“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.”
— Bob Dylan

I like the idea and I aspire to live it in some way — to be “a success” because I say/believe so, and not on other people’s terms excessively.

Approval of others — it smells sickly sweet, like burnt stovetop chocolate icing. Gross and completely inedible and certainly of no nutritional value, but the hint of cocoa aroma is there. Let’s face it — I do love chocolate, and I am also highly attracted to approval. I have allowed myself to be wooed too easily by false niceness (switched jobs for it, even, more than once) and the reverse: I have let myself be just completely crestfallen by even the hint of negative feedback from certain people whose feedback probably was never that important, or that negative, to begin with. This needs changing — no more settling for crappy chocolate! 😛

For most of my life, especially as a teen and twenty-something, I’ve attached a lot more meaning on what other people think (or what I think other people think – logical stuff to base life decisions on) than on what I believe of myself. I used to believe, whether I admitted it or not, that my performance as a student or as a worker (as reflected in the feedback of others who seemed to know better than me) was a massive, integral and conclusive reflection of who I actually am as a person — and I continue to catch myself attaching value judgements of “good” or bad” and “right” or “wrong” on what I do or do not do or could do or should do or could have done and yadda yadda. All crap, really. I am aware of it, and I catch myself faster, but it is still there humming away in the background of my mind in my day to day.

It takes immense energy (luckily, I am determined) to keep reframing, adjusting, and asking myself continuously why it matters so much whether so and so says whatever about whatever I do or say. To consider myself, no matter what I am doing or how well, and say to myself: “I accept this and I am acceptable to myself as is”, and even if this isn’t “perfect” then that is okay too. And there is so much more to me, like my loving relationship with my husband and the connections I make with friends, family and acquaintances: the important things.

The main thing is that I am working on it all the time, even when it hurts to push past the gunk and the gross stuff that has built up so much over time. Only I can do this work.

I turn 30 in a little over a month — which is both nothing, as in just another day/year, and yet is something milestone-ish. We all grow up with interesting ideas of what our lives are supposed to look like at 30 — for me, even with all of my other achievements and good things, I keep checking my career status or lack there of. The one definite bar I have set for myself: I am registered for an 8K run on January 25th, Robbie Burns Day (I am very Scottish ancestrally).

And no matter how fast or well I run it in traditional terms, doing it and completing it because it is what helps me feel good: that is the point.


The first time I visited Niagara Falls was two years ago, also in late October, as part of a complimentary Grayline Bus tour with two colleagues back in my hotel concierge days. That was a monsoon-like and frigidly windy day, and we walked (in full blue poncho glory after the Maid of the Mist ride) along the side of the gorge and falls for only a brief period between the fully-guided stops. But we did make it to Table Rock Centre, and that day (a Sunday) we saw the last runners of a marathon staggering in silver capes around the sopping field. No one was remotely dry.

At the time, it didn’t look like fun to me!

Two years on exactly, and I was back for my second time — as one of the runners. Definitely not the marathon, but (for me) a milestone.

Yesterday, Mike and I ran a full 5K from start to finish — no stops, no walking breaks, just straight-through running.

I never would have believed that I could do this, if anyone had asked me a year ago or even six months ago! I never would have thought it would be fun, running, not so long ago — proving to me that trying new things, especially potentially daunting or even scary things, is so worthwhile. Speaking of which, I have now driven the 401 and the QEW highways and it wasn’t so scary after all… 🙂

If we wish to get technical, I was very slightly over the personal best (PB) that had been plotted out for me several weeks ago: at 35.39.01, I missed the 30-35 minute goal range by seconds. But this is small potatoes — I also know that I am able to sustain a decently-paced run for over 35 minutes, and I know I can do more than this.

Everything is a learning experience — travelling to another city, staying in an unfamiliar hotel room, and having resultingly less sleep is a factor. I had a strange allergic reaction to a topical cream which came as a free sample in my race goody bag (bad idea: trying something for the sake of trying something the night before), and woke up in the middle of the night with a burning, hot sensation in my right leg and I was scared that I wouldn’t make it to the start line! Luckily, this went away…

Also, underestimating ability and starting too far back and to the side resulted in having to pass slower runners, walkers, run-walkers (who stop suddenly and infuriatingly) and other mobile human hazards. If we had started further up or at least more centrally, I know we would have shaved a minute or two.

Finally, that was some headwind during the last leg of the run.

Again, small potatoes and all part of the experience.

Everyone who finished got a medal (and free food and gatorade), so I have the first medal I have ever earned (I don’t really count the participaction ribbons for trying which they handed out for school field day events).

The course started at the finish line, which was directly at the spot where the Horseshoe Falls begin their descent. The run curved around the top of the falls, passing over stone bridges and into intensely red and orange foliage within the parklands. I would love to hike in this area more on another visit.

There is more to say about Niagara Falls the city, but I’ll save the travelogue for another post.

Meanwhile, after I rest this week … I have already begun to look up 5Ks in the near future, and there is one here in Toronto on December 6th which I might just be nuts enough to try… 😛

I don’t have any fabulously good excuses for not keeping up with posting about my running regimen. A feasible excuse is that I have been online a bit less when not at work, and I think reduced time in the interweb is not a bad thing for most of us.

But I have also been lazy about taking the time to sit, pull this site up, and compose an entry. Go figure…

I have completed all elements in the program, however, and I feel pretty good as the race date approaches this Sunday.

I can’t possibly get into detail about every little bit of every little elemental run I’ve done since then and now. I’ll just have to keep things point form:

** Autumn is a beautiful season, and I enjoy my weekend afternoon runs in the local park the best. The air has felt fresher, and I like running through small dustings of fallen leaves along the way. Especially appreciated is the lack of humidity and heat — in fact, the crisp coolness is refreshing during and after the runs. I know it makes the practices a little easier.

** I took out an inexpensive, three month membership at a local community gym close to work — a small, modest weight room with two treadmills, and (most importantly) lockers and shower/changing facilities for when I run downtown before going home. As daylight fades and as pesky darkness encroaches further into my non-work time, it gets a little trickier plotting out my weekly schedule. So, it makes sense to take advantage of the daylight hours I do have.

The initial hesitancy, in spite of the logic, is that I have never been much of a gym person. I think it is a remnant of childhood shyness, really, of feeling conspicuous and awkward. Gym class, as a kid, felt like a form of state-sanctioned torture and I think that bad experience just tainted my enjoyment later on.

I once went with an old friend a few times back at UPEI, but on my own felt a little more intimidating for reasons I can’t explain. Was I afraid that someone would call me out as a novice, for not knowing what I was doing with the equipment?

There is also the fact that I have never cared for open-concept showers either. I like my privacy.

Luckily, life is not junior high school and I am no longer twelve years old: I made myself go a couple times last week, even with the good weather outdoors, just to ensure I’d get over any silly nervousness. This strategy has worked — I have two more visits to go this week.

** I am now able to run for twenty five minutes straight without stopping and while maintaining what I hope is a decent pace (without wheezing at some point along the way). I don’t think that gets me 5K along, but judging from the route in our local park I am certain it isn’t so far off. I must say that this feels pretty damn good! Everything feels like it is in its right place, physically and mentally.

** I think that running in the event Sunday, with a crowd of other runners, will feel very different and that the collective adrenaline will be a moving force. It is very different energy, compared to that felt going into an event where I am expecting to alternate walking and running the whole way.

Sheer stubbornness will also drive me. I do hope to keep my time below 35 minutes, and I feel like this is doable. Where did this competitive side of me come from?!

** I’ve only ever been to Niagara Falls once, and it was part of a guided bus tour so I am excited to explore at my own pace this weekend.

I think that is all I really needed to say…

It took a lot of fight, but I did get myself up and moving by 5:30am. The increased difficulty lay in the raw and sore throat which I found myself with this morning, something I had felt encroaching in previous days but which I had hoped I would avoid this season. I also felt a little wonky. I probably should have stayed in bed.

But I am a stubborn woman and I suited up just like normal for a short run. It did occur to me, as I stepped outside my building into the cold morning and noticed the darkness around me, that I might have actually gone mad at long last… but I was startled, even motivated, by a smattering of stars and by the outline of The Archer with Orion’s Belt. Cold Schmold, I thought.

And the run mostly went well, at first — run for five, walk for one, and repeat four times — I’ve done this before. But I made it to the third rep and I had to stop just shy a minute because my head felt so heavy and my face so full. The word “thwacked” works here. I walked back to my building, and when I tried to say hello to someone else in the lobby I found I had lost my voice. The rallying bit of energy I had early this morning had evaporated somewhere out there along the way.

I’m still glad I did something active, but I ended up calling in sick today due to the cold’s intensifying and the fact that my voice was not coming back to me even after tea and gargling with water and baking soda. It is only now starting to ease a bit, but I feel gross (like everyone does in a similar state). I wish I didn’t catch these damn things so easily.

I am habituated to running and walking in the city, and sometimes I enjoy having a “route” or familiar path around my own neighbourhood. Creature of habit, yes.

A real treat, however, is in changing this routine up with a run in another place, and especially in a more rural area. I might be turning into a city slicker in some ways, but I am at heart a country girl and I feel strikingly at home once I get into those settings. Maybe a little bit of this is psychological, but I do feel the difference: crisper, fresher air and richer surroundings. I breathe better on these runs, if only seemingly.

We were away this weekend about an hour and a half out of Toronto, near Lindsay, on a weekend visit with Mike’s family. It was our early version of Thanksgiving, with perfectly baked ham and squash (apparently, not everyone’s favourite although I adore it) and pumpkin pie… and it was our first time seeing the cozy new house that Mike’s parents have moved into. I love that they have cows passing by in a field directly behind the house, and that they are a short jaunt away from a nature conserve and a shoreline — and yet close to the needful things in Lindsay.

Less than two hours north-east of Toronto, and there is a marked difference in the level and intensity of fall colours. The reds and oranges pop and flame along roadsides, and thick columns of woods along the moraines are simply smoldering in the clear, crisp October light. This is, without a doubt, my favourite season for so many reasons.

I didn’t run Saturday, as scheduled, due to being tremondously filled up (yes, I think this is a viable excuse as it is somewhat vital to be able to breathe through one’s nose along the way)!

So, I bumped last week’s long run to Sunday morning. It was difficult to get up after being in a cozier bed than usual (we stayed at my sister-in-law’s place in Manilla) and being crawled over by four of the snuggliest, purringish kittens ever (yes, four kittens and a rambunctious golden retriever and two girls)… but, I did get up after all. Yes, the initial pain is worth the longer term pleasure — remembering that point is always the hard part when one is comfy and it is early Sunday morning.

I walked for fifteen minutes, ran for fifteen, and walked for fifteen. The highlight: hearing the collective cry of dozens of geese flying south, and hearing nothing else but their voices, but not actually seeing them for several minutes. I also happened upon a large flock or large pheasants rambling in someone’s back field.

I actually like running on these slightly cooler fall days because the chill is refreshing. I don’t miss the humidity in the least.

This week and last week, I have three elements to factor in (a small, a medium and then a longer one), and after this I will be be looking at four times a week. The darkening evenings and later sunrises make the timing more challenging than in summer, but it is all doable (so long as I stop working too late too often)!

I am turning more to earlier mornings — I can definitely fit in a good moderate-length run in the morning if I dress properly and still leave lots of time to eat and get ready for work. I may also consider going into the city earlier, and making use of sweetly-priced access to change rooms and showers within a block of work. The catch is getting up very early, but I think I can suck it up!

After work is a doable time as well, but I found it nicely energizing to get up early, exercise and then face the day knowing I could go straight home and relax in the evening (which is my key time with Mike, who tends to be too sore/spent to run after work). My commute is just so long after work, that I feel three times as tired after it as I do when I am at the end of the actual work day. I went with mornings for two of my three elements last week, which admittedly were short enough to let me ease back into it. We’ll see how the month goes…

I like that running for twelve minutes straight feels pretty good — still a workout, but not difficult and without any wavering of spirit. The minutes fly by. When I was new to this, time stretched out and stretched me out.

In other news… in my ongoing work to volunteer for lots of varying things (I’m looking into Frontier College again, which was something I worked with through Students for Literacy back in PEI), I volunteered for the massive Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon today. I was with the medals team, as all marathon and half-marathon runners achieved medals for finishing this year. I don’t think I have ever seen so many people converged in such a relatively small chunk of the city, as when the race began at Nathan Phillips Square — and so much potential energy in that same small space just within the hour before the start!

I found myself in the very untypical role of a team lead for my area of the medals, simply due to age difference between myself and what were mostly teenagers. I do have a “bossy” side, but I never do like waiting for something to happen if I can find a job to do right away. The manager, Fred, also remembered my name right away and would call me out to take care of certain things, but I found myself just jumping in anyway regardless. This is the whole point of the volunteer experience — getting braver and more confident, and far more experienced with a range of activity and skills and pressure levels. It reminded me of being crew for a stage production, except that it was only for a few hours instead of every moment of spare time over a few months!

There was simply no better job than placing the medals around necks or in the fists of finishers and congratulating them — some of the elites were pretty standoffish (maybe been there, done that too often) but most were so pleased to be within sight of refreshment, rest and completion that their pleasure was transferable.

I was scared for this one fellow, a marathoner, who walked sideways towards me and looked near collapse — he straightened himself out and shouted jubilantly about qualifying for the Boston Marathon, so I think he was fine in the end! I’d probably let out a good barbaric yawp too!

I also spent a lot of time delivering armloads of medals to the kids standing near the front, since they would hand them out so quickly (that, and water as the sun got stronger). I even had a couple fifteen year olds tag along with me much of the day, talking my ear off. I know too much now about last year’s basketball season in York Region, however.

I went directly to Word in the Street with a friend for a couple of hours, so I’ve done solid time on my feet today and that 4:30 am wake-up call is hitting me now.

Still on the run…

Mike and I have registered for another 5K running event in late October, a larger-scale event in Niagara Falls (there is also a 10K, Half-Marathon, Marathon, and fitness expo included in the larger weekend event).

This time, I want to run the distance without walking. And I would like to edge my time a little closer to 30 minutes, but I will accept 35 minutes.

Again, my friendly senior adviser (the venerable “G”) has kindly devised a new training program to get me from here to there. Mike comes running when he can and he certainly loves joining me along the way. All this support aside, it is by and large a form of racing myself. So far, it is an activity which has given me a rare sense of personal power and measurable progress — and I love that.

The track record in my youth has been to give up too easily on things. This is especially true when I’m not quickly “good enough” at something, although that definition has always been very subjective and my own spin on things.

I vaguely remember my short-lived soccer career, which began and ended over a few weeks when I was 5. I could not keep up with the other kids. Basically, I followed the pack around because I knew that was what I was supposed to do, but I had a hard time wanting to bother over a ball I could never get a kick at (as if I could actually kick it far anyway)!

Of course I told my parents that I wanted to quit after two practices. I was never signed up for anything like it again and I certainly never volunteered. But I was always envious of those kids/people who were at the forefront of any match, the ones who were stronger or faster or more coordinated.

Funny how attitudes change. I am keen on the fact that every participant in the Niagara Falls event receives a medal. I never believed I could ever earn a medal in anything, even just for trying. The fact that I am TRYING at all is a big thing.

So what if I turn out to be perpetually trailing the pack. That isn’t the point.

I’m running with it. And I am somehow kicking it my own way, clear across the field.