Sunday, November 17, 2013

NaNoBloPoMo (Nov 16): The Bone Cage - Great inspiration for athletes, and perspective

It's been awhile since I've wanted to do a review of Angie Abdou's The Bone Cage. I read it a few years ago while I was training for a marathon, and it really resonated with me.

The book is about the story of two young athletes, both of whom have qualified for the Olympics - one in swimming, the other in wrestling. They have spent their whole live training for this moment, and it is about to arrive.

Both spend literally all their time sleeping, eating, training, sleeping, eating, training....Their whole worlds revolve around their sport and their goal of winning an Olympic medal. He is still in university, but she has graduated and is working at the fitness centre to try and make enough money to keep training. And if it doesn't work out, neither one really has a career option other than what they have directed all of their life's energy towards since they were little.

Once they qualify for the Olympics, they become so isolated from those around them - their competitors are now a threat, their families don't really understand how important and isolating it all is - that the two athletes turn to each other and become friends.

As one reviewer put it, The Bone Cage is about the struggle of self actualization while being trapped within the physical body and trying to push it as far as it will go.

For me, it's also about the lengths to which professional athletes have to commit their lives to a sport to even make it to the Olympics, let alone win a medal. There's a sort of pathos about this story that made me feel that I was glad I had something more than my sport. As a teenager, I used to bemoan the fact that my parents hadn't put me into competitive gymnastics earlier. I had the strength and the determination, but I had started too late and all of the girls my age were years ahead of me.

But reading this book, I realized that I'm happy that I haven't committed my entire life to a single sport. Because if something happens to you while training, that could be it. And then you have to refocus your entire life on something else.

Every so often, I'd run into girls in my gym club who would tell me they used to compete with such and such girl who was now competing at the national level - the only thing is, the first girl had gotten injured and lost months' worth of training, while the second had been lucky enough not to get injured...yet...

Reading this book also helped me put my running training into perspective. So often, because marathon or half-marathon training require us to put so many hours into our training, the running does begin to consume our lives. Till all we do is eat, sleep, breathe running...

But I'm not a professional athlete, and my only competition on race day is myself. So it's ok to sometimes take a step back from things and live a little outside of the running. And that balance can only serve to make us happier, healthier individuals.

Long story short The Bone Cage is well worth the read, and I recommend it to anyone, whether you're training for your first 5k race or marathon. It'll give you some much-needed perspective.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

NaNoBloPoMo (Nov 15): What if Rob Ford were a runner?

Ok maybe that title is presumptuous - maybe Rob Ford is a runner, but something tells me...he's not. Just a hunch.

And Rob Fort sitch is getting more than a little overplayed. In fact we try not to talk about it in our household because frankly we would rather focus our conversations on other, more important issues - or at least more positive ones.

But I'll admit - the Rob Ford scandal has been weighing heavily on my mind these last couple of weeks. Part of it, yes, is that it is incredibly sad to see a man have a global meltdown and as one commenter put it - it can either end up with him leaving city hall in a gurney or in handcuffs at this point.

Part of it, as someone who grew up in Toronto, as a Canadian citizen but also as someone who wants to believe in the rightness of our governing systems, is hugely frustrating, embarrassing and angering. Part of me wishes that I could sit down with Mr (not Mayor) Ford and ask him what he's really thinking. Because if he really loves the City of Toronto as much as he says he does, then maybe it's time to let it go. As they say - "If you love someone, let them go. If they come back, then they were always yours to begin with."

And more than anything, I want to believe in a system where a political leader, who has been voted in by the people, is held to the same standards as everyone else. If someone is admitting to illegal behaviour, then I cease to understand how it is that they are not arrested and held to account for the crimes they have admitted to.

But I digress, and this is getting political, which this blog is not about.

But as I was writing my blog post about what would happen if Bridget Jones decided to train for and run a long-distance race, and given that the Ford fiasco has been on my mind this week, I asked myself: "What if Rob Ford were a runner?" And you know what? My hunch is, things might be a whole lot different.

The first, and perhaps most obvious one, is that Mr Ford would probably look a whole lot less like a beach ball in an ill-fitting suit, and his face would be less likely to tend to lean towards shades of red. It's no secret that Mr Ford has now admitted that he is being treated by a team of health professionals, and among all of the other issues they are probably contending with, his blood pressure and weight are probably two concerns.

I know Mr Ford is a busy man, but if he were to get into the practice of heading out for a jog around the block when he felt like things were getting overwhelming, he might not be as likely to lose it or speak off the cuff as he has been. It's no secret that running, or even walking, and getting out of doors are great ways to clear your mind. After a run, you're more likely to feel less stressed and in a positive state of mind. Who needs drugs when you have endorphins?

There's also something intensely gratifying about setting a goal and accomplishing it. Even if it were just to run in the next GoodLife 5k race, Mr Ford would have something to take his mind off the daily grind and to look forward to. And once he crossed that finish, he'd probably feel a massive sense of having accomplished something good - not to mention the satisfaction of being a role model to children and adults throughout the city and beyond.

With running comes another spinoff benefit, which is the fact of being surrounded by a community of other positive individuals with similar goals and healthy lifestyles - somewhat different than perhaps the individuals with whom Mr Ford has been consorting. And what I've found is that when you belong to that positive community, it forms a collective, encouraging and positive network. Long runs become opportunities to talk through issues with friends, and often the greatest insight or clarity is gained while out on one of these runs.

Healthy lifestyles go beyond simply numbers on a scale or trim figures - they're about a positive mindset, goalsetting and communities. And running is one of the best ways that I know to enact a healthy and positive lifestyle.

Now I know - Rob Ford tried getting healthy during the Cut the Waist challenge last year, and did actually say he'd been running around the track and "eating like a rabbit." Just look at him in this photo announcing his Cut the Waist challenge: he looks the happiest he's looked in some time.

Who knows what could have happened if he'd stuck to the plan? He'd have felt better about himself, would have been more positive and energetic, would have inspired children and adults, along with his colleagues, and would have felt like he was part of a healthy, active community and a role model.

One can only wonder how he felt about quitting instead.

And if food seemed to be his issue, as seems to be the case from interviews with him, then running certainly wasn't going to help him feel less hungry, although with the right diet plan he'd manage ok. Evidently, even at that stage, there was more going on beneath the surface than simply wanting to be in shape or not...Even, perhaps, addictive behaviour with respect to food and eating.

As I said, this post is somewhat presumptuous (I'm by no means a doctor or a psychiatrist or even a personal trainer) and in some ways tongue in cheek. Mr Ford obviously has a host of deep-seeded issues that cannot be erased simply by heading for a run around the block. But the point is, if he'd stuck to the healthy regimen he'd committed to last year, perhaps at the very least he'd be better able to deal with some of the issues that have happened of late.



NaNoBloPoMo (Nov 14): What if Bridget Jones were a runner...

This week I picked up and finished reading Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy. It was great reconnecting with her after so long, although I can't believe it's been nearly 20 years since the first book was published. But despite being 51 in the book, widowed with two kids (Mark Darcy, sadly, died in an accident as an aids worker in a war-torn country), she's still the same kooky character to which many women can relate to, with the same insecurities, foibles and questions about life.

There were a few things I couldn't believe, however:
- The sheer volume of calories the woman consumes in one day - sometimes ingesting 4,000 to 5,000 calories in one day!
- The amount of shredded cheese the woman can eat - sometimes eating two bags in one night. I mean really?
- The ease with which she seems to be able to drop 40 pounds, simply by going to a diet clinic and despite her binge-like eating habits. Not to mention, the fact that she rarely seems to work out (Zumba and yoga classes are sprinkled sparsely throughout her regime). And then she keeps them off!

But what really hit home with me was that Bridget's story is like that of so many mothers who I know - widowed or not. With two kids at home with busy school and social demands, not to mention trying to get her screenplay written and published and find a man, it's no wonder Bridget can't seem to fit in a fitness class.

I was going to say that if Bridget decided to train for a long-distance race, I'm not sure how long she'd last. Her lifestyle has never been exactly healthy or active (number of martinis consumed: 7, number of minutes on exercise bike, which is serving as clothes horse, 0, number of hours spent obsessing about whether should join marathon training group: 5).

But then again, no matter the challenge, she always does manage to get it done - whether covering up after a silly gaffe when she was a reporter, or getting her screen play picked up and produced (even though she'd spelled the main character's name, which is based on a historical character, wrong ever since pitching the idea) or even just ensuring that her children are well-balanced and happy despite having lost their father and despite feeling like she's going to fall apart at the seams - she always manages to pull through. If she decided to train for a marathon, she'd probably end up crossing that finish line, although perhaps not upright and smiling, and perhaps not without ingesting a bunch of grated cheese during the training process.

We relate to Bridget precisely because her inner monologue and uncertainties mirror ours so well. Like her, the modern woman (whether a mother or not) is trying to balance so many things - career, love life, active lifestyle, technology, fashion, children, friends and social calendar...Sometimes, it really does feel like a bit too much (see my previous post on my failure to keep up with NaNoBloPoMo - and I don't even have kids!).

That's why I am always so amazed by the women who I meet who commit themselves to a long-distance running program, despite having kids at home. For them, those long runs are an opportunity to get out of the house for an hour or two and focus on themselves. I don't know how they do it, let alone making sure their children are well taken care of.

It's also why I know so many women who are long-distance runners feel the pressure to get their marathons in and qualify for Boston before they have kids, because once they do have a family, it will be that much more difficult for them to get out the door for those runs.

Since we don't have kids and don't (yet) have a dog, I realize I am blessed with a flexible and open schedule - and still, I find it difficult to fit everything in. So for those mothers who do manage to do it, whether it's running a 5k race or a marathon or qualifying for Boston, I salute you!


NaNoBloPoMo (Nov 13): Failing miserably at NaNoBloPoMo...Or am I? The jammed cat theory of NaNoBloPoMo

I remember a few years ago, I signed up for a Yoga Journal challenge to meditate practice yoga daily. An ambitious plan, but I figured if I could do it (along with a hectic work schedule, regular runs and fitness classes), then surely I would become a more zen person, filled with ethereal lightness and zenness. Not to mention that the daily stretching would help ease my tight runners' muscles.

I think I lasted a week.

At first, buoyed by my resolve, it seemed easy to fit it all in. And after three or four days of meditation, it did seem to be getting easier to clear and focus my mind. There was even one exceptional day where I remember sitting cross-legged, listening to the meditation track and aware of everything around and within me, my breath through my nose...Being, and aware of my being, but not thinking. It's an experience I rarely get during meditation, but when I do, I am filled with awe and yes, almost lightness.

But then within a few days, having missed the morning's meditation, I found myself shutting my office door at lunch to meditate. Then rushing home and upstairs to fit in the yoga practice before (or after) a run or other workout.

I remember complaining to a work friend about my inability to fit it all in and commit to the Yoga Journal schedule, and I remember her chuckling and saying, "Then why are you doing this to yourself?"

Her lighthearted but honest comment made me realize two things:

1) if it was stressing me out, then clearly the experience wasn't having the beneficial impact I had hoped it would. Better to practice yoga a few times a week and enjoy it, than be stressed out about trying to be relaxed;
2) the only person who was putting these insane expectations on me was - ME. Like so often in running, I (and many type-A personalities who often, coincidentally, tend to be long-distance runners) set a high bar for myself. But often, life gets in the way. At the end of the day, no one else is going to be disappointed by the fact that I only ran 20ish kilometres at 6:20 this week, or that I only blogged three times instead of 7.

That said, as Marnie McBean writes in her book The Power of More, part of the success of professional athletes is their desire to always push themselves a little more and never settle on contentment.

The trick, says McBean, is to hover between both poles - satisfaction with our successes while at the same time striving for more and the next challenge (something she calls the "jammed cat" theory - since a cat always lands on its feet but a piece of toast will always fall on its jammed side...So a jammed cat will always spin between both sides, in theory).

Anyways, long story short, the same seems to have happened to my wonderful NaNoBloPoMo resolution. I've been struggling ever since I signed on to this challenge (of my own volition, I might add). But it's not like I've cleared out more time in my schedule to write more. It's really no wonder that I can't keep up, what a busy work schedule (which, incidentally, involves daily blogging or blog editing), rigorous fitness class schedule and trips to the mountains with hubby or local hiking on weekends.

But the point is, I'm still here, blogging my little heart away, trying to catch up on four days' worth of posts. Some of them will be short and hastily written, but every so often, one of them may hit a chord with other readers. And after all, the point of this exercise is to write. And write I will!

How's your NaNoBloPoMo going? I want to know!



Tuesday, November 12, 2013

NaNoBloPoMo (Nov 12): Today was a turtle kind of day...

Tonight's run after work was a toughie, probably because of yesterday's mountain climb and perhaps because I didn't hydrate enough. Suffice it to say, while I could usually easily manage a 1mile run in less than 30 minutes, that wasn't the case today. My calves were stiff and extremely painful, and even though I felt like I was keeping up a fairly decent pace, I soon slowed to a minute slower per kilometre than last week's Tuesday run.

I managed a very slow 4.6 kilometre run but it was a toughie, sprinkled with a few short walks to stretch things out.

At the end of the day I chalked it up to it just being one of those days where I feel like a turtle rather than a red wolf...

I'm not worried though - there will be other days, other runs!


NaNoBloPoMo (Nov 11) Remembering why we are able to climb mountains and enjoy the view

Yesterday my husband and I were in Banff, Alberta on a mini-vacation together. As we're still new to the province and the mountains are so close, we decided to take advantage of the three-day holiday to do a little exploring together.

Our initial plan had been to hike to the Agnes Tea House at Lake Louise, but once the Parks Canada rep told us there was a risk of avalanches this year, we decided to change our plans at the last minute. Instead, we opted for the Tunnel Mountain hike.

Based on my reading of the map, this was rated as an easy hike targeted at all levels. Imagine our surprise, then, when the trail started at a steep, snowy incline, and kept on going up...and up...and up, switching back and forth along the mountainside until we were so high if you looked too fast you'd get vertigo.

We made it to the summit after about an hour and a bit, having stopped for multiple photo opps - the view was that breathtaking. I'd been carrying a 10lb backpack with fluids and extra clothing, so I'd found the climb a little challenging and spent much of it out of breath.

But the climb to the top was well worth it, with views of mountain-ringed valleys on either side and Banff Village far below. On one of the mountain peaks across the way, you could see snow being blown off the top in white whisps. Even though the winds were cold up there, we stood there for long moments just soaking in the view.

It was by far the best hike we'd ever been on together. Standing there at the top of the mountain, surrounded by other towering peaks, I could hardly believe that this is where we live now. We felt miles, even countries away.

The climb back down was perhaps just as difficult, with snow and ice making us having to watch our footing and me landing on my behind a few times. Back at the car, we took another look at the map again, only to find that what we'd thought was an easy hike was actually rated moderate. We'd travelled almost 5 kilometres round trip in about two hours and climbed 1,650 metres.

By the end of the day, we left Banff feeling infinitely grateful that we lived in a province where these kinds of experiences are just an hour and a half away from home.

Reflecting on it today, I also felt grateful that my husband and I are not only healthy enough to be able to tackle what really was a relatively challenging hike, but also that we live in a country where we have the freedom to have such experiences.

It brought to mind a book I recently read, I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafsai. In it, Malala describes how she, her father and her classmates received threats for even heading out on a picnic together. The girls were accused of unseemly behaviour, and we all know how her tale continues, with Malala being shot for even demanding that she and her female classmates have an education, let alone being allowed to have picnics without fear.

All the more telling, then, that our hike occurred on Remembrance Day - a day marked to recognize the sacrifices of the brave women and men (like my grandfather, who cycled to an airplane factory each night during the war to build planes, and whose roof was blown off when a bomb landed in the front yard one night while my father, at two or three years old, slept in a drawer under the cupboard as a makeshift bomb shelter) who fought for us to have the freedom we enjoy today.

How lucky we are, here in Canada, to be able to walk up a mountainside with no fear, and to be able to stand at its summit surrounded by unimaginable beauty.

For that freedom, I am infinely grateful.


NaNoBloPoMo (Nov 10) Even the pros have their down days

I've often blogged about my highs and lows in running. In fact, both my first and second marathon included long stretches where I wondered to myself whether I was ready; whether I'd overtrained; whether I'd under-trained; whether I was having an off day; whether I should quit.

This weekend, a colleague and fellow runner forwarded me this article by Staten Island runner Mike Cassidy, whose PB for a full marathon is somewhere around 2:18. Cassidy's article speaks honestly and openly about his self-doubt halfway through the race, where he asks virtually the same questions that I've often asked myself mid-race.

Cassidy's story drove home to me that even though our times may be hours apart, our minds as runners are more alike than I'd ever imagined. It gave me the confidence to believe that more than any training, it's the mental games that I as an amateur long-distance runner need to recognize and overcome, come next race day -which I am still hoping will be next February for the Calgary Hypo Half!

What strategies do you use to overcome your mental self-doubt during a race? Let me know here!

Happy running,


Saturday, November 9, 2013

NaNoBloPoMo (Nov 9): Wild things..Keeping encounters with nature safe while running

I remember a run one wintry day in Halifax a few years ago...We were exiting Point Pleasant Park and I looked up...And there, circling with its wings spread out wide, white head stretching out from a black body, was a bald eagle.

As someone who had spent most of my life in Ontario, to see a bald eagle in flight above an urban area seemed nothing more than mystical, particularly knowing that they had come close to extinction due to pesticides. But colleagues at my work who were familiar with the nature of the city assured me it was quite normal for Halifax. What to them was commonplace seemed to me extraordinary.

But that's about as wild as it got in Halifax over the course of five and a half years, beyond the songbirds who visited our birdfeeder and who I soon learned to identify. Despite news reports of coyotes nearby Spryfield, a panicked deer in downtown Halifax and a moose on the loose in Clayton Park, I never encountered them myself. Even on trips to the interior of Kejimkujik National Park, about the wildest creatures I ever encountered were loons...lots of them.

In contrast, since moving to Alberta, we've already spotted:

- catbird
- heron
- muskrat
- cedar waxwing
- red-tailed hawk
- white-tailed deer
- pronghorn (at Waterton Lakes National Park)
- snake of an unidentified species
- elk (at Waterton Lakes National Park)
- black bear (also at Waterton)
- mallard

...and today...a coyote!

We were driving out of town, passing a lake on our right, and there it was - seemingly at home in the middle of the ice, laying down and scratching itself like a dog. Unaware that my husband and I had stopped our car in the middle of a busy street to get out and stare at it, it got up and walked to a hole in the ice to drink.

It seemed like something more suited to the wilds than the middle of a suburban development. But although we and another family stopped and stared at it in awe, it continued lapping water, completely unabashed.

I stood there in awe - this was the first time I'd ever seen a live coyote. I was fascinated by its thick tail and pointy snout. But in the back of my mind, I also remembered the attacks in Nova Scotia by what have recently been identified as coywolves - a new species, some scientists say, which seems more aggressive and less fearful of humans than traditional coyotes. That species does not seem to have occurred in western Canada, however.

All of a sudden, despite myself, I grew a little more wary of running around town at night on my own, knowing that such a wild creature is living among us.

I suppose it's a reality of living near the foothills of the Rockies now - we're more likely to encounter large, wide-ranging mammals than elsewhere (one of the nature reserves we recently visited, just 20 kilometres from our home, had warnings of cougar sightings). And while I'm not a proponent of sensationalising these encounters, I did come across this article by Runner's World that offers some useful tips for animal encounters on your run.

If nothing more, it's a reminder to all of us to be vigilant on our runs and aware of our surroundings - whether in a downtown metropolitan area or on a trail in the Rockies. After all, encounters with nature are not to be feared, but rather celebrated - so long as we remain safe and aware.

As always, stay safe and warm out there, fellow runners!


#NaNoWriBloMo (Nov 8) How to know what to wear on a winter run?

This Tuesday was a long day, with the launch of a blog for my day job. By the end of the day, my mind and body were spent. But I knew that once I got outside for a run, I'd feel that much better. So that's just what I did. 

As runners, we quickly become watchers of weather - The Weather Network is usually bookmarked on our desktops, because it's the first thing we check before deciding what to wear, especially on a winter run.

I've learned over the years to discount the temperature reading and go straight to the windchill - because even if it's -1 without the wind, once that -10 windchill hits you, you'll wish you had a few extra layers on. But on this particular run, TWN read 1 degree without a windchill, so I decided to wear a long-sleeved running shirt, tank top and crop pants, along with mitts and a headband.

At first, I felt fine. But soon enough, my hands started aching from the cold, and I could feel it seeping through the thin wicking material of my sweater. Thankfully, I only had a few kilometres left to go, and I pushed my pace up to a tempo so I could make it home sooner while at the same time warming up a little more due to the faster pace.

It was obvious though that by the time I got home, I'd made a mistake in my clothing choices. I rushed inside and bundled up into warm clothes and sat by the fire until my core temperature increased.

It's no secret that clothing choice is one of the most important decisions of any run, particularly in the winter. Wear too little, and you risk suffering from hypothermia if your core temperature drops too far. Wear too much (as I've also done), and you'll not only overheat, but eventually get too cold from the humidity in your clothes due to sweating.

So how to know just what to wear on a run on any particular day? Even though as I note above, I've made the occasional clothing mistake, here are a few tips I've learned over the years:

1. Layer, layer, layer: this one's not new. If you haven't heard about layering, then it's possible you've been running under a rock. Layering allows you to moderate your temperature along a run, depending on the elements (as anyone who's run in Halifax knows, a sunny warm day can quickly turn to rain and back), and your own body temperature changes.

2. Keep a running diary: when I first started winter running, I was more diligent about this, because I was learning what worked for me. After all, everyone's internal thermometer is different. I tend to be a warm runner, warming up a lot faster than my running buddies but also needing a layer less than them on most occasions. But I also cool off really fast too, especially after we're done. By keeping a running diary, I not only tracked my distance and pace, but also what clothes I wore on a particular day and what temperature it was - whether I needed to add or take off a layer depending on whether I felt cold or hot.

3. Dress for ambient temperature + 10 degrees C: I have found that once I start running, I'm able to wear clothes for 10 degrees warmer than the current temperature. So if it's 1 degrees C, then I dress for what I would be wearing at around 11 degrees - hence capris and a light long-sleeved running shirt on my run on Tuesday. Or if it's 11 degrees, then I'll probably wear a t-shirt or tank top and shorts, because that's what I would wear if I was walking around at 21 degrees. But again, each runner's internal thermometer is different, so for you it might be ambient temperature +7 degrees, etc.

4. Bring something warm for after the run: our bodies tend to cool down quickly after a winter run. So it's important to have a warm and dry ski jacket, hat and mitts to slip into after the run's over.

But if you're not sure, it's always better to wear a little more and strip off a layer if you do get too warm.  Dressing for the weather is something you'll only learn by going out there and running. And if you're really not sure, consider staying close to your home base and doing loops, in case you discover partway through your run that you've underdressed for the occasion. 

So what tips do you have for winter run clothing? 

Stay warm and safe out there, running friends!


Friday, November 8, 2013

#NaNoBloPoMo #4 (Nov 7): Dear Chip, I'm healthy, active...And my thighs rub together.

You know those kids who always got picked last to be on a team in schoolyard games? Well - that was me, in elementary school. The time would come to pick players on a team and the numbers would dwindle down till it was just me - the shortest girl in the class - and most often, the shortest boy next to me. Don't ask me where this came from but there seemed to be this stigma surrounding height that meant that the shorter you were, the lower down on the team picking totem pole you wound up.

So I never tried out for the track and field teams, and never considered myself an athlete, despite my involvement in a wide range of recreational sports lessons -  including swimming, gymnastics, soccer, karate or skating lessons from as early as I remember. In fact there came a point where my parents told me I had to choose - because although I wanted to do it all, I couldn't.

Then, on to high school, where I tried out for the volleyball team, once. I wasn't picked - and still I believed it was because I was too short to reach the net and block (little did I know that some volleyball players are picked precisely because they are short and powerful). But the next year, I joined the dance troupe and signed up for dance as a credit. For some reason, it didn't matter that I was short - I had a natural connection to music and rhythm, and movement came naturally to me.

Being small also meant that I could be tossed around and lifted by some of the boys in the group, so I was chosen for some of the lead roles in our rendition of Cats, jumping backwards into the arms of a boy I liked from the back of a ladder. As a gymnast, I was small, strong and powerful - although terribly afraid of heights and not exactly talented.

But in dance class and in the recreational competitive gymnastics club I joined, no matter how short I was, I was never small enough. For a couple of months, we had a dancer from the National Ballet come to class and teach us. There I was at the bar, sucking in my butt and stomach as far as I could, but it never failed - each day, the teacher yelled at me - "Christine, rentre ton derrière!"

It didn't help that the required uniform for dancers and gymnasts was skin-tight leotards, so that each roll and bump showed through. I remember being mortified to have to dance in a silver unitard in front of the whole high school, feeling like every imperfection was on display.

Soon, I was minimizing the food I was taking in, not exactly counting calories but developing a distaste for food. And the amount of time I spent working out increased, drastically, trying to burn off the calories and look fit. Dance each day for an hour, then aerobics at lunch, then either gymnastics for another couple of hours and/or track running/weights and swimming. I wouldn't say I was anorexic. But the possibility was there, at the back of my mind. It became an obsession (I once estimated that I was probably working out more than 20 hours a week, and I was by no means a professional athlete).

And still, I was never small enough.

In university, I joined the competitive dance team. I loved going to practice each week, learning new routines. I loved performing and competing.

As a team, everyone got along well - we spent so many hours together and traveled to Florida for an international competition. But secretly, we were all watching each other, measuring ourselves against the others. I'll never forget the day I overheard one of the girls from the group - who also happened to be an Ottawa Roughrider cheerleader - commenting on the curve of my back and how it created horizontal folds in my back. I weighed 113 pounds - those lines were always going to be there, no matter what I weighed, but seeing the cheerleader's scrutiny hurt, and only served to fuel my insecurities.

It's no secret that dancers and gymnasts have unhealthy relationships to food and their body image - let alone most women I know. Looking back, I see that I was just one more young girl who fell prey to these effects.

I'd like to say that I've healed. With time, I've come to like my curves, although I still never quite feel small enough. I'm at a healthy weight now, but I'd still like to lose 10 pounds. I know what my ideal weight is, but I don't know if I'll ever be there. I watch "How to Look Good Naked," and I wonder if my brain is adding on invisible pounds that no one else can see.

It's obvious that negative body image doggs me still, even though in my mind I know that I'm in pretty good shape and not overweight. And I now know that my height has nothing to do with whether I can be an athlete or run fast.

So when I hear of Chip Wilson saying that some women can't wear his pants because their thighs rub together, I get angry. I'll admit it - I've bought products from Lulu Lemon. I've paid exorbitant amounts for running tights and yoga tops, because they are durable and good quality, because it was a Canadian company and because I'll be honest - I was inspired by the company's ethos of healthy and active living. I've even reviewed some of their products here.

But a couple of years ago, an article by Slate magazine about the right-leaning messages behind the "Who is John Galt?" bags caught my attention. I didn't boycott the company altogether, but I wondered whether there was a disconnect between the company's manifesto and its owner's personal ethos.

And then this week, this report that Chip Wilson claims that some women should not wear his yoga pants because their thighs rub got my attention. Actually, it got me angry.

Really, Chip? How does this contribute to helping women develop a positive body image through active living? Not only does this do exactly the opposite, but it perpetuates the unhealthy behaviours I and so many women have struggled with all our lives.

And you know what, Chip? I'm five feet and 120 pounds, and active - working out 1-2 or even 3 hours a day about five times a week. I think I'm a size four or six in your store. My thighs touch. Even at my lightest, most active (back in my crazy high school workout days), my thighs touched.

Maybe that makes me ineligible to wear your pants, but maybe...It makes your brand ineligible to be worn by me.

Unfortunately, I now find myself with several articles of Lulu clothing that are part of my workout regime - not because of the brand but because I just can't affort to throw them out and buy new ones. I'm not sure what I'm going to do about that, but I'm seriously thinking that I will not be returning to a store that will only serve to foster my insecurities further.

In the end, that probably means I'll end up saving quite a bit of money buying clothes that aren't as ridiculously priced. So thanks for that, Chip. Really.

How do you feel about all of this, readers? I want to know!


Thursday, November 7, 2013

#NaNoBloPoMo #3 (Nov 6) Oh the things you'll see!

One of the things that I love about running is all of the things you'll see when you're out and about. It's a great way to people watch (and I'm sure people enjoy watching me struggle along some of my runs). At the same time, you're bound to see things on your runs that you won't see if you're holed up at home in front of the TV.

Sure, sometimes you get so into a run that you don't realize what's around you - and I've been startled quite a few times by the sound of a horn blaring or a dog barking at me, only then noticing that I hadn't been paying to my surroundings.

But if you do take the time to look around, you may see the most amazing things. Sometimes, I even find that bringing my camera with me forces me to slow down and actually look at what's around me.

In the last few weeks since starting to run again, here are a few things that I've seen on my runs:

- a red-tailed hawk perched on the top of a yellowing aspen
- mallards and seagulls floating in the lake
- Halloween decorations of varying degrees of scariness
- spectacular sunsets reflecting in clouds
- a skin of ice forming on the lake
- fall trees mirrored in glassy waters
- a rainbow of trees - all the same species, but five different shades, all within feet of each other
- skeletons made out of plastic milk jugs
- the sun setting like a pumpkin over McKenzie Towne
- dogs running with their owners
- kids climbing trees
- a toddler with no socks and no pants crossing the road with no parent in sight (I circled the block to make sure he was ok and his mom ended up outside)
- other runners enjoying their runs
- drivers talking on their cell-phones and not watching where they were going
- dogs barking to each other from across their yards
- Canada geese heading south in a V
- and so much more!

See something neat on your run? Send me a message on Twitter and tag it with #seenonmyrun. I'll share it here!


#NaNoBloPoMo Post #2 (Nov 5) - I've been blogging...Just not here!

Aah! Bad #NaNoBloPoMoer! No sooner have I signed on to this challenge, fully determined to stay on track (although I signed on three days late), than I am once again behind!

As it happens, I have been blogging - just not here! This Tuesday I launched - the new blog of my employer, the Nature Conservancy of Canada. It's a project that's been months in the making, and certainly my experiences on this blog have helped inspire me for this new project. But it meant that at the end of Tuesday, my brain was fried and the last thing I needed was more blogging!

That said, the launch went super well and I'm excited to see it continue. At first, I thought as it's a nature and conservation blog, there might not be a lot of cross-over with content on this blog, except...

Many of the natural areas we are able to run in are there because of the people who believed in the importance of conserving them. In fact, conservation areas/nature reserves/parks allow us to escape from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives and clear our minds - whether running, walking or sitting on a blanket soaking in the sun.

I reacently interviewed a trail runner from Calgary for an upcoming piece in OptiMYz magazine about winter running in Calgary. He and his trail runners go out about twice a week to nature trails near Calgary. He talked to me about how he enjoys being on a trail in the winter after a fresh snowfall, where he's the first one making tracks on the snow. How peaceful it is. None of those areas would be available for him to make tracks in if there weren't groups and individuals out there who believe that we should protect some of our natural areas - both for the species that live in them as well as for the health and well-being of humans.

Conservation provides ample opportunities for recreation and healthy living, and allows us spectacular areas to run in.

So there you have it - a quick #NaNoBloPoMo post, and a conservation+running mashup (one day when I have the time I might tease out those connections even more!).

One down, two more to go to get back on track!

Happy writing, NaNoBloPoMoers!


Monday, November 4, 2013

It's NaNoBloPoMo!

I jst discovered this morning that it's NaNoBloPoMo! If you're a writer, you may have heard of NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month). But I'd never heard of NaNoBloPoMo until this morning (bad blogger, me!).

Anyways, since I've found that I like a challenge, and that writing every day forces me to write, be creative, and more to the point write fast, I've signed up - four days late! So today's going to be a day of playing catchup so I can get on schedule with the rest of the NaNoBloPoMoers.

Thankfully, since I've started running again, I now have something to write about again, too! And having to write every day in this space will hopefully help keep me on track with my winter race goal: the 2014 Calgary Hypo Half.

I'm feeling good about running again (minus a tight left Achilles' heel and right IT band, which I am realizing are just part and parcel of running - getting used to those tight muscles and aches and pain). But I'm back on schedule again. Actually, I'm a couple of weeks ahead of schedule, and feeling good.

So here's to a happy NaNoBloPoMo, fellow run bloggers! And happy start of winter training!

Stay safe and warm out there on those icy streets, fellow Calgary runners!