Today is Mother’s Day in the US, Canada and lots of (but not all) other countries. If you’re curious, here’s a list of when Mother’s Day is celebrated during the year. To honor mothers, we phone them (according to this site, Mother’s Day is the busiest calling day of the year), take them out to dinner, buy them cards, and of course send flowers.
There are lots of running races held on Mother’s Day. The weather is often warm, and it’s almost summer, which is perfect for an outdoor athletic activity. And, of course, there’s the chance for a nice prize if you win. In Madrid on Spain’s Mother’s Day, there was a 7km race– Carrera de a Mujer– and the grand prize was a food processor.
Hmmm. Women’s Race. Mother’s Day. Food Processor. Am I sensing a gendered pattern here?
Absolutamente no, say the race promoters. Okay– what did they say?
“We apologize but we consider this a product with no sexist character and ideal for any athlete who wants to improve their nutritional habits,” the statement said. “We regret if any woman felt offended.”
The organizers promised to “take measures” to avoid similar incidents in the future.
Yeah, that is 1) pretty unconvincing; 2) one of those irritating non-apology apologies; and 3) avoids responsibility by saying they’ll “take measure” to avoid the problem. The measures they need to take next time are simply to provide the same prizes for for women that they provide for men’s races.
Let me add that the other prizes were 0% fat food products. Oh, and the race in the past featured T shirts with the slogan “Today, the girls win!”
This isn’t the first time your FIFI reporter has spotted sexist prizes for women who win athletic competitions. Oh, no. In 2019, a regional Spanish squash tournament featured regular sorts of prizes for the men’s categories. But for the women’s division, the top prize was a vibrator. Yep, it’s true. The other prizes including a body hair removal kit and an electric foot file (which I’ve never heard of and am a little worried about). I wrote a post about it, which you can read below.
Clearly, there needs to be some sort of national sports promoter training (in Spain, and elsewhere, too) about avoiding blatant sexism in managing athletic competitions that include women. Seriously, what about cash or general sports-related swag do they not understand?
Not that there’s anything wrong with either food processors or vibrators. They’re both fine gifts for anyone, for any occasion. If you’re giving one or the other (or both) to Mom this year, just make sure to put a lovely bow on them. Happy Mother’s Day!
Last Sunday, I ran my first Half Marathon in thirty-nine months. I was very, very nervous: it had been a long time since I tried to hold any kind of race pace for more than 10 km. I decided I would put my trust in the Pace Rabbits holding the 1:50 sign. Usually I’m not a fan—I don’t like the crowd around the Rabbits and want my watch to set the pace, not theirs. But this time out, I wanted to avoid looking at my watch, to run by feel and just hold steady.
Immediately, I liked my Rabbits. They made the pace feel effortless and the woman’s strong legs had an easy cadence. They were great on the hills—“We’re going to run this together”—and good at negotiating water stations. They didn’t talk too much. I kept my eye on the dark pony tail in front of me and remembered to breath. I thought about how the race might feel for the Rabbits. Presumably, the pace was not demanding for them, but they had to hold those signs and check the times written on their arms and compare their watches while making encouraging noises to the small pack behind them. They had given up a race day of their own to make someone else’s day better.
After the race, I thanked them. And then I suddenly realized that I knew the woman from Before Times. Before Covid cancelled Boston, before an injury robbed me of hope, for a while, and eighteen months of running, there had been a woman at races in Kelowna who ran ahead of me. I had tried to catch her but never could. She was training as a massage therapist and spent two years in my valley before returning to her home town. We had talked. And now, here she was: Jamie Komadina.
To say that it felt miraculous to have the past meet the present on the streets of Vancouver is to understate how comforted I was to see Jamie’s face again. She told me about her recent Boston marathon odyssey l (travel horrors, a sudden flu, and the miracle of making it to the start line) and how she hoped to run it again. “Boston 2025!” And there it was: the future. With strong legs and an easy cadence.
We all should have a Pace Rabbit in our lives. Someone who makes the hard things easier, who gives up time in the limelight so that others can have theirs. Someone who opens the door to the future and says, “Look!”
We all should have a Pace Rabbit in our lives, so that we can learn to be one in turn.
In Joy Hargo’s poetry collection, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, there is a poem titled, We Were There When Jazz Was Invented, interspersed with lines of italicized words I didn’t recognize. Wey yo hey, wey yo hey yah /hey.I like to read poetry aloud and, as I read her poem, a series of strong emotions swept through me — sadness, longing, love. I am often overtaken by the emotion of a poem while I’m reading, but, in this case, I didn’t even know if I was reading proper words. I later learned that they weren’t words. They are what’s called vocables (more on that in a moment). Yet, I could feel their meaning as I spoke the sounds aloud. They compelled a chant that seemed to start in my very DNA. I read that poem in summer 2019.
The feeling of that poetic chant came back to me suddenly last Tuesday morning when I was running. My beloved 17.5- year-old cat had died in my arms 3 days before.
The loss arrived less than six months after the loss of my mother and my relationship of almost 29 years. I felt (feel!) like I have been thrown into a bottomless abyss. The nausea of falling and falling and falling; of fear & grief and fear & grief and fear & grief. Of ear-ringing silence. And yes, I had gotten myself out to move my body, if only for a reprieve from the desire to crawl out of my own skin. As I was running, I started to cry. The tears were not enough. I started to moan quietly as I ran. Then I found myself vocalizing sounds, as in Joy Harjo’s poem. Of course, I couldn’t remember what her exact not-words had been, nor did I remember that they were called vocables. I just remembered the feeling of the chant.
As I ran, I let sounds arrive on my out-breath, until I settled into a pattern of Hee Ya, every second out breath. I varied the pitch, tone and emphasis as I chanted. I varied the volume according to how close other people were, getting louder when I was less likely to be heard. Still, I saw some heads turn as I ran by. I didn’t care if people thought I was crazy. Maintaining the chant was a challenge. I had to control my breath more consciously than I usually do when I’m running. More like swimming. At times, I felt like I wasn’t getting quite enough air. I continued. I had the sensation that my nervous system was shifting into a different gear. Slower. Deeper. Even as my running pace picked up. Breathe in. Chant out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Chant out. For the last three miles of my run. Over and over and over. Here’s what that sounded like.
I was not containing my grief. I was opening a channel to allow the grief energy to flow. When I finished my run, I was rinsed. The desolation was not gone, but it wasn’t stuck inside me either.
And I wanted to share the practice with you. In case any of you are going through a challenging time. I remembered that I’d written about reading Joy Harjo’s poem. I rummaged around on the internet until I found that piece. I had completely forgotten that later, on the very same day I first read the poem, I was reading Ursula K LeGuin’s book, Always Coming Home, when I came across a footnote that read (the italicized paragraphs that follow are directly from my 2019 piece): “This is LeGuin’s tribute to Native American tradition, in which the syllables “he-ya” are common vocables, or wordless syllables. As American folklorist Barre Toelken comments on a Navajo song that is all vocables, ‘it has no words, but is all meaning. (The Anguish of Snails: Native American Folklore in the West, 2003).’”
At the time, I was astounded by the not-coincidence of this explanation landing in my field, on the very same day. Today I am amazed to see that the very vocables I landed on, for no conscious reason, are common vocables.
Understanding! The words in the poem were vocables. Now I had a word to describe their wordlessness. The footnote went some way to explaining why I had responded with such feeling to Joy Harjo’s poem. I felt, too, how grabbing at the word for my experience satisfied me intellectually, but left me wanting to understand at a more visceral level.
The next morning, I listened to a meditation guided by Thich Nhat Hanh. Our breath, he said, is how we access the oneness of our body and mind. Aha. Three points of contact with an idea and a glimmer of gut-level connection clicked into place.
Song is like breath. If there are no words, only wordless syllables, then our bodies and minds can receive the song, as breath, without judgment, without trying to figure out meaning. We can’t think our way to the answer. We have to feel. Chanted vocables enable us to access the oneness of body and mind.
As I ran, the chant was opening access to my body-mind, to my wholeness. No compartments. Clearing a channel for the fullness of my emotions.
I intend to explore the practice on my next runs. I’ve noticed with embodied practices, like this, that once I have a better intellectual grasp, I’m often able to deepen the impact. As if having agency (which I define as intention + choice) enriches an experience. We shall see.
And if you decide to test drive the practice, let me know how it goes.
It’s happened again. Someone who had signed up for a long-distance running race decided to pursue alternative modes of transportation in order to finish more quickly. In this most recent case, Scottish ultrarunner Joasia Zakrzewski competed in her own custom version of a duathlon– combining running with riding in a car.
I don’t think that’s a thing.
During the 2023 GB Ultras Manchester to Liverpool 50-mile race on 7 April, Zakrzewski reportedly was limping and got in a friend’s car to go to the next checkpoint to tell course marshals she was withdrawing. She says,
“When I got to the checkpoint I told them I was pulling out and that I had been in the car, and they said ‘you will hate yourself if you stop’,” Dr Zakrzewski said. “I agreed to carry on in a non-competitive way. I made sure I didn’t overtake the runner in front when I saw her as I didn’t want to interfere with her race.”
However, that’s not how the race ended. In fact, when she crossed the line– in third place– she was given a medal and a trophy and posed for pictures. At no point did she tell the race officials that her finish time was aided by a 2.5 mile car ride.
Race director Wayne Drinkwater was completely in the dark about this, too.
…At no point at the finish were the event team informed by Joasia that she was ‘not running the race competitively’.” … None of our event team in question, with written statements to confirm this, were aware that Joasia had vehicle transport at any time during the race until we received information after the race from another competitor.
It wasn’t until they received information from another competitor that they investigated.
Drinkwater said the organization received information that a runner had gained an “unsporting, competitive advantage during a section of the event.” Mapping data showed Zakrzewski covering a mile of the race in just 1 minute 40 seconds. Organizers learned she had traveled by car for 2.5 miles before continuing to complete the race on foot.
Of course, once all this came out, Joasia was iconsolable:
Joasia Zakrzewski said her actions were “not malicious” and the incident was caused by miscommunication… She said she was “devastated” by what had happened and extremely upset to see “haters” on social media calling for her to have a lifetime ban. “I’ve given so much to the running world so I am devastated this has happened,” she said.
Hmm… She’s “devastated” by what “happened”. It’s not like this was some geopolitical event occurring at the time of the race. She did this. These comments don’t acknowledge that she knowingly let the race officials put the medal on her, not the rightful 3rd-place winner, Mel Sykes. She even uploaded a photo and data from her running app on Twitter. All this suggests that she intended to hang onto her ill-gotten third-place finish. But when some folks looked at the Strava data, they found anomalies, and soon all was revealed.
This race wasn’t a special qualifying one, and there wasn’t even prize money for the winners. Not that such conditions would justify cheating, but they might explain it. There’s no real explanation here.
Cheating happens in athletic events, and it happens in running races. One of the most infamous cases happened in my town (Boston) in 1980 when Rosie Ruiz, an unknown runner, crossed the finish line, winning the women’s race. Canadian runner Jacqueline Gareau crossed the finish line for real in 2:34:28, but was denied her rightful glory. It took a week to suss out that Rosie Ruiz didn’t run the whole course. In fact, she took the T (the Boston subway) and popped out a mile or so from the finish. Taking public transport, while more ecologically conscientious than driving, is not an approved method for marathons.
Like Mel Sykes, Jacqueline Garneau did get recognition for her Boston finish. In 2005, she was the grand marshal for the Boston Marathon, and she was hailed and cheered while crossed the winner’s tape, albeit 25 years after she finished.
What’s the message here? It’s not that cheaters never win– sometimes they do. But here are some cases where a cheater’s win is fleeting, because a bunch of people are paying attention and care about fairness and fun in sport. Mel Sykes, in her Twitter feed, is looking ahead to more fun races, runs, walks and cafe stops along the way. Jacqueline Garneau looks happy in her picture at the Boston finish line. She looks happy here, too, posing with men’s winner Bill Rogers, both wearing the winners’ olive wreaths and medals.
If you want to read more about Garneau– what she’s doing now, how she feels about that day in Boston, look here. Tidbit: she forgave Rosie Ruiz. Joasia Zakrzewski may be forgiven as well. Once she learns how to apologize properly.
Readers, did you hear about this latest example of very bad athlete behavior? What do you think? I’d love to hear from you.
On Sunday I did the Run for Retina Research 10K. It’s an event that has been running for 20 years, with options for 5K, 10K, or a half marathon. I’ve done it many times (including in October 2022), and it is known locally as a fun race where you usually get an extra jacket or technical top. It’s also for a really good cause in support of urgent eye care at one of our hospitals.
But oh wow what a brutal 10K it was. I have done other 10Ks without training enough, but I don’t think I’ve ever before been untrained quite to this degree. And of course we would be having unseasonably warm weather for April.
Despite that it was a tough slog and I ran most of it on my own, with my music and my inner voice vacillating between “why are you doing this?” and “you can do this!” it actually turned out to be all-in-all a fun day for the RunFam.
Our team was the second highest fundraising team of the event. We deserve to feel good about this considering that across all the distances there were 700 participants.
We all finished even though we didn’t feel super-prepared. For me, it was my 10K PW (“personal worst”) but oh well. I am not in the shape that I used to be and I didn’t train consistently, so to expect anything more would have been to believe in miracles. That said, I am now feeling inspired for the next event, the Shoppers Drug Mart sponsored Women’s Run on June 11th. Maybe this time, an upcoming race will be the training goal I need to actually get me out the door for regular training. The Run for Retina was supposed to function in that same incentivizing way but it didn’t. But that doesn’t mean the next challenge won’t.
It’s also just fun to get out and do things with others, even if I score a PW instead of a PB. And I’m happy we took part in the last ever Run for Retina Research. Based on the jackets hanging in my closet and the one long-sleeved jersey, I can see that I’ve done it four times. The latest jacket is quite lovely, a white and grey zip-up that fits well and looks quite smart.
I know lots of people who don’t like doing events that travel the same routes that they do on a regular basis. It’s great to do destination events, but I actually enjoy the simplicity of keeping it local and I like contributing to London, Ontario’s vibrant running community. We are incredibly fortunate to have pathways all along the river, and somehow on race day those well-travelled routes feel different and more alive.
Every year, the third Monday in April is a holiday in Boston. Schools and state offices are closed, as well as public libraries. My university is also closed, giving us a little breather before the last push to finish out the spring semester. You might be wondering, “what holiday is celebrated this time of year?” There are two answers.
Answer 1: Patriot’s Day! It commemorates some of the first battles in 1775 of the American Revolutionary War, (battles of Lexington and Concord) and also the rides by Paul Revere and William Dawes to alert the American colonial militia that the British were coming.
Answer 2: The Boston Marathon! Here’s some info about it from their Wikipedia page:
April weather in New England is always a question mark. It’s been unseasonably hot, seasonably cold, and there were fog and rain and gray skies this year.
I love watching the Boston Marathon. Unlike the thousands of folks who throng to the course, holding up signs and cheering on the runners, I take the easy route and watch it on TV, where it’s broadcast live all day on a local station. But it’s always thrilling and dramatic and so emotional. I always turn on the TV in time for the last 30 minutes of the men’s race and 50 minutes of the women’s race; the pro men leave the start line 8 minutes before the pro women, and all other runners leave in waves after that.
Why do I watch every year? I mean, I am not a runner, and I don’t follow marathons or professional running events in general. What I can say is this: in my town, on our local holiday, the local TV station (and now, ESPN too) runs coverage of the whole event until 4pm. This means there’s time to watch humans progressing along a 26.2 mile/42km course– a serious athletic feat, no matter what the pace. Seeing the elite women, running under 6-minute miles (this year’s winning pace was avg 5:40/mile) provokes in me all sorts of emotions : awe, thrill, incredulity, pride, worry (hoping they’ll finish without injury) and appreciation of their dedication, skill and talent.
Here’s a look at Helen Obiri, who won the women’s marathon this year.
This year is also the 10th anniversary of a bombing that happened at the finish line of the marathon, killing three people and injuring hundreds, including 17 people who lost limbs. It was a horrible day and a horrible time. There have been many memorials erected and services held to remember and honor all those who were affected by the attack. One of the nicest ones was a 100-golden-retriever one-mile walk to the marathon finish line to honor the late Spencer, a golden retriever who came to be known as the official Boston marathon race dog. Here’s Spencer in 2018, not minding the rain and cold, urging the runners on.
Here are the retrievers who came out to honor Spencer, the day before the race.
Sometimes, you don’t have to be an active participant in an athletic event to feel and in fact be a part of it. This is how the Boston Marathon feels to me. It does inspire to get outside and explore the spring (once the rain stops…) and reminds me of how wonderful and astoundingly resilient human bodies can be. And this year, it reminds me that dogs can help us in processing our pasts and comfort and amuse us in our present. Not such a bad message for a Wednesday, huh?
Readers, are you attached to any athletic events (big or small) in your town? How do you feel about them? How do you participate? I’d love to hear from you. m
For Catherine, it’s cycling and kayaking. I’m also a fan of this combo.
In general, I think a number of us on the blog are fans of water based sports. When I first started the fittest-by-fifty challenge, one of my goals was to take up something new and I went for rowing. In this older post I talked about the skills overlap between rowing and cycling.
Kim Solga is another fan of the rowing/cycling combo.
These days for me, during the summer months, there’s a lot of boating and biking–Snipe racing and road bike riding.
For many of the bloggers, I think it’s running and yoga that are their favourite pairing.
How about you? Of all the sports and physical activities that bring you joy, which is your favourite pairing? Let us know in the comments.
It’s been ages since I have had an actual training goal in my running. And I feel the lack of focus a lot. So I’m excited to say that with my regular Sunday RunFam, I’ve signed up for the last-ever Run for Retina 10K on April 16th. That means I have eight training weeks to go, including the week we are still in. It’s sad to see it go, but I’m excited that it’s going in the spring this year rather than the fall as it did in 2022.
Signing up with a few others has been enough to get me motivated enough to train for it. At the same time, I have old memories coming up from years gone by, when Anita and I were doing things like running over 20K on a Sunday morning then going out for breakfast, followed by pie for dessert. I can hardly fathom the determination and motivation that got me out the door for that sort of thing, regardless of the weather, only a few years ago. It feels very unlikely to happen again.
Settling on the 10K this time gives me something to reach for but still feels do-able, especially with it still eight weeks away (okay, very soon to be seven weeks away). It feels exciting to have a training goal again, and it has had the motivating effect that I was hoping for. Whereas for the past few months a week where I’ve run even once between my Sunday get togethers with the RunFam is a real accomplishment, this week I actually hit the gym three different days for a short run. Granted, they have been really short, like 20-30 minutes. But still, it’s something. And I’ve felt good afterwards, and I am now building up to be able to get seriously into a 10K training plan that is going to ask more of me on my weekday runs.
I also borrowed the audiobook of James Clear’s Atomic Habits this week, and that has mostly resonated. (we disagree on some things that he thinks of as good habits, such as weighing yourself daily — for me that is not a good habit). There are lots of tools for getting started on good habits. And in general I agree that a focus on process is more helpful than a focus on goals. Goals are so far away. I can think about that 10K, but unless I have a plan that is in itself motivating, I’m not going to do the work. This week I used the 2-minute rule to get me down to the fitness room in my building. I told myself that if I can get down there then I only have to spend a few minutes (okay, I confess that I have made my minimum 15 minutes, not 2 minutes). Each of the three times I stayed on the treadmill for at least 20 minutes.
Yesterday I followed that with 10 more minutes of resistance training. Again, 10 minutes isn’t a gamechanger, but having a habit where some resistance training follows a couple of my mid-week runs has no downside.
Between the YouTube trainer experiment a couple of weeks ago, and then the 10K training plan starting this week, I feel some hope that I can regain some of that old conditioning and endurance enough to enjoy running again.
I don’t love running or jogging. I’ve never felt naturally good at it, and without practice I don’t get good enough at it to start to enjoy it. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle of inactivity.
I have gone through spurts of jogging, a couple times a week for a couple months, usually with other folks to spur me along. Often, though, I don’t stick with group running. I like to chat more than run, and I can’t do both at the same time!
When I run also I can’t seem to concentrate on spoken audiobooks or podcasts. I used the app Run with Zombies for a season or two, but I stopped because I wasn’t compelled by the story and I didn’t have the energy to build the virtual world on the app.
What does seem to keep me moving is fast music played at top volume. This website advises me that for jogging I need 120-125 beats per minute and for running 140-145 beats per minute. (For the latter, I don’t think I’ll ever go that fast, but it’s nice to know.) Natalie wrote about working out with Lizzo, and I’m going to add her to my list.
Here are a few of my fave playlist songs that are about getting up and getting moving. Warning to non-mid-lifers: they are old.
Because We Can (Fatboy Slim). From the soundtrack Moulin Rouge, this song has simple lyrics that inspire me to keep moving: “because [I] can (can can)!”
I Like to Move It (Real 2 Real). Like the cancan song, the simple lyrics repeat as I run until I have no choice to believe them.
Momentum (Amy Mann). Another soundtrack song, from Magnolia, about moving despite (or perhaps because of) how one is feeling. I appreciate the song’s honesty.
The Distance (Cake). Like Momentum, for me this song is about dedication to the race, regardless of winning, losing, or anything else.
Get Up (Technotronic). Classic 80’s vibes. Pairs well with Gonna Make U Sweat (C&C Music Factory) and Let Your Backbone Slide (Maestro Fresh Wes).
Pump It (Black Eyed Peas). This song (or any of the remixes) make me feel cool, even when I am overheating.
Body Movin’ (Beastie Boys). 90s vibes. I normally spend this song trying to remember the lyrics, so I pay less attention to my own tiredness.
Perhaps it is better to run in silence and focus on my breathing and body feelings, but sometimes it’s too much fun to revisit these oldies while being blasted to distraction.
Of course you have noticed that there aren’t enough cis/trans women artists—so please suggest some for me that you love to run or move to in the comments!
After more than three years of not doing anything “official,” I signed up for a 5K and ran it last weekend. And it was a blast. A few of my running group did it too. None of us went in with big dreams and all of us had a fun time.
Considering that my last event was the Around the Bay 30K back in 2019 (see my overly optimistic report of that ill-fated day here — it was ill-fated because the next day I had a back injury and shortly after that I had achilles issues and basically I didn’t run much again for about nine months), the 5K felt like an odd choice. Not because there is anything wrong with 5K, but because it isn’t a distance that I needed to train for since I run more than that regularly (our Sunday minimum is usually around 7.5 and we often do more than that). I’ve never done an event that I haven’t had to train for.
I also had difficulty deciding what my goal should be. I really haven’t gotten back on track with any regular routine since the ATB in 2019, and when I go out I go out for fun, not for fast results. So I decided that my goal would be to come in under 40 minutes. That might seem like an unchallenging goal to some, but I wanted something that I could actually meet. Indeed, a friend who hasn’t run since she was in her thirties literally laughed at me when I stated that goal, as if it was ridiculously easy.
On race day I felt good. It was a gorgeous autumn day and we met just over 1K from the start line and ran there as a little warm-up. Unlike events in the past, I didn’t need to concern myself with whether I could make the distance. I decided I would stick to my usual 10-1 intervals that I do every Sunday.
In the end, most of my group broke away from me within the first 500m, with one falling into place a little bit behind. I didn’t end up wanting to walk for the one-minute walking intervals, and I was pacing reasonably well all things considered. My chip-time was 35:19 and I felt strong–only mildly regretting that I hadn’t pushed just a little bit harder to come in under 35 minutes. In any case, it gave me a new goal for my sixtieth birthday, which is to try to shave a few minutes off of my 5K time and perhaps even complete it in 30:00. It was also a fun time for the group, all of whom were smiling at the end, as you can see in our photo.
If there is a moral to this story, it’s that going back to something I used to do, and keeping my expectations very low, can actually feel really good. Have you returned to something that you’d set aside? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.