little aches and pains that I feel at the start of a run have a way of disappearing as I loosen up.

Apart from a couple of little twinges, I pretty much forgot about the pain in my ankle. The hamstring never really loosened up, but it didn’t get worse either, and I was able to pace myself more or less consistently throughout the 17km. I had my usual difficulties at the usual times, and got through it as I always do: positive self-talk, upbeat music, and a reminder that my whole reason for running is to raise funds for autism.

It’s amazing how the thought of doing something for your kids can put things into perspective. My son lives with the challenges of autism day in and day out, and it will be this way for the rest of his life. Surely, surely, I can cope with the challenges of running for a couple of hours once a week.

And so I finished my 17km, and returned home to be greeted by the child who motivates me to do all of this. This little dude is the only person in the world who can hug me fiercely without caring that I have 17km worth of sweat and salt all over me. Sure, it’s a little gross, but at the same time it’s totally endearing.

After the run I may not have felt as good as new, but I was in reasonable enough nick. My hamstring hurt like the blazes for the rest of the day and I needed to stay off my ankle as much as possible, but I felt the sense of triumph that always comes after a successful long run.

My next long run will be 19km, and I say: BRING IT!

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Countdown

first halfmarathon medal

Three minutes… Will it begin? Or end?

I shift nervously from foot to foot as I look at the crowd around me. The vibe here is immense. I feel like the collective energy created by these twenty thousand people could lift me up and carry me. I have not slept for a week in anticipation of this day, but that does not matter. Standing here, it is impossible to feel tired.

Two and a half minutes… Will these 13.1 miles make me or break me?

It all started six months ago with an email. A local autism centre was entering a team into this race. Was I interested in joining, to raise funds for autism services? My first reaction was: You must be joking. At the time I was tipping the scales at almost two hundred pounds, which was a lot for a woman whose pre-pregnancy weight had been 130 pounds. I had let myself go to seed following the birth of my younger son. Exercise was a four-letter word to me. I found it impossible to lift myself out of the post-partum depression I was still suffering from for long enough to walk to the mailbox and back. And now these people wanted me to run a race?

Two minutes… Will this race be the fruition of all my efforts? Or will it make me slink back into depression?

I deleted the email, but its contents pulled at a thread in my mind. I was in very bad shape, both mentally and physically. It was clear that I needed some impetus to get myself sorted out. Could this be it? Did I finally have the right reason to get up and do something? Would this venture even be possible?

One and a half minutes… Will I have the strength to go the distance? Or will I give up and not finish the race?

I recovered the email from my Deleted Items folder. If I decided to join the team, I could choose a distance. I ruled out the marathon – it would definitely be too much. I considered the 5 kilometre run, but somehow this did not seem to be enough. If I was actually going to do this, I wanted it to be a real challenge. I’ve never been one for doing things in moderation. Either I don’t do it at all, or I go all out. Abruptly, I checked my thinking. Was I seriously thinking of attempting the half-marathon? Was I crazy?

One minute… Will this endeavour cement my newfound love of running? Or will it make me toss my running shoes into the back of the closet forever?

My thoughts drifted to my older son. My beautiful boy with autism, so loving and full of promise. He could go so far and accomplish so much, but he would need help along the way. He would need services and social supports and programs, all of which cost money. The autism centre was hoping to raise funds to finance exactly the kinds of programs that are needed by kids with autism. I could be doing this for my son.

Thirty seconds… Do we proactively give our kids the best possible chances to overcome their challenges? Or do we just sit back and hope for the best?

Just like that, the thread in my mind – the one that the email had been gently pulling at – unravelled. I knew what I had to do. I pulled out my calendar and looked up a few online training programs. I worked out that in six months, I just about had time to train for a half-marathon. I signed up and got to work. And now here I was at the start line, fifty pounds lighter, and although not exactly fleet of foot, at least capable of running for a couple of hours.

The starter’s siren goes off and the crowd surges forward. As I cross the start line, I put a picture of my son in my head and run from the heart.

(Postscript: I finished that first half-marathon in almost two and a half hours. I remember the lump in my throat as I crossed the finish line and the tears that sprang to my eyes when I received my finisher’s medal. Every step of that race was dedicated to my son. Since then, I have done two more half-marathons for autism, and this year I will be doing it again. In my three autism runs to date, I have raised about $1500 for the Geneva Centre for Autism. My sons – the child with autism and his loving, caring brother – are my inspiration. I would run to the ends of the earth for them.)

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Shauntelle challenged me with "Write a story that begins "Three minutes. Will it begin? Or end?"" and I challenged Head Ant with "Write a story that includes the following: a dreamcatcher; red high-heeled boots; a broken wine glass."