First Half Marathon

As I sit here to write the words, “I ran a half-marathon on Sunday”, I’m still pretty much not processing the reality of that. I feel like my life now has a stark marker of Before Half Marathon and After Half Marathon.

Those of you who haven’t done it yet or never will or never think you will know exactly what I mean when I say that it seems impossible. Running is hard an horrible and makes everything hurt. Maybe you can run 3k, maybe you can run 5, maybe you walk or hike. The one thing you know for sure is running over 21k is just not possible really. At least, it isn’t possible without breaking something or nearly dying. Am I right? Yes of course I am.

But then there is this other thing. This After Half Marathon existence that knows about Before but clearly understands that it got done. I started a race. I finished a race. It took me 2 hours 41 minutes and 4 seconds. I ran for 10 minutes and then walked for 1 minute the whole way until I was finished. I have a medal. I’m not dead.

The conditions were really ideal. The Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon is a very flat course and it was about 15 degrees with a light rain. There was no issue of over heating which is a huge problem I have because I don’t sweat enough. It is a lovely event that is open to everyone. Men can run but they don’t have any men’s jerseys and there is eye-liner in the swag bag (I’m wearing it right now. It has sparkles). People ran it fast (the winner came in at just over 1 hour and 30 minutes). People walked. Lots of people did a combo of both. There were two friends who were running at basically the same pace as me in 2 minute run and 1 minute walk intervals the entire way. They were hillarious but it worked for them.

My lungs were good the whole way but after 10k things started to hurt from depletion. This makes sense because of my age and my under training. But I was determined and would not give up. I sucked back Maple Syrup Shots and kept on going until the end. . .apparently. . . because there is a medal in my bedroom so I must have.

In the days after I have remained mobile and uninjured. It’s a miracle. A Half Marathon Miracle.

Will I do it again? Apparently. I am doing the social opposite (?) of the Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon, that being the Army Run in Ottawa in September. I’m hoping to improve my time a little and again, not die. In the After Half Marathon existence, this seems possible and I suppose expanding possibility is the only viable reason I can come up with for having done this in the first place.

NFWHM me

White woman in a teal short sleeve shirt and a white hat with a big smile and a half-marathon medal.

Pre-race Report

It sorta sucks that my regular day has come up two days too early for what is obvious to write about. I am doing the Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon on Sunday and for someone pretty marginally prepared, I’m feeling strangely calm.

I registered on impulse after Tracy posted about it last year. I was looking for a new and different challenge after two years in a row of the Friends For Life Bike Rally.

I have thoughts about this choice of trial and training and now is as good a time as any to reflect on them.

First of all, running has been lonely. I don’t have great connections for running in Milton where I live. There are running clubs of course but they meet when I am working so that was out. My partner who I live with loves to run but he developed Plantar Fasciitis in September so running with him was off the table for months and months. He is able to run again but not longer distances. Not many people want to hang out with me for over two hours running 15 kilometers. It isn’t fun for me either.

Biking is a super social thing and I have lots of friends and opportunities to bike. However, I am not a person who likes to do two big things in a weekend so long runs interfered with those chances to bike. I’m feeling very disconnected from my biking community right now so that is also a little sad. Honestly I’ve looked at the bike and thought about going out myself but all the fibers in my being have screamed “NO!”. So I listened.

I have also been struggling (as I seem to mention in almost every post I make these days) with the lingering effects of what was actually a pretty major RA flare up in September. The fact that I trained for this thing at all, given how I’ve been feeling is pretty spectacular. I recently got cortisone shots in the remaining troublesome joints. Don’t ask me why I waited so long. I seem to be very stupid when it comes to my own self care some times. It has made a world of difference in my attitude toward everything from running to walking the dog to getting up in the morning. Self! Take care of yourself! *headdesk*.

There have been some good things about this troublesome task of training for the Half. I am amazed at what I can do. I have finally entered the zone of running where I can basically keep going, as long as I keep a steady slow pace and walk for one minute every 10 minutes. I have not had any running related injuries except for my toe nails. But I feel like toe nails are part of our blood sacrifice to the goddesses and gods of longer distance running.

I am going to go and do this thing and if I have to walk the last five kilometers because 15 kilometers of running is all I have in me, so be it. I won’t feel bad about that.

The dog and the dude will be waiting at the finish to cheer me no matter what and I am going to stuff my face so full of food I can’t even.

I am also signed up for the Army Run in September. Stay tuned if runner’s amnesia makes that an actual thing.

Noël_Hallé_-_The_Race_between_Hippomenes_and_Atalanta_-_WGA11034

The Race between Hippomenes and Atalanta by Noël Hallé (1762-1765) at Louvre Museum, Paris. Atalanta is distracted by enchanted golden apples along the route so that Hippomenes can win and escape death. Otherwise, she would have smoked him. (This is also a story on the Free To Be You and Me Album https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-77_cVnmUQ ) Hail Atalanta, Priestess of Artemis. I dedicate my toenail sacrifices to you.

A Small Victory

I ran today. I did just over 4km at a clip of about 6:10 per kilometer. It doesn’t seem like much but basically today was the difference between the version of me that is still training for the Niagra Falls Women’s Half Marathon and the version that has given up because her body is not cooperating.

I had not run in a week and a half even though the last time was a magnificent 13.3km in which I did not collapse or otherwise injure myself. So yay.

However, I’m struggling with a low level flare of my RA and people, it is sucking the life out of me. Right now, it’s my hands and my right wrist but anyone who has an auto-immune thing knows that active-ish disease isn’t just about the affected part. It’s a system malfunction and my system is very prone to crashing lately, I’m exhausted, distracted and rather grumpy. I’m trying not to be disheartened but in this past week, I’ve stared right in the face the specter of  the cycle of inactivity that I am prone to.

It starts as giving myself permission to rest but then it becomes something else, a lethargy I have trouble escaping. I fear my gains have already vanished. I start to ache from not moving. I don’t want to do anything at all, I give up for a while.

Except I didn’t. I ran today and I made it a Tempo run (yes 6:10 kms are a tempo run for me, don’t laugh). I ran in the cold rain, the perfect pathetic fallacy for my mood and the ache in my hands. But darn it, I ran.

I will do a 15k long run on Sunday. I’m not giving up.

That’s what I have to say about that.

motivational penguin

An adorable little cartoon penguin. His name is “Motivational Penguin” and the caption reads, “You can do it!” Thanks Motivational Penguin. I think so too.

Middle Age Horsing Around

snowbound

This picture features a white woman in a pink sweatshirt that says, A ride a day keeps the therapist away. She is holding onto the bridle of a large white horse with a pink and grey nose. is name is Snowbound. He is not the horse that she is referring to in the rest of this piece. He is a bit of a Jerk.

I ride horses once a week for the sheer pleasure of it. It is a lesson but that’s because it is the easiest way to get on a horse and I might as well learn something while I am doing it. What is odd about my lessons and my horsing as compared to most of the other people I encounter at the barn (the tween and teen crowd) is I don’t take these lessons for any purpose. I don’t show and I’m not in any hurry to do that. I am utterly not feeling competitive about this sport. I love the animal and the activity.

However, it’s still a lesson and my new-this-year coach is excellent. She occasionally switches me to a horse that is more “challenging”. In the last few months, I’ve asked her to stop doing that. There is a horse I ride who I am really in tune with. She goes well for me and I can get her to behave in ways most other riders can’t. She doesn’t jump high because of her construction. But she likes to have fun and she is game for any number of skills improving exercises in the lesson. The more interesting the lesson is, the better she goes. It’s really great.

The shift that happened for me was my acceptance that I don’t need to “progress” for progression sake. I don’t need to jump higher. I don’t need a more forward (fast) horse. I don’t even need to learn to do flying lead changes (a hop and a skip in the middle of a canter/lope) if it’s going to freak her out. We just need to have fun and stay moving.

I’m a pretty confident rider with a solid skill set at this level. I am game for occasionally schooling (teaching) a horse to pay attention to a rider and stop shenanigans so that younger riders can benefit from that. But I have no desire any more to be the rider that conquers the wild horse or risks all sorts of injury while riding an animal that is too much for me.

I’m so chill with my new-ish settled attitude and honestly, it just makes riding more fun.

Go go ahead, do the fun thing and don’t worry about improving. It’s okay!

Uninspired: Some Tales of Outright Failure (Guest Post)

Months ago, Sam asked readers to give us an idea of what they’d like to read more about. Lots of you responded but I was struck in particular by the response of a woman around 50 who wanted to know more about our failures. In the comments to Catherine’s post about the Challenging Challenge of Challenges, I confessed to my non completion of the 39 day Runner’s World Mile a Day challenge. We may all do a group post about that at some point but I want this one to be an exploration of all the ways I am not what I may seem to be (fit, motivated, accomplished, persistent, responsible blah blah blah) and how I have made peace with that. The truth is, I often fail.

In order to more fully explain and understand these failures, it’s important to understand in what context they happen. In this space, I am often writing about interesting adventures that I have had and what they mean to me. Sometimes, I write about the things that impede me (my Rheumatoid Arthritis or Falling off Things). What I hardly ever write about is my day to day reality or the struggles I have to keep fitness going in my life. I have realized that I may come across as a person works out somehow every day without issue, diligently works toward their goals and then gallivants around the country on bike, horse or in a canoe. Well, no, I don’t.

The only thing I do nearly every day is walk my dog. That means I’m guaranteed to walk about 2 kilometers a day.However, on days where my children or partner have walked the dog enough and I’m tired and it’s late and cold. . .I do not do anything.

I am lucky if I do more than two significant fitness activities a week. I have my surge weeks where timing and weather or perhaps just obligations to friends mean I do more. But if I’m honest, I usually do one aerobic thing, one strength thing and maybe ride a horse for 40 minutes. There are weeks I do not do any running. There are weeks, like this week, where I choose sleep over Pilates.

Regarding my running, I started when I was 36. It took me until I was 42 to run 5k. That is not your expected “Couch to 5K” timeline. Immediately after achieving 5k, I wanted to get to 10k. I just did that for the first time yesterday so that was another 6 years. In the 6 years that I spent working my way up to whatever distance I would run, stop running, run again, get injured, recover and eventually try again. None of this was according to a plan. There is a half-marathon running schedule on my fridge right now, but I am not following it.

Last year, I had my bike on a trainer in my basement because I was scared about doing the Bike Rally again. I’m taking a break from the Rally this year and my bike is resting in a corner. The trainer tire is not on it.I’m waiting until spring.

Then there was the running challenge, 1 mile per day from American Thanksgiving until New Years Day. I lasted 2 weeks, sort of. My body and mind utterly rebelled. The obligation to find time in whatever weather and no matter what else was going on in my life to run a mile proved impossible to meet. At first I was ashamed of myself. It’s only a 20 minute overall thing from getting dressed to getting undressed. However, working full time and being the point person on everything else in my life means that a solid commitment of 20 mins per day when it may be in rain and wind and snow and dark and cold and blech is impossible.

What does this all mean? The truth is, I do the minimum necessary for some sort of result (result defined loosely as strength, endurance, health, the dog’s comfort). I often fall out of schedules. Sometimes it’s because there is a legit interruption and often because I like sleeping better than exercise. I have streaks of success that are amazing. Finally running 10k yesterday was a heady achievement. But I am not under an illusion that I will be ready for a half-marathon next month. I will be lucky if I run 10k again any time in the next month. I will be grateful if nothing wonks out in my body as I continue to try to push speed and distance. However, even though I am inconsistent and haphazard, I get somewhere. I am more fit and stronger now than I have ever been. The thing I have changed since my first struggles with fitness in my early 30’s, is my attitude toward restarting a thing I’ve stopped. I don’t spend much time caring that I haven’t run in 3 weeks. I just go run a few kilometers, slowly. If nothing hurts too much, the next time I may run more faster. Then that’s it, I’m running again (or on my bike, or core work, whatever it is). There is no shame in stopping. You stopped. Then you start. Except dog walks, they are never ending and that’s a darn good thing.

shelby-in-car

This image is a delightful yellow Labrador Retriever dog sitting on the blanketed back seat of my car. She is waiting for a walk, or perhaps a Timbit.

 

A white woman with a black hat, blond hair, grey jacket and black snow pants stands on a snow covered trail on cross country skis. Behind her is a grove of snow covered trees.

Me skiing after a rather long hiatus of any activity at all over the winter break.

Running From My Despair

Okay I’m not messing around here, this is not going to be a fun post. I’ve written it in my head fifteen times and can’t get to a conclusion that seems worth making my way to. So I decided to just let my fingers do some work and see what comes out.

I know there are themes that seem important to put out there. One theme is in regards to meaning. What does it mean to participate in and write about fitness, especially fitness from a feminist perspective in an time of profound crisis and dis-empowerment regarding vital other feminist oriented issues?

I’ll tell you how I picked up on that theme. I was working with my trainer. You know, my private Pilates trainer that I pay $50 CAD every week to make me do 10-15 more roll-ups or scissor kicks than I might do on my own in my basement for free. Two white women in a suburban gym doing squat reps and talking idly about how horrible everything is. I mean, WHAT EVEN IS THAT? I left that session and I felt terrible about myself. I should have donated that money to BLM or Doctors Without Borders or the ACLU.

There is another element to this theme of meaning. I am a middle aged woman who isn’t bad looking, but Trump would probably put me at a 5-6. I’m not worth considering. I am not hot enough to count in that world he represents and as much as it pains me to admit this, I feel less worthy somewhere because of the ascendance of that attitude toward women.

The next theme is about safety. For the first time in my life I have serious doubts about the actual safety of my life, and when I say my life, I mean the style of my life and the choices I have made in my life. Unlike young men of colour or transwomen or aboriginal women, I do not mean my actual flesh, not yet.

The toxic nationalism and angry xenophobic turn of my southward neighbour and shaken me to the core. I know it lives here too. First we had Rob Ford, now we are looking Kelly Leitch smack in the face. People say she can’t win on that platform, but why not? And then there is the shooting in a mosque in Quebec by yet another angry white dude, the ugly terminus of years of fear mongering and islamaphobia in the public discourse of our media and politics. 

I am Jewish. My upbringing included vivid descriptions of the Holocaust (you know, that thing Hitler did to Jews, Gays, Catholics, Communists, Poles and Roma). I grew up with the phrase “never again” echoing always. And now, I wonder about whether I have the courage and fortitude to stand up to a police state. I’m queer and non-monogamous and sex positive. I support a woman’s right to choose. I’m cool with affirmative action. I don’t mind paying my taxes if it means we have better public transit and a social safety net. I think black/indigenous/POC lives matter. I think Islam is a religion of peace and we should take in refugees. There, I said it and the internet remembers.When they come to my door, will I shame myself and deny these things?

The next theme is despair. My struggle to feel meaningful and my fear for my future safety have had the expected effect of pushing a good portion of me over the edge into hopeless despair. I just can’t believe we are here. It’s not what I thought people would move toward. I was wrong. I failed to see they were already in fear and despair. I failed to see that the paucity of culture and the ascendance of materialism was breeding angry despairing people with a lack of meaning who will turn on the other in a heartbeat. I missed it because I’m established, educated, white and liberal.

So what does this have to do with fitness? I’ve done a lot of running. Mostly, it’s small distances although I’m committed to two half-marathons this year so I’d better get in gear. I find myself longing to run a lot, even when I can’t fit it in. In fact, I gave up a run to write this blog, but the blog seemed more important. I don’t solve anything when I run. I do feel marginally better and more able to function in spite of the reality of the world. I know that if I give up and roll over, that’s one less melted liberal snowflake who will not show up for any necessary blizzards. I have no blessed idea what to actually do about any of it. I have, in fact, donated to BLM and Doctors Without Borders. I am staying vigilant about the politics of the country I can participate in. I’m tweeting at Justin to stand up to the bully as best he can. I’m writing letters to my Conservative MP asking her to stand up to the forces of xenophobia in her own party. I’m being an angry peri-menopausal mess of a woman and still letting people love me. So that’s something. I need new shoes though, there is a storm coming and many miles to run before it’s done.

storm

A storm named Alex. Who knows what damage he will cause.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/01/unique-event-tropical-storm-history-160114082215319.html

PS: My daughter just sent me this Beyonce meme.. .so clearly, all is not lost.

beyonce

If you don’t get this Buffy reference, we can’t be friends. . 

Why is Shopping for Pants Dangerous? (Guest Post)

I have a 15 year old daughter. Ever since she was born, I have been vigilant about the messages she gets from me and other members of the family. It’s really hard to know how to raise a daughter in a world that is doing it’s very best to squeeze her into a size 0 frame of reference.

Mostly, I’ve been lucky. She never developed a Princess obsession. I don’t for one second believe it was solely because I said things like “Princess isn’t a job” at every opportunity. It just wasn’t her thing. Cute animals have been her thing ever since she could string together a sentence. She used to look out the back window of our Toronto home and say “I want something what’s furry and lives in a cage”. Basically, she wanted a pet squirrel. Over the years, we have gone through 8 pet rats (they die every 2.5 years or so). We have Shelby the wonder dog and she rides horses with me at a lovely school barn near our house. We have spent many many hours discussing cute animals of various types and I have encouraged every second of this focus. Why? Well, mostly because it’s where she was at and children need to be met and acknowledged in that way to stay connected. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that part of my enthusiastic participation in the constant cute animal discussion of her pre-teen years was to keep her focus on the things that made her happy and to avoid or ignore all the gross media about girls and young women.

cute animal pictures

Adorable pet rat in a teacup. Who wouldn’t talk about this all day?

She is by no means an isolated teen. She has Snap Chat and texts and Kick. She has no interest in Instagram or Facebook (Yay) and I attribute this to her general good attitude about herself and this really cool self protection she has developed regarding all the things I worry and worry and worry about.

She eats what she wants and she is relatively physically active. When you ask her why she is active, she will say it’s because it’s fun. What she doesn’t reference is anything to do with what she looks like and nothing about taking up any less space in the world.

I’m telling you all this as background to a moment today that epitomizes the kind of moments women endure over and over again. If you aren’t thinking about it, it’s meaningless background noise. But I think about it all the time and it made me sad.

We were buying a new pair of snow pants because the ones we bought last year were too small. The women asked her size and brought her a few pairs. She came by after a few minutes and asked if the size was correct. My daughter said in her casual way “Not this pair that’s for sure” and flung them over the door. The sales woman went into crisis control mode. “Don’t worry hun, they fit small. Just don’t you worry. “ She then prattled on about how we all get “a little bigger over the holidays” but that she shouldn’t be worried at all. She also told a story about a girl who was “crying in the change room” last week but she assured her these pants “fit small”. It was a panic, for the sales woman anyway.

Later, I asked my daughter if she noticed the woman’s freak out when the pants she brought didn’t fit. She had noticed but she laughed and said it was bizarre. I wanted to know if the small pair of pants had, in fact, bugged my daughter at all. I wanted to give her the opportunity to talk about that and to check in if she was still as intact as I perceive her in this realm. I think she still is. We compared it to shoes. If the sales person brings you a 9.5 and they are too small, they bring you a 10. They don’t apologize and tell you not to cry over your size 10 feet.

So I just keep hoping and worrying and talking. I keep making myself an example of a person who tries to enjoy movement, eat what they want and normalize the variety of human bodies we inhabit. So far, it’s working. . .I think.

shelby-snow-action

Shelby in action on our show shoe hike today. She sets a good example too.