taken from theoatmeal.com I saw this comic a few months back, replace hornets with snowflakes and you have my sentiments.

Yesterday morning as I trudged in a semi-conscious state to Starbucks, it hit me. Ugh winter is coming. It literally hit me in the form of a blast of cold air from the Canal. Earlier this week I talked about how I love fall. What a pretty season!

We are now in that part of the season when I change my mind and say “Screw it, I prefer spring – it gets warmer not colder as the season progresses.” I am grudgingly packing up my shorts and sundresses, keeping the tank tops only because they can be layered, and the thick sweaters and long pants are coming back from the dungeon. I shake my fist at the sky every time a grey cloud rolls in, just in case it’s carrying snow. I brought up my boots Monday, and this morning asked Google to remind me to find my headband when I got home.

Normally all of this would signal the commencement of Operation Grizzly (a.k.a. the 5-6 month period I camp out in my house sipping hot chocolate and Baileys in sweats talking about how much I can’t wait for spring). Problem is that I signed up for Ottawa Race Weekend’s 40th Half-Marathon. Which I’m super excited for. Especially since this year my mom and I convinced my dad to do it. Problem with this decision? It means that the bulk of my training will occur during the coldest and darkest parts of the year. So when it’s minus 30 with the wind chill, I will be running. On Sundays when it’s not even light out, I will be running. Or on my way to the Running Room. Let’s just hope it’s at least up by the time I get back or I might cry. Full on ugly cry.

Why yes, there are icicles on my brother's eyelashes. Yes, he did do this for "fun" He actually tried to convince me to do it this year too, but this particular race involves running in circles around a golf course. And they don't call it the Hypothermic Half for nothing.

Why yes, there are icicles on my brother’s eyelashes. Yes, he did do this for “fun” He actually tried to convince me to do it this year too, but this particular race involves running in circles around a golf course. And they don’t call it the Hypothermic Half for nothing.

In an attempt to ease my suffering, or at least not make it worse by essentially learning to run again in the middle of winter, Omar and I agreed to push each other to show up to Run Club every Sunday. I then skipped the next three weeks, though in my defense, one of them I was injured, the second I relocated Run Club to the treadmill in my parents’ basement, and the third I went, just not in the right city. The theory behind our clever plan is that as the distances increase, unless you keep up a fairly intense running schedule, it’ll be too nuts, thus I am forced to keep up an active run schedule.

Great plan right?

Yeah in theory, but walking over the Laurier bridge yesterday morning I thought “nope, nope, nope, nope, with a side of hell no.” I had thought of a run, but ugh it’s too cold! At about -2°C, I had already decided it was too cold. I reasoned that I wouldn’t normally run Fridays, and I had already run twice this week, but that excuse is invalid today and Sunday. It is going to be a long winter folks. Very long indeed.

taken from theoatmeal.com I saw this comic a few months back, replace hornets with snowflakes and you have my sentiments.

taken from theoatmeal.com
I saw this comic a few months back, replace hornets with snowflakes and you have my sentiments.

When I think of the five worst episodes of physical activity, most of them occur in the winter. In fact the only bad episode may have been my first run in temperatures above 25°C when I was unprepared for the effects of humid heat on my cardiovascular system. But there are ways around the heat, run earlier and it’s not so bad; take off a few layers and run in the basics, even better. In the winter, life just sucks.

Exhibit A: the time my brother invited me to go skating. I ended up a giant bruise (that’s right I didn’t have bruises, I had so many I had become a bruise), and because I lean on my ankles when I skate, I had blisters that were so bad it took three weeks to heal.

Then there was the time I walked for a week doped up on Tylenol with tissues in my pocket because I had such a bad cold that I couldn’t breathe but was determined to train.

First year was apparently just a bad year all around for me. Probably because after my first half-marathon I became a very lazy half-marathoner, only going out when there were near ideal conditions, or at least only when nothing falling from the sky and the temperature was above hell frozen over. I remember training for my first half-marathon, at the time I was pretty hard-core about it – if my schedule said go out, I went out. One day in particular I’m recalling, it was cold enough that there was still a lot of snow on the ground, and if my memory serves me correctly this was somewhere around late February. So it was supposed to be winter. It was pouring rain. There were 4-inch puddles on the sidewalk, and there was so much rain that the puddles actually stretched across all 5 lanes on Laurier at Elgin. Reasonable to not go right? I still went. I fell ass-over-tea-kettle before I even made it out of the residence parking lot. I fell at least three more times on the 3 kilometer loop I was doing.

Also that year? The day my brother Cory and I went out for 16k in the freezing rain. He called me in the morning to check that I still wanted to go, it was going to be ten below with 50km/h winds, and the possibility of freezing rain. I rationed that it wasn’t that cold, and if it was that cold, it couldn’t rain, plus the forecast said there was only a 30% chance of precipitation. He dutifully showed up and I put on every layer of dry-fit I owned. Turns out I was very wrong. Very, very wrong. It was freezing, by the tenth kilometer I couldn’t feel my feet, which was probably good because my socks had become soaked sponges, but it is hard to walk when you can’t feel your feet. It was every bit as windy as the weather had said it was going to be. By 12k, it had started to rain. Which didn’t seem physically possibly given the current temperature, which was approximately ten below too cold. We stopped at this point for coffee and stood quietly in the corner dripping, convincing ourselves that we had to get back somehow. After getting puddle splashed around kilometer 15, I was begging for mercy while my brother jibbed me about skipping out on the last 2 kilometers we would be missing off the 18 kilometers we had originally planned. I told him to bite my frozen ass.

I have proof that this was a thing. A cold miserable thing.

I have proof that this was a thing. A cold miserable thing.

Moral of the stories: ice is dangerous, but did I really regret my decision to go out? No.

Second moral? Go for the run.

It is going to be a long and painful winter. This will be the first year I have remained active after each of my half-marathons, but I am committed to this whole being a runner thing. Which I guess means always being up for a run? And running at least 3 days a week year round, not just intensely for 4 months? I can do it, right?
I made it through the entire summer getting up at 7AM to run so I would be just slightly below internally boiling, at least this season sleeping in is almost preferable. On the upside, this week has presented near ideal temperatures, and given that I am not overheating, I have actually managed to shave between 15 and 20 seconds off my pace per kilometer. I guess this winter thing won’t be so bad. At least it won’t be raining? Upsides?

Worst case – as I told Doug during the Army Run, I’d better be getting Airmiles for all these trips to my happy place.

A handy tool no?

A handy tool no?

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Running, Eating, and Dog Tags

Me and my running newbie congratulate ourselves. Omar finished about 30 minutes faster than me, but stuck around in true Running Room fashion

This was a very, very exciting weekend for me. It all started Friday when I went to pick up my race kit for the 2013 Canada Army Run here in Ottawa. All day I saw people carrying the kits, it was incredible to see how many people in Ottawa were doing this great race. Especially since the race has more than tripled in size since its inaugural run in 2008, from 7000 to 22000 split between the 5K and half-marathon events. What’s better is what this event represents – honouring the currently and past serving soldiers. Everything about this run is army – at the sports expo/kit pick-up there were military tanks and trucks; the start was signaled by a canon; the shirts have camo on them; the medals, which are handed out by soldiers, are dog tags; and along the way cadets cheered the runners and walkers. Fifteen minutes before the regular start there was a special start – wheelchair and para-athletes lead the charge so to speak. It was truly an honour to be a part of this event.

Tanks

The trucks and tanks at kit pick-up/the expo

The trucks and tanks at kit pick-up/the expo

So Friday meant two things – race kit pick-up, where I got to meet John Stanton; and carb-loading, which came in the delicious form of penne alla vodka (don’t worry I tell you how to do it here). Saturday, it was rainy and miserable. And I was praying to every God out there that it stopped raining before 8AM the next day. But the rainy miserable weather, and you know, fall in general, gave me a great excuse to break out the slow-cooker and use up the rest of the apples from last weekend. This meant pork tenderloin with apples and smashed potatoes, and apple crumble pie. Let me tell you – it was fantastic. A totally food-gasmic start to the most exciting day of my year.

What better use of the newly painted chalk wall than to let everyone know I was excited?!

What better use of the newly painted chalk wall than to let everyone know I was excited?!

You know there's a half-marathon in town when suddenly there's 40 Port-a-Potties outside city hall...

You know there’s a half-marathon in town when suddenly there’s 40 Port-a-Potties outside city hall…

Everything about race weekend gets me excited. I even got a small joy out of the long lines of port-a-potties that were already set up Friday morning. Saturday afternoon, I was like a kid in the Build-a-Bear Workshop, where we went to get Hightop some army fatigues in honour of race day (Hightop is a race day tradition my mom and I started at the Niagara Falls Women’s Half). Sunday morning I was wiggling with excitement. Even as I attempted to make my smoothie with a food processor since I discovered Friday night my blender was broken, I was excited. Bouncing even. Remember that Porky Pig comparison? Yeah that’s exactly what my morning was like. After a few shameless selfies en route, I made my way into the corrals.

Runners Back

See - nothing but runners as far as I could see. A beautiful sight.

See – nothing but runners as far as I could see. A beautiful sight.

Fortunately within the corral it was A LOT warmer, since it was freezing this morning. There are few feelings that compare to the feeling of waiting in the starting corrals on race day. The awe that comes from seeing nothing but runners as far as you can see. And the fact that despite variations in lifestyle, fitness level, career, age, whatever have you, this massive group of people forms a community, we are all in it together, even if we don’t know each other. Out for a run a few weeks ago, I kid you not, a runner on the other side of a 4 lane road waved to me.

Yes that’s a runner thing.

So is going out in the pouring rain/sleet/snow/cold because “It’s distance day. I can’t skip distance day.” Also on the crazy list? The fact that Wednesdays I run up and down the same hill multiple times. What can I say. You can’t skip hills day.

I am new to this “runner” thing. Before this weekend I had done three half marathons. Toronto Goodlife, Ottawa Race Weekend, and most recently, the Niagara Falls Women’s Half-Marathon. Each had its ups and downs. Mostly ups. Pun intended. But I walked them. Key word there? BUT.

21.1 Kilometers is a long way to go. Unless you’re driving. Then you have no real reason to brag unless you’re 16 and learning to drive (I once balked at my dad telling me to go faster than 10km/h in an EMPTY parking lot). And I constantly downplay it. Fact is that I walk as fast as some people run. And I do it for almost 3 hours. And I love it.

When I finished Ottawa Race Weekend, I finished next to last in my age/gender category. This was a wake-up call of sorts for me. I started telling myself I should be a runner. How was I so slow for my age?

I let that take away from the fact that I had just done something incredible.

The concept of RUNNING a half-marathon seemed beyond my reach. I put runners on a pedestal and watched them in awe.

What finally triggered me to get out and run? Last September I went and cheered my brother while he ran the Army Run. Afterwards, I saw his dog-tag medal and decided I needed one. So yeah I chose my first running goal based on the medal. I generally do them for the swag bag anyways so this wasn’t a stretch.

All winter I struggled. It was too cold for a run (I got a gym membership and cancelled it after a week). The roads were too slippery (I bought traction grips for my shoes and ended up returning them). I had class (I brought my running gear so I could go between classes but then reasoned that my boyfriend wouldn’t watch my stuff or I didn’t want to go to class sweaty). In my defense it was a horrible winter.

Translation: I let life get in the way.

After the Niagara Falls Women’s I had to kick it into high gear to train for the Army Run, technically I was already a week behind the schedule. My first distance run sucked. It was pouring rain. I literally came back dripping with water pooling in my sleeves. The second Sunday run was better, but I struggled to push myself to the 9 kilometer mark. Third week, I decided to take my brother’s advice, and you know, actually follow through on a plan (albeit this plan was hatched 10 months earlier), and I went to the Running Room.

I fretted, what if they were rude? Or cliquey? What if it turned out I wasn’t able to keep up with them? What if? Just kept repeating over and over and over again in my head. Always followed by some disappointing or self-depreciating assumption.

But I ignored those thoughts – reassured myself that if they turned out to be mean, rude, or whatever other problem arose, I could always never go again.

What happened? I went with a slower group, unsure of myself, and they turned out to be great! They were all several years older than me, and thus we were at different life stages but that didn’t matter – we were joined by the love of running. The group was slower than I really wanted to go, so the next week I decided to go with the faster group. And I never looked back.

Every Sunday I faithfully woke at 6:15AM, made a smoothie and a breakfast pita. And while there was usually this tiny part of me that begged to just sleep in. Or at least begged for the coffee I always skipped Sundays in the interest of staying properly hydrated pre-run. I don’t regret a thing. I met some of the most amazing people I have ever known in my life. The most supportive people you could hope for, none perhaps more supportive than Doug. Race day, I was struggling, and despite the fact that I told him I was going to have to walk a lot, and repeatedly begging him to go on without me, he stuck by my side. That is, everything that the Running Room represents for me – people who truly care about one another, and want to help encourage each other. They NEVER leave anyone behind. EVER. It’s the golden rule of Run Club. And they never make you feel bad about it either.

This is a small segment of my Running Family before the start of the run. They're kind of awesome.

This is a small segment of my Running Family before the start of the run. They’re kind of awesome.

On Race Day I had a lot of time on my hands to think, a very small part of me thought of all the things I had to do afterwards, but mostly I thought of the experience of becoming a runner and what that meant to me and why I did it and will continue to do it.

It really is incredible to me how far I’ve come since the few scattered and slow runs in May. In four months I went from barely able to run between street lights, to able to run 5K comfortably, to running a half-marathon. I did what I thought was impossible.

The first few runs I really wondered what screw came loose in my head that made me WANT to do this, and think I COULD do it. “This” being run a half marathon/run 5 days, and “it” being not dying in the process. Now, I am addicted. Running is a part of who I am. I came to hate rest days because I wanted to run.

About three weeks ago I damaged the Soleus muscle (calf) and had to take a full week off, and while I started running again the day before, I had to skip the last distance day before Race Day. This was the run I had most been looking forward to – it was a race route replicate. But having a still tender ankle and having taken off 5 days I figured if I wanted to be able to run on Race Day, I had to skip it. And sleeping in felt weird. I was grouchy beyond grouchy the whole week, and despite spending the week limping around, I wanted to run.

A lot of people don’t get why runners run if it ends in injury. Why I want to run even if I can barely walk. Why do I run though?

Because I am tired without my runs. And grouchy.

Because I love the feeling of pushing my body to the limits

Because I love being so in tune with every muscle, every beat of my heart, every breath I take.

Because it makes me feel good about myself. It makes me feel strong and proud.

Because I want to be around for a long time – I want a long and happy life.

Because when I run I come alive.

Because running gives me time to think and break away from whatever stresses are waiting for me back at home.

Because running has taught me the difference between CAN’T and DON’T WANT TO – I know I can do anything, I just have to push.

And most importantly – Because I am addicted to dry fit.

Ok, that last one I was only sort of kidding. But seriously, I spend more on dry fit than I ever would on normal clothing. I think nothing of a $200 pair of running shoes, and a $30 dry fit top feels like a steal. Take me to the mall though and I will pretty much refuse to buy any pair of shoes more expensive than $40 and if a t-shirt costs more than $15 I deem it overpriced. I can’t help it.

The run did not go as planned. Not by a long shot. By kilometer 9 I had encountered “The Blerch” (check out The Oatmeal’s comic for an explanation of The Blerch). So kilometers 9 to 13 I struggled with my inner wimp’s desire to give up. For those of you wondering – no at kilometer 13 I did not suddenly conquer the Blerch, instead I hit a pot hole, twisting my knee, so the last 8 kilometers really were a head game. A battle royale between my will to continue and the desire to give up and wave down a medic. But I pushed on because I knew my family was waiting for me at the finish line. I didn’t drag them all the way downtown just so I could wheel up on a golf cart with a DNC (Did not complete). So I pushed on. Even if it meant running half a kilometer, walking half a kilometer.

My parents met me at the finish with Hightop, everyone thought I ran with a stuffed rabbit the whole way. Which is way less impressive than the guys that ran with a flag and tire respectively.

My parents met me at the finish with Hightop, everyone thought I ran with a stuffed rabbit the whole way. Which is way less impressive than the guys that ran with a flag and tire respectively.

I finished about 10 minutes slower than my goal time, and came out of the finishers area excited, but complaining about how I didn’t finish in goal time. My brother, the only other runner in my family, laughed and said “See! You get it now! You finish a race and are instantly thinking of what you are going to do better in the next one! You can’t even just be happy you finished this one!” And he’s tragically right. Which is doubly sad because when I was a walker I idolized the runners, and thought that I SHOULD be running, then I ran, and said I SHOULD have run faster. So basically, I appear to be some sort of self-depreciating nut bar who can’t just be proud of her accomplishments. I swear I was overjoyed at the finish line though. It really was a surreal feeling crossing the finish line and I am still proud of all my past achievements. I just can’t wait for the next one. I don’t look down on myself, I look forward to the me I could me. The me I know I can be.

Me and my running newbie congratulate ourselves. Omar finished about 30 minutes faster than me, but stuck around in true Running Room fashion

Me and my running newbie congratulate ourselves. Omar finished about 30 minutes faster than me, but stuck around in true Running Room fashion

This year really seems to have become about breaking down the I-could-never’s and the I-did’s. I never thought I could write a blog, and here we are. I never thought I could run a half-marathon and here I am, with an IT band injury and a dog tag medal. I should probably remember these things when I start my grad school applications and think “I can’t” or “I won’t make it” fact is – I’ve conquered some pretty crazy stuff in my life, I have accomplished so much that I never thought I would. And thus with dog tag in hand, it’s time to find a new crazy goal.

The medal I wanted so bad in all its glory.

The medal I wanted so bad in all its glory.

Maybe I should aim higher? Like climbing Mount Everest?

First and Last Days in the Big Small Town

Here we are. The end of the last long weekend of the summer. Labour Day marks the unofficial end to summer, and despite the fact that summer doesn’t officially end until September 22, the leaves are already changing so it looks like Mother Nature is on board with this. Where exactly the summer went I couldn’t tell you. It was lost in a sea of research and playing with puppies. Spent running and baking and loving. But here we are.

^ This is me every September.

Dylan's first day of Grade 1! When he grew up is as big a mystery as where my summer went...

Dylan’s first day of Grade 1! When he grew up is as big a mystery as where my summer went…

It was Dylan’s first day so of course Aunt Niki HAD to come!

Shortly after I completed the Niagara Falls Women’s Half-Marathon, I made the leap to go to the Run Club at the Running Room on Merivale. I was new to the running thing, afraid that I wouldn’t fit in, or that somehow they would see beyond my snug dry-fit, tightly laced running shoes, and newly charged Garmin watch and see that I wasn’t one of them.

I was a walker. Not a runner. Reality check? If they did see, they didn’t care, or maybe – just MAYBE – the instant I had made the decision to run and laced up I became a runner.

I have met some fantastic people there, really encouraging and enthusiastic people. The kind of non-competitive people who are eager to share their knowledge, and newbies like me, who are eager to hear their words of wisdom. The kind of people that congratulate you every week, because when you’re training for your first half, every Sunday is a new personal best distance. It’s honestly an experience I would recommend to anyone who is nervous about starting running, or wants to get active by walking. With all distance and skill levels present it’s easy to find a group to go with that will fit your goals.

NCC Experimental Farm Trail (One of my favourites from Run Club)  For more trails in Ottawa go to http://www.ontariotrails.on.ca/trails-a-z/search

NCC Experimental Farm Trail (One of my favourites from Run Club)
For more trails in Ottawa go to http://www.ontariotrails.on.ca/trails-a-z/search

I also found some amazing areas of the city that I did not even know existed. Ottawa has over 300 kilometers of hiking and biking trails. To put that in perspective, I could almost drive from my house in Barrhaven to Nippising University in North Bay. I could also go from Ottawa to Montreal and about half way back. These trails run through parks I didn’t know we had, along the beautiful Rideau Canal, through the experimental farms. You don’t even feel like you are in a city at some points. In the winter many people will skate to work on the world’s longest outdoor skating rink. Where else can you do that?!

Running you see all parts of the city, the good, the bad, and the hilly. But that’s what I love about this city – its diversity both of scenery and landscape and of the people. I love the parks and farms that remind me of home, and the pavement and bright lights that are the big city. Ever since moving to Ottawa I have described it as a big small town. The kind of place that is big enough to have all the amazing benefits of a big city – the vibrant night life, the diverse cuisine and population, a rich job market, good health care options including a bounty of specialists. But the parks and trails make it feel like a smaller town than it is.

For the last three years Ottawa has been judged to be the most desirable place in the country to live according to Money Sense Magazine. And despite its horrible weather, and occasionally unreliable transit system, I can see why.

I come from a fairly small town, big cities actually FRIGHTENED me first year. It was the reason I didn’t even apply at the University of Toronto for my undergraduate degree. First year I grumbled about the lack of sleep from the traffic on the highway off-ramp my room faced in residence. Now, when I go home, I can’t sleep because it’s too quiet. I love the hum of the city, the feeling of life when you’re in the downtown core. This city is alive, the possibilities excite me.

Fill 'er up! Where's a politician when you need one?!

Fill ‘er up! Where’s a politician when you need one?!

Hot Air Balloons on the way to Run Club

Hot Air Balloons on the way to Run Club

Driving to Run Club this morning I saw hot air balloons being inflated on Woodroffe Avenue. I ran through a park where they were setting up for a folk festival. We ran past the first year Ravens registering and moving into the Carleton University residences. And through a park where children playing in the sprinklers. I get that this all sounds incredibly nostalgic and cheesy. And I’m cool with that. I like cheese.

It’s just that days like this remind me how much I love this city.

It is potentially my last year in this beautiful city and I am determined to enjoy it. I want to visit all the museums, go to Oktoberfest, experience New Years Eve downtown, go to that quirky art exhibit downtown, watch the buskers in the Market, visit the local farms, and of course, run the beautiful trails.

It’s going to be a busy year, school will chew up a massive chunk of my time and energy. And call me nerdy, but I am glad to be back to school because it means I will be back in the core of the city, I will be riding the buses, and learning so many new things, I will be investigating and writing, and reading. And this is the kind of excitement I try to hold onto come midterm season. But I am excited for all the possibilities. Even if all I discover is a new coffee shop to hang out at that potentially has more seats and outlets than the campus Starbucks.

Right. Like that’s going to happen in downtown. Maybe I’ll settle for trying that little Mexican restaurant on Elgin.