Sunday, February 22, 2015

The end is in sight, and CTR is just around the corner

The weather's been brutal the past few weeks - with heaps of snow and cold that's made running miserable. I've tried not to complain. After all, we live in Canada and we have winter. It goes with the territory.

However, it's hard to keep from getting a wee bit blue by the time late February rolls around. Post-holiday weight gain, short cold days, and poor conditions make running feel much more difficult than at other times of the year. It's easy to say "winter running makes you stronger" but it's hard to feel genuinely enthused when temperatures dip to -20C, sidewalks and roads are covered with snow and ice, and you'd rather stay warm by the fire.

Fortunately, the end is in sight. Spring is less than a month away and, while that's no guarantee the snow and ice will be gone anytime soon, it shouldn't be long before warm breezes blow often enough to make running outside easier.

Which is a good thing since race season will be upon us in no time. Husband and I have tentatively committed to running a local half marathon (Run Our Shore) in early May and I'm thinking about a fourth Cabot Trail Relay at the end of May. Former teammates David and Crystal stepped up to co-captain this year so I met with them today to share my experiences as last year's captain. I'd really love to run CTR again. It's a fantastic event! However, our our 25th wedding anniversary is the same weekend so I'm still negotiating with Husband. If I am running CTR again, I need to get busy doing hill and speed work. CTR isn't for the faint of heart or for the under-prepared. And, who knows, Husband's training is going so well perhaps he'll feel like running it too.

Speaking of training, I managed a decent 11k long run yesterday, despite challenging conditions and a wicked charley horse Friday night that left my right calf sore and tender. As I limped around the house last evening, I wondered if it has been a mistake to run on a sore leg but it felt much better by this morning so apparently no serious harm was done.

Today's run hasn't happened yet because it's been raining all day, which is a nice change but has resulted in my usual route being covered in ankle-deep slush. I'll head into town shortly to see if I can find a more appealing place to run 5k before we head back to the city.

The rain is good for another reason. A few weeks ago, ice dams formed on the roof of our country house and water began seeping into an exterior wall whenever temperatures got warm enough to melt the snow piled on the roof. Most of the water passed through without damaging anything but, with heavy rain in today's forecast, we were worried the situation might get worse in a hurry. Husband did some research and discovered he could break up the dams by cutting trenches in the ice with an axe and placing nylon stockings filled with de-icer to keep them open so that water would be able to find its way off the roof without detouring into the house. He got the job done but it wasn't easy since it meant manhandling a 28- foot ladder into and out of the thigh-deep snow surrounding the house. By the end of the day, the leaking had stopped, there was far less snow on the roof and the ice dams were considerably smaller so hopefully that's the the end of the problem for this year. (Have I mentioned lately how grateful I am to have a strong, handy and handsome husband who also enjoys running? Well, I am! :-) )

So that's it for this week, friends. I hope you and yours are surviving the last gasps of winter (assuming you have winter where you are). How's your training going? Are you looking forward to any special running or other events this year?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How'd that happen?

Mid-February already. The year time seems to be rushing by faster than usual. But, then, I've noticed time's been speeding up as I get older. Which is too bad because my "to do" lists are getting longer too.

A quick post today just to say that, no, I haven't died. Or given up blogging. Or given up running. Or abandoned my goals for 2015. It's just that "real life" keeps getting in the way. I'm determined to put "first things first" and family and friends have needed more tending than usual lately.

The weather's been miserable since Christmas but I still managed two or three runs per week through most of January and February - not as much as I hoped but enough to maintain some capacity to run distances. This past Saturday, I completed 9.5k in tough conditions and it felt okay. Husband's decided to join me in training for a half marathon, which should make scheduling workouts easier in the coming months.

We're also making dietary changes bit by bit - eating more veggies and protein, less bread and pasta. We haven't eliminated as many simple carbs as I'd like but I can already feel some difference in the way my legs feels and my clothes fit. More on that when I've further details to report.

On the reading front - check out the book list I posted on the right! I haven't quite managed a book a week but close to it, and, with more bad weather in the forecast, there should be plenty of time for reading in the coming weeks.

The high points of last week included completing a major project at work, a wonderful "first date" anniversary supper with Hubbie at a favourite restaurants (Edna), a terrific Valentine's Day run under clear blue skies, snuggling by the fireplace as the latest storm raged, a snowshoe to the back of our country property, and a delightful afternoon with good friends, Janet and Ron, who treated us to delicious homemade wine and treats (including fabulous potato, feta and scallop cakes, and home-smoked salmon - yum!)  All in all, a pretty great week, despite the blah February weather! Here's a few pics.

Walking home from our anniversary dinner
Valentine's Day run
After the latest storm
Snowshoeing in our woods
If I had more time, I'd be tempted to do some ranting about 50 Shades of Grey but let me post a link to my favourite critique of the movie instead. Seriously, why are the books so popular? And what on earth does it say about our culture? Nothing good, for sure.

To be clear, I'm no prude. I like sex. A lot. And, I agree that many people could benefit from thinking more about what turns them on and doesn't. I also agree that people have a right to pursue their kinks - within reasonable limits, at least. But the book and movie aren't celebrations of healthy sexuality. Rather, they exploit and glamourize the dangerous myth that an abuser will miraculously heal himself if only his partner puts up with his abuse long enough. In real life, that rarely happens. In real life, the vast majority of victims spend their lives being abused or, worse, end up dead.

To be clear, I'm not saying abusers can't be healed or that we shouldn't feel some empathy for them. Most people who genuinely want to change can do so, and we can and should support them when/if they decide to try. Unfortunately, narcissists like "Mr. Grey" rarely want to change because, in their dysfunctional version of reality, there's nothing wrong with them. When something bad  happens, it's always someone else's fault. (e.g."She made me hit her.")

Sigh. I know. I said I wasn't going to rant but I find the 50 Shades phenomenon incredibly depressing. In Canada, police statistics suggest that something like 80,000 women are abused by their partners annually but, of course, that doesn't count the women who never make a call for help. I expect statistics in the US and Australia (where the books' author resides) aren't very different. So why on earth did anyone think it was a good idea to write such awful books and make a movie out of them?

Perhaps, it's not so difficult to understand. We live in a patriarchal society, where many men still think of women as little more than "housekeepers with benefits". Girls are being sexualized at younger and younger ages. Rape culture persists despite decades of struggle to end it. The books and movie are just one more (very lucrative) manifestation of everything that's wrong with the way our culture teaches men and women to think about sex and about one another.


Happy running and writing, friends. Hopefully, there'll be something good to rant about next week.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Memories of Yukon


I was moping around the house thinking I should write a post but not really feeling like it when I remembered that I hadn't got round to writing about the various trips we took last summer. A cold, February day seemed as good a day as any to reminisce about my brief visit to Yukon last June.

I'd been wanting to head up north for years but had never gotten further than northern Ontario so was thrilled when I learned I would be going to Whitehorse on a business trip. Over the years, many friends who lived or traveled in Yukon told wonderful stories of stunning landscape, impressive wildlife and warm, hospitable people. My few days in Whitehorse confirmed all the good things I'd heard and made me wish I had far more time there.

As it happens, one of my oldest friends, Pippa, lives in Whitehorse so I flew in a few days before my meetings to visit her and her husband and do some hiking and sightseeing. After a long day of traveling, I arrived mid-afternoon on Friday and almost immediately headed out for an energetic walk along the Yukon River with Pippa and her beautiful dog Tira.


The first thing that struck me was the colour of the water, a clear, bright blue-green that underscored the relatively pristine condition of the local environment.


The Yukon River - yes it really was that colour!

The second thing that impressed me was how much green space there is in Whitehorse. I knew the city was surrounded by thousands of kilometres of wilderness but, even within city limits, there were huge swaths of forest, criss-crossed by well-used trails.


The other thing I noticed that first day was how little darkness there was that time of year. I took this photo from Pippa's dining room window about 10:00 pm. Pippa assured me it got "sort of dark" around midnight. Needless to say, I was grateful for the blackout curtains that made it possible for me to get some sleep while I was there.

After some exercise, a delicious supper and good night's sleep, I was ready for more ambitious adventures Saturday morning but the weather was unsettled so Pippa suggested we postpone our planned hike and visit the Yukon Wildlife Preserve instead - a terrific idea since it provided excellent opportunities to learn about local flora and fauna and break out my zoom lens to take portraits of some of the preserve's residents.




En route back from the preserve, we stopped for mouth-watering coffee and snacks at Bean North Cafe. At first glance, the cafe appears to be plunked in the middle of nowhere but in fact it's a popular destination for hikers, cyclists and sightseers travelling through the area.  Bean North roasts a wide selection of organic and fair trade coffees and (as I discovered when I looked it up just now) ships its coffee worldwide. I enjoyed the coffee enough to bring home several packages as a gift for Husband so would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in ordering some.

By Sunday the weather had improved enough that Pippa and I made arrangements to join a couple of friends for what she assured me would be a moderately difficult day hike up Caribou Mountain. Our plan was to hike to the top, and stop for a leisurely lunch before hiking back down. Being an experienced distance runner, it didn't occur to me I wouldn't be able to keep up - at least, until Pippa's friends arrived and began swapping stories about their latest hiking and mountain-biking adventures. Those gals were seriously fit and 10-15 years younger than me.

As it turned out, there was good reason to be nervous. I'm not entirely comfortable with (read "scared to death of") heights and the trail was a steep and rocky, often barely clinging to the side of the mountain with sharp inclines mere feet (occasionally inches) away. As my legs tired, I became increasingly aware that I'd tumble hundreds of meters if I lost my footing and pitched off the trail. Given how tired and shaky my legs felt, I also wondered how on earth I was going to descend the mountain without falling.

600 metres up - around halfway to the summit - I stopped and encouraged Pippa and her friends to go on without me while I ate lunch and regained my strength. Pippa opted to stay with me while the others finished the climb, and we spent a pleasant hour savouring the stunning views, eating lunch and chatting with other hikers out for a Sunday stroll.


Another view from Caribou Mountain


That's when I learned something else about Yukoners. They're a tough, fearless crowd who hike and cycle in the mountains so regularly that even the least fit of them can run circles around southerners like me. I made it down the mountain after lunch but my legs were sore for two days afterwards. Needless to say, I was seriously humbled by the experience.

Given that we'd cut the hike short, we had some time on our hands when we arrived back at the car so decided to drive into Carcross (formerly, Caribou Crossing), a charming and interesting community nestled between two lakes, for coffee and a bit of sightseeing. Carcross is home to the Carcross/Tagish First Nation and has a year round population of about 300. Although its economy is largely based on tourism now, Carcross was an important stopover point en route to Dawson City during the Klondike Gold Rush. In its present incarnation, the community has much to recommend it - stunning views of majestic mountains, a long white sandy beach, some terrific eateries, a few shops selling local crafts, and quaint cottages begging to be photographed.




More funky Carcross buildings

We stopped for coffee, then wandered round the community for a bit and along the beach as Pippa regaled me with tales of hiking the Chilkoot Trail (which begins in Carcross). After a last stop for icecream, we headed back to Whitehorse, stopping briefly at Carcross Desert - a square mile of misplaced sand dunes just up the road. It was strange seeing dunes so far from the ocean but apparently they were deposited there in the last glacial period and have been replenished ever since by sand blowing in from nearby Bennett Lake.


The rest of my time in Whitehorse was consumed with meetings so I wasn't able to do much more sightseeing beyond checking out the myriad of well-stocked shops selling outdoor gear and local arts and crafts (which are wonderful). On my last day, I spent a very pleasant hour or so exploring the MacBride Museum, which offers fascinating glimpses into Yukon's history, together with an impressive collection of stuffed and mounted animals - bears, wolves, you name it - that give a good sense of just how terrifying such creatures would be if one encountered them in their natural habitats. The next time I'm in town, I'll be sure to plan on a longer visit to the MacBride.

Before signing off, I want to add just a few words about the people I met in Yukon. Pippa's husband Lawrence put it this way: Whitehorse is 1/3 redneck, 1/3 First Nations and 1/3 hippy. My own observation was that most of the hippies had become yuppies years ago but otherwise his characterization seemed pretty accurate. It's an odd mixture that seems to work well because the people who live there are passionate about the north - because it's their home, because they make a good living, and/or because they love the scenery and active lifestyle. And, since the city is so relatively small and many of its residents originated someplace else, folks are generally happy to meet new people and share their enthusiasm for life in Yukon.

My friend Pippa and Tira in Carcross

Needless to say, Husband and I will be headed back to Yukon at the first opportunity - preferably in a camper van that allows us to get off the beaten track and take our time savouring the incredible landscape. If you ever have the chance to go, I'd highly recommend it.

For selection of my photos from the trip, follow this link to my Flickr album:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Premonitions and grief

Maryanne died last Sunday. I was out for my run - an easy 8k up the lake and back. At the turnaround point, my legs decided they didn't want to run anymore and I felt heavy with sadness, fatigue and frustration as I walked the 4k back. A few minutes after I arrived home, Maryanne's partner, Dick, emailed to say that she had just passed away, and I realized why my run had come to such a miserable end.

I don't believe in ESP but I do believe people sometimes experience premonitions - by which I mean, shifts in energy generated by events in the lives of people they care about. I've felt a few such shifts myself when family or friends have been ill or injured. The women in my family label them "feelings" and we tend to get them whenever something especially good or bad is about to happen.

Of course, I knew Maryanne could die any time so it's not surprising I expected the worst last weekend. But what I experienced was more than just generalized dread. It was an intense physical and emotional sense that my dear sister-in-law was dying at that moment. By the time I reached home, cold, exhausted and teary-eyed, I felt certain a message would be waiting.

Whether or not, I actually had a premonition, the fact is I've been weighed down by loneliness and grief for months now. Losing Husband's mum, my friend Laura, our elder cat Ranee and Maryanne in less than 8 months has "knocked the stuffing out of me". Most days, I feel like curling up in a ball and weeping.

Of course, I can't do that. Instead, I drag myself to the office, do what I have to do, then head home to tackle whatever tasks await there. Husband's been away for nearly a month this time so I have more chores than usual - which means I have less energy for other things. It will be a relief to have him home again. Hopefully, once we're back into regular routines, we'll feel more like ourselves.

I haven't run much in the past two weeks and the few times I have run my legs have felt awful - which is both surprising and discouraging. For the past decade, running is the thing that has helped most in dealing with stress but, apparently, grief requires something else.

Though I haven't run much lately, I have been getting out for walks most days and went for a lovely skate on the oval last Friday, where I accidentally took this photo.

It nicely captures how I was feeling at that moment - savouring the sunshine and exercise after too much time indoors. I bought new skates just before Christmas and they're much more comfortable than my old ones so I look forward to spending more time on the oval this winter.

I haven't spent much time with my Nikon 5100 lately - though I did play around with it a bit last weekend, mostly taking selfies to send to Husband. Despite that, I've made a point of looking for photographic opportunities and capturing images on my phone whenever possible. I took the one at the top of this post en route to the office today. The quality's not great but it accurately reflects the mood on the ferry as people headed back to work this morning after yesterday's storm.

The only other thing to report is that Mr. Pye has a new "forever home". Poor old Nemmie was becoming more and more distressed by his presence so we finally found new digs for him. Fortunately, our friend Laurie knew a wonderful family who'd recently lost an elderly cat and were looking for another to soften the blow. So far, it seems to be working out well so we couldn't be happier - though I must say I miss the little guy. He'd managed to squirm his way into our hearts pretty well in the three months he lived with us.

That's it for me, friends. Hope your new years have begun more happily and productively than mine. I'd be interested to know if you believe in premonitions. Have you ever had one?

Happy running and writing!

Monday, January 12, 2015

The year that was, the year that will be

With 2014 behind me, it's time to assess the year that was and make plans for 2015.

My word of the year for 2014 was "plunge" as in "plunge boldly into the thick of life" and, in a post last January, I elaborated on my aspirations for the year this way:
The type of exploration I have in mind - spiritual, physical, emotional, and creative - involves immersing myself in things that matter to me - not tentatively, but with abandon - so that I may follow where my heart and soul lead. 
To that end, I decided I'd "run less" so that I'd have more time for the things and people that mattered most.

On the creative side, I was determined to do more writing and photography, get back into knitting and quilting, and take art classes for the first time in several decades.  

My goals for physical activity included doing more yoga, getting back into swimming, and trying some other activity I'd always wanted to do - like cross-country skiing or kayaking.  

On the emotional and spiritual front, I wanted to spend more time strengthening relationships with family and friends, seeking out kindred spirits at work, and exploring spiritual issues. 

Did I accomplish all I hoped ? Did I grow in the ways I aspired to grow? Did I give as fully as I intended to the causes and people I care about?

After a few weeks of tough soul-searching, I have to admit I didn't.

Granted, it wasn't an easy year. We lost Husband's mum and our dear old cat, and a close friend passed away unexpectedly. I spent a chunk of time early in the year trying to help my folks sell their house. We had unexpected company for several weeks over the summer. And, these past few months we've been dealing with Husband's sister's illness.

All of which meant that the time I freed up by "running less" got consumed by things that bore no resemblance to what I'd planned to do.

I had some minimal success in that I managed to take a painting class and captained my relay team to a couple of events. I also took a few baby steps towards expanding my professional network, and developing a "plan B" for when it's time to leave my current job. But, when I look back at 2014, what I mostly feel is sadness and disappointment.

That's not to say, there weren't some terrific things too. For instance, I loved visiting Yukon for the first time, and we had an awesome (though far too brief) trip to Newfoundland. We also thoroughly enjoyed hosting all the folks who came to visit last summer.

But the truth is 2014 pretty much sucked and, standing at the threshold of 2015, I felt so tired and demoralized, I couldn't summon up even enough energy to set new goals. To make matters worse, I came down with a nasty stomach virus that kept me in bed for most of last week.

On the upside, being sick in bed for several days gave my subconscious time to sort out how I felt about 2015 and come up with a list of priorities for the coming year. They're somewhat tentative at this point but I'm hoping they'll get the new year underway on a more positive note.

READ MORE - Since I got addicted to the internet, I've spent less and less time reading books. I'm not sure I read a dozen books in 2015 - which is pretty pathetic when I think about all the time I spent on Facebook. This year, my goal is to read at least a book a week. So far, so good. I finished Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam last week (loved it!), am almost through Margaret Webb's Older, Stronger, Faster, and started Terry Fallis' hilarious novel, No Relation, on the weekend.  Books were my first love so it feels good to be back in the reading groove.

EAT BETTER - Husband and I have been talking about our eating habits a lot the past few months. We do our best to buy locally produced food, stick to veggies 4 or 5 days a week and cook from scratch. However, reading Older, Stronger, Faster made me realize our dietary choices haven't been doing much to help my running so I'd like to try fixing that in 2015 by upping our intake of fruit, veggies and nuts and drastically reducing our consumption of grains, legumes, cheeses and sugars. More on that in a future post.

RUN MORE - It turns out I didn't enjoy "running less" in 2014. I missed the mental and physical challenges of marathon training and had far less energy. Given that, I plan to return to running more in 2015, If all goes well, I hope to complete two marathons along with a number of shorter races. I haven't decided which events I'll do yet but, with all the uncertainty in our lives, I'll likely choose ones close to home.

TRAIN SMARTER - The other thing OSF emphasizes is the importance of training smarter. As a 50-something woman, I've got a lot going on biologically and require more rest than a fit 20 year old. If I'm going to succeed at getting stronger and faster, I need to make every workout count, cross-train for strength and agility, fuel properly and get enough rest. To that end, I've registered for a yoga class on Monday nights and plan to do speed and hill work with a local running club on Wednesdays. I've also started going to bed an hour earlier.

BANISH THE CLUTTER - This is something I've been working on for awhile but it needs to be a major focus in 2015 as we prepare to sell our country house and live full-time (for awhile at least) in our much smaller city house. So far, I've managed to go through my closet and dresser drawers and dispose of several bags of shoes and clothing - which felt wonderful! My office is next! For inspiration, I've spent a lot of time reading Becoming Minimalist, which provides terrific advice on simplifying your life so you can focus on the things that matter.

FIRST THINGS FIRST - This is the most important goal of all. It's about achieving more balance. The other goals I've outlined are ambitious enough to overwhelm and exhaust me if I let them and, as I discovered last year, life has a way of interfering with the best laid plans. I'll do my best to make my goals a priority but, when and if more important things force me to abandon or modify them, I'll try hard to roll with it.

So what about you? How was your 2014? Have you set goals for 2015? How's it going so far? Are you optimistic about this shiny new year?

Happy running and writing, friends!