Friday, December 31, 2010

And I was Content...

It's the end of 2010 and of course a blog wouldn't be complete without the obligatory "end of year" run-down that we all do. However, mine is slightly different... (It's me, it would have to be!)

Today I had to get photo's taken for a new passport. Being a UK ex-pat in Canada, this is not as simple as it may seem. No quick jaunt to the drugstore, I have to drive 30 mins to a specialist photo place that specifically deals in UK Passport photo's.

As I was driving there (and back), alone in the car (a rare occurrence), I had time to reflect not just on this year but maybe further back. It was 10 years ago I last had my passport photo taken and I was thinking on who I was, what I was and how I must have been feeling when those last photo's were taken.

I was in my late 20's. I had been recently married and I had no kids. We owned a house, 2 cars and everything we owned was white, clean, undamaged and from IKEA. I had never been outside the UK for any time longer than one week and I had a technical job in a Network Company which was unusual for a woman and higher paid than I had a right to expect. I was not long out of college, all my friends were male and I had no life experience that really counted. I was 15 pounds heavier, did no real exercise, drank too much and kept such bizarre working hours, I had periods where I didn't see daylight for months. I had plans to visit abroad and perhaps live there, but they were dreams and nothing I really had any idea on how to achieve. I had plans but nothing to base it on.

If you told me 10 years ago the things I would do, where I would go and the life I would have, I would have laughed at you before buying you another drink. Clearly we would be in a pub and you would be drunk but not quite drunk enough.

So here I am, 10 years on; getting another passport photo. This time, I require make-up to hide the tiredness and a little hair colour to mask the greys, but essentially I haven't changed. However, I am not sure I can quite say my life had turned out as I would have planned.

I am still married, (something you always aim for on your wedding day, but not necessarily achieve). Not only am I still married 10 years on, but I still love my husband. I still admire him and appreciate him. I still have to stop and remind myself that I am lucky I have managed to spend my life with this loving, generous and intelligent person. Okay, he pisses me off occassionally, but I am fairly sure there are moments he has to bite his tongue and walk away from me too!

I have not only visited other countries, but I have lived in them. I have seen bears, beavers, racoons, eagles, koalas, kangaroo's, deadly spiders, ibis, gum-trees, mountains full of conifers and strange flowers that look like they have come from a sci-fi flick. Three international moves in 4 years was NEVER on my life plan. Three international moves with Children - okay, now we would have been in cuckoo land. I am not sure I would have had the confidence in myself to contemplate one international move, but in the last two cases, organise them myself.

I have children - something I NEVER expected. Don't get me wrong; family was something I had considered, but I always thought my buggered reproductive system would have negated that, instead of creating a home-run on the first attempt. (I have a feeling that the New Years alcohol is creating a TMI situation here!) :D

Having a child who has his own difficulties would not have been there either. Don't get me wrong I love D to bits, but I don't think there is a parent out there who honestly says to themselves at the moment of conception, "We are going to have a kid who can't handle the world as we see it and we will need to battle for everything to enable him to cope!". Truly, if "A day in the life of a Kindergarten special-needs Kid" was a course in the High School, you would find teenage pregnancies down to an all-time low and a huge rise in condom sales. Constant team-meetings with resource co-ordinators, teaching aides, teachers, principals, Behavioural consultants, Interventionists, Occupational therapists, speech therapists and social care workers was not on my list of things I wanted to do. Do I want to do them now? Hell NO. Will I do them? Of course and I will be glad for anything and everything that is offered to me.

Would I have been happy 10 years ago to know I would have spent 6 years out of the workforce? Not really. A "Stay-at-home Mum" (SAHM), was not a job title I aspired to. It was something that a 1950's woman did, not an educated woman in the 21st century. Saying that - would I change it? No. Don't get me wrong, there are days, nay, weeks where I wish I could. There is only so much you can talk about Pokemon, clean up poop, cook meals and run errands. I am lucky however, that I have the chance to spend time with a child that challenges me in more ways than one. He is smart, funny and too vocal for his own good. If I had to spend my days in a house with a kid that only wanted to watch "spiderman" all day, okay, I may concede, a "SAHM" would not be on my list of career choices. But my kid wants to learn about atoms and space. He makes me watch youtube movies about the "large hadron collider" and viruses. I have had to learn to keep up with him. He challenges me in so many ways I cannot be anything but grateful that he is who he is.

Could I have ever have imagined a time where I would choose someone else over my Mum, Dad and sister? When my Mother died this year, I painfully but gladly chose my son over the rest of my family. I knew that here was the best place for him. I know that is what is meant to happen, but ten years ago, my choice would have been very different.

If it wasn't for my life as a SAHM, then I wouldn't have been able to experience other challenges. To not only be able to have a chance to get fit and healthy, but a chance to promote it. I have learnt (if you can do that) to run. Run with nothing on my feet. I have not only run 13 miles, but I have run 13 miles more than once. I am looking now to run further. I know now that if I had to, I could turn around on a moments notice and run into downtown Vancouver from the suburbs. I look at a map when I have to drive somewhere new and catch myself thinking.. "I could run that.. easy!". I have learnt to swim and as I counted myself a land animal for 37 years, this isn't a small feat. I have contemplated new sports, new events, new distances, for no other reason but "I haven't tried that yet".

I have female friends - again, something I never thought I could do. I not only have female friends, but I have friends all over the world. There aren't that many countries in the world where I do not know someone there, (even if it maybe through current acquaintances) - how amazing is that? Over half of my facebook friends are people I have never met. These are people I know, like and admire; people who I speak to on a daily basis and know me better than I know myself sometimes; yet I have never met them. Ten years ago could I have said that?

So as I was driving back from Fraser Valley I took a moment to actually examine where I was. I was looking at the snowy Coast Mountains, overlooking the agricultural plains and the North American farms that were whizzing past. Driving on the "wrong side" of the road, behind Cadillacs and Dodge Caravans. Seeing the rail-road and the slow moving trains with 50 freight cars being pulled behind. Examining the American-esque roadsigns and evaluating the wooden slatted buildings that housed coffee-shops, burger bars and pancake houses.

I found that when I took a moment to fully immerse myself in that moment, the one word that came to mind was "Content". My life hasn't been what I planned. It's had hurdles that I would not have anticipated. Choices I would not have wanted to make. I have had to make career and life choices that would not be ideal in the mind of a Twenty-something "know-it-all". But as I glanced down at my new passport photo's whilst waiting at the red light, I did at that moment feel content.

Now that is not a bad way to end the year...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Thoughtful reflections on broken friendships

*HICK* Yep, before I start this post, I will admit I have had a couple glasses of wine.. So be prepared. There maybe some teary moments and LOT's of spelling and grammatical errors. To all those who love the mistakes, get your red pen ready, you have some marking to do!

Oh, yeah, this ain't running related either, so all those who are only interested in my running "sans shoes", go get a cup of tea and meet me next week..

I have just read a fantastic post by one of my "FaceBook" friends, (a.k.a people I actually like but maybe haven't met - at least not in a long while), about letting go of relationships - in fact friendships. I won't reference her blog post because she is a private person and like me, probably hopes as few people read what she has to say and those that do are like-minded.

She was talking about letting go of "poisonous relationships" and how we need to be true to ourselves. Yep, before you ask, I have had a couple glasses of wine, so forgive me for being deep. It happens occasionally - really it does!

It led me to remembering a number of friendships of mine that have gone "sour" in the past and how sometimes breaking strong relationships can actually make you grow as a person and although is a negative in the beginning, it leads to stronger bonds in the future.

It has only happened a few times and although initially it was painful, I am now grateful for the break.

My first friendship that I broke was with my best friend at the age of 17. Looking back I am not sure how it really happened, (I think it was over a guy and my inability to recoginse social cues). However, it broke me deeply. She was my copy, we stayed over at each others houses, we used to talk to each other till 2AM, either via phone or in person. We were so in-sync we could finish each others sentences. It was almost freaky. Then somehow it went wrong. I remember being heartbroken for the first time in my life and for a little while it destroyed me. I made the decision to distance the friendship. She moved, I found a boyfriend and then we almost forgot each other. It took me years to recover.

Years later after a few emails in-between we finally hook-up on facebook and although the interaction is probably small to what it used to be, it seemed familiar. After, Twenty years, I think we found we haven't moved too far apart. Okay, our life-styles are different; she's married- no kids; I am married with a kooky kid, despite this, I can still see that connection. It's not as in-sync as it used to be, but yep, I think deep down we still think on the same wave-lengths. It's comforting to think that friends are friends no matter what. I like the person she is, I am so glad that we have become friends again. She makes me smile, she is intelligent and she is fun. It's good.

Last year I had to break another deep relationship. Our friendship was forged on being in a strange country, with kids and no family. We moved within a week apart and after a couple of months she was one of my best friends and we clung to each other, like drowning sailors probably cling to the same life-bouy. A couple of years later, my little family made the decision to move to Australia and our friendship, due to distance, began to fade.

On our decision to move back to Vancouver, I think the relationship began to be strained. She was never happy in Canada and the thought that we would make a decision to actually come-back was abhorrent. Initially I think this wasn't an issue, but after she made a visit back to the UK, I think my decision to choose my little family over my parents in the UK rubbed a nerve. Coupled with issues with my Son that I think she felt was my fault instead of the Autism he was later diagnosed with, our relationship failed. I am not sure she truly believed D had mild Autism and that his behaviour was due to my parenting.

I had weeks, months even, of not understanding her behaviour. Times where I would double-check what I was doing because I believed it was my fault I was upsetting her, although now I think it's because of my decisions. I would be in tears because I couldn't understand how I had turned into this un-sympathetic monster she had portrayed.

Eventually, I couldn't handle the upset and strife, especially with everything else that was going on. I knew that there was nothing I could say or do that would make anything right in her eye's, so I backed off. We didn't have play-dates or meet-ups. We didn't get together and all telephone conversations were strained.

She left in the Summer to go back to the UK, which is what she wanted all along. I have to admit at the end I was relieved. I haven't had much contact since. In the last 6 months since she has left, D has come on leaps and bounds. He goes to school, he controls himself and he is free to be himself. Is it because I am a better parent? Has my parenting style changed? Nope, I have just not had the negative influence to doubt myself. I got him the help he needed. I have just begun to believe in myself - that I knew what I was doing. It turns out, I did.

Am I now sad that my recent BFF relationship failed? No. Seeing the decisions I have made outside of her influence, I am grateful I stood up to be myself. That I went the way of what I thought was best for my family. Even now, despite losing my Mother, despite being so far-away from my family, I know that my Son is doing so much better here than he ever would have done in the UK. It hurts, but I know in the long run, going against her opinions has meant my son will have a better life.

I am hoping that in the future our friendship will go back; not to being as close as it was; but to a point where we can be happy for each other and we respect the differences in our parenting. I am not sure it will happen, but I hope.

On looking back on those friendships I am grateful for many things. I am grateful for Friendships that are broken, but through time are re-forged. I am grateful for the friends I have. Those that love me and accept the decisions I make. They may not agree with them, but their advice is constructive, not destructive. I am grateful for friendships that are made with no real physical presence. Sometimes those that get to know us best are those that see us when we rant and rave in the internet-ether. There are no judgements.

Ultimately I am glad that I managed to stand firm in my decisions. That I trusted my little family and I made decisions best for them. To see my little family grow and thrive because they are themselves is the greatest present I could have. I know I realised this early on, but I am glad to be reminded that, being myself, openly and accepting my critics, is ultimately the best thing I can do for myself and those I love. It's the best lesson I can teach my Son.

Yep, a very thoughtful post - normal, nonchalant, wonton rudeness will commence again next week!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Forgive me Barefooters, for I have sinned..

(Not quite my actual boots; my boots are funkier, sexier, cooler, but regardless they turned on me!)

It has been months, maybe years since I last wore shoes with a heel. I have been good, I have ensured I have only trodden on the path of no heel-toe drop. Not one inch of increased height have I succumbed to...

Until, that is, last week. I am not sure how it happened. I looked at my flat, no heel winter boots. They were warm, waterproof, black, shiny; they were comfortable and a style I am always attracted to. However, despite the warmth and comfort, I realised they are boring. I no longer found excitement in them.

So as I wondered around the Mall; dazzled by the Christmas lights and blinded by decorations, I saw THEM. They were furry, they were funky, they weren't waterproof, they weren't sensible and they were seriously fun. They also had a heel height of about 2 inches. I was lulled. Two inches, I mean, what is two inches in this modern society? A society that forgives people who wear 6 inch heels that look knitting needles. A society that believes you are abnormal if you don't keep your feet in cotton wool and stuffing as you run a few miles. Cute and sexy sells - that is what we are brought up with... It's easy to see why I would be enticed...

I am a barefooter - A couple of inches should be nothing. My feet are strong! But for a few moments, I was weak in soul; I wasn't thinking and before I knew it, I had purchased them.

*Hang head in shame*

The thrill of wearing them was immense. I felt cute and sexy. I didn't feel like a freak who could only wear shoes that looked like they belonged to my grandmother. Okay, I looked like a 4 year old who was putting on her mother shoes. I tottered around, thinking I was the coolest thing since umm... lime green popsicals. I walked with a wiggle (admittedly it was more from a lack of balance). I couldn't run; everytime I tried I looked like a drunken duck. Heck, I could barely walk, but still they were new and shiny..

However, I have begun to learn my lesson. After a week, I have felt the pains that is associated when you go against your nature. I have felt the aches in my legs, the pains in my feet, the blisters on my toes. I carried on - the only person I was hurting was me.. no-one would know. No-one else would be suffer the bunions...

Today, though, I have come to realise, that I am not born to live this wonton life of heels. Over the last couple of days, I have felt the pain in my heel bones that I thought had heeled. The nagging fracture strains I developed the last time I accepted the lies and fables told by the shoe industry. Initially I tried to blame it on the change in the weather, but I can't deny it any longer. It's the shoes. My beloved new boots that promised sexiness have turned against me. They didn't love me, they just wanted to hurt me.

So fellow barefooters, please forgive me for my transgression. I have learnt my lesson; I have come to realise the errors in my ways. I have been brought back into the fold and adhere to the ways of the barefooter. No heel-toe drop, no thick soles, no funky heels.

I shall gladly pay my penance, please tell me what I can do to somehow repay the disappointment you must feel. My only condition; it doesn't involve anything to do with Barefoot Ken Bob Thongs. I am not sure, despite the severity of my faults, that I have the mental fortitude for that!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Education and Anonymity

My Facebook friend and fellow barefoot/minimalist runner, Jason Rollibard from the "Barefoot Running University", wrote an interesting blog, which I reading this morning over my usual bowl of Cheerios and tea. (Yep the Paleo Diet is gong great, thanks... *cough*) Don't get me wrong this isn't the ONLY interesting article Jason has ever written, Jason ALWAYS writes interesting articles. Phew.. did I get away with that? :D

Jason is a "leading" light in the Barefoot running community. He was one of the "Guru's" I sought advice from when I decided to dump the conventional running shoes well over 18 months ago and without his advice (and other's like TJ, Victor and a whole host of others from Runner's World on-line), I would have started my minimalist running career with more pain and greater disappointment than most. He quite rightly has gone one to be quite famous in a geeky/nerdy kind of way. Okay, that sounded better in my head than it did as I was typing it.. ;)

So I was contemplating the article as I was tearing salami for the pizza I was making. Only Jason can tell you, if this is a comforting thought. Is thinking of his article as I deliberately destroyed sausage meat which was destined to be cooked in a hot oven for 20 mins a comforting thought? I can see the restraining order with my name on it, being prepared as I finish this sentence.

His blog post was about his new working relationship with Merrell and the conflict of interest it creates. As he was explaining both his interest in Merrell and his conflict, I could both empathise and in some ways rejoice that I am not in his position.

His take on the educational aspect of his new role with Merrell is welcome news to my ears. For a long time I have been concerned about the sudden, perhaps even fad-like interest in Minimal/Barefoot running. I am glad that there is more awareness and acceptance, but I do get worried that people will just take off their shoes and run without realising that when you do take off 2+ inches from the heel of your running shoes, you have to re-learn the art of running. It's not an easy or pain-free transition for most. A lot of the injuries caused by Barefoot running that are cited by the professionals, I am sure are caused by un-informed runners doing "too-much-too-soon". Anything that promotes the education of
"How to run Barefoot or Minimalist" has to to be a good thing in my book. Whenever I am asked about how to run in Minimalist shoes or Barefoot, the two sentences I say are; "Go slowly" and "Read before you do". I know that's not going to stop people watching me and thinking it is easy to do. After a while running with little or nothing on your feet is easy; but initially, trust me it's painful, literally!

I am trying to get this across in my own little ways. Wether it's via BRS, or the random questions I get via the running club or those in the coffee shop. In Canada we are a little behind the trend in the US, so this gives me time to contemplate my responses to the inevitable questions. If Jason and his fellow counterparts from the Barefoot running community can make my life easier in the long run, then "hail to ya!".. Go for it; I like the easy life! (Not something I should put on my CV probably).

The second part of his post about the conflict of interest his job with Merrell causes, made me very grateful. He was unsure about how his new relationship would conflict with his other role of testing new minimal shoes that come onto the market; especially in this case the new Merrell minimal shoes due in the Spring. Why am I grateful? I am a nobody and I rejoice in this.

Luckily I don't have the issue that I am world-class athlete or someone who is an innovator in new, (or in this case old) techniques. No-one is interested in my opinion on a commercial level. I was talking to another friend of mine, Jesse Scott, the other day about how great it was to be one of the "people in the back of the crowd". Jesse, however, despite what he may think, won't be one of the unknowns; he is such a fantastic runner that I would be surprised if he stays un-noticed for long. Yet, at the moment, we are both enjoying our little slice of anonymity. It is great that what we say isn't analysised or reflected on. We can be the fool and "pull funny faces" behind those more worthy of attention without anyone realising. We can be goofy, silly and say the most outrageous remarks without having to contemplate who is listening. We know that whoever is listening to us, has the same mentality as us. It's fantastic!

I have always maintained that I would rather buy my own clothes/shoes/gadgets/whatever and be able to say what they were really like without having to think carefully about what I was going to say or how it would be interpreted. Even from my day's in IT, I revelled in the freedom of being able to say, "No offence, BUT...", before providing a diatribe worthy of.. well, someone more eloquent than me. I don't do "political conversation"; probably the reason I was kept in the "back-room" and given limited interaction with customers..:)

I am glad I have a little bit of cyber-space where I can rant and rage against whoever I feel like. I like that the people who read this probably have the same ideology as me, so won't get offended. I find it comforting that nothing I say will be taken as offensive. After re-reading this I am not sure if most of my readers will not be offended. Think like me!?! Okay, I can see why some people might be offended.. :) I would be offended too, if I wasn't me and I hadn't had two glasses of wine. *hick*; you could call me anything now and I wouldn't mind.

So in reflection; education.. GOOOOOD, infamy... BAD!... :) Not that everything I do or say is infamous, but let's just say that it's probably a good thing my part of cyberspace is very, very small. :D Carry on the good work Jason, just ensure you send me the links to the relevant articles - searching for them seems like hard work to me! ;)

Monday, December 6, 2010

My new Winter Running BFF!

So let me introduce you to my new winter running friends. They are warm and soft. They love to run the trails and despite a few little teething troubles, we have worked through our issues and now I honestly think we have a solid friendship going. My friends are called the "Smithie's". All will become apparent soon.

I needed something for the winter. The Five Fingers have a fatal flaw in their design. Separated toes. They sap the warmth out of your feet before you even start. If they get wet they are even worse. If this makes no sense then just ask yourself, "Which is warmer, gloves or mittens?" Mittens will always win. Closed-toe shoes will always be warmer than the VFF's.

So my first attempt at creating a pair of minimalist winter running shoes was a little bit of a fail. Okay, a huge fail. They were based on an old pair of tan converse trainers I had and I nicknamed them the "Tennant's". (All those from the geek squad are killing themselves laughing now - Angie.. I know who you are!). Like I mentioned they were a fail and after a very unsuccessful first outing they were abandoned quicker than a smelly doggie-doo into the garbage bin.

So my second attempt revolved around a cheap pair of aqua-socks I picked up from our local MEC store. (It's an outdoor equipment store similar to REI if you are south-side of the parallel). I ran a few run's in them and knew that as far as warmth went, these shoes were onto a winner. I rejoiced, I danced, I laughed at the feeling I had in my toes - something I haven't been used to for a while in my VFF's. As for durability, well, I admit.. it wasn't great. The socks were made out of neoprene so after about 15 miles they were getting trashed quite badly. This, however, did not have me disheartened. There was a reason I was the "fix-it Queen" when I worked in IT. NO, it wasn't the "bodge-it-together Queen", although with me it's very hard to differentiate those two.

So back to MEC for some barge cement. I also raided my son's sand table and picked up a plate of sand. I lathered the bottom of the aqua-sock in barge cement and then as the cement was drying dipped it in Sand. This was for traction. I was going to be running some wet trails and I wanted a little extra traction. They are surprisingly grippy, although I don't expect that to last too long. On roads the sand will last longer.

After a few run's I also used the worn sand as an indication as to place an extra layer of Barge cement/sand mixture. Mainly on the midfoot area. It's not so much for cushioning, but as I run gravel trails, there will always be more wear in these area's. If I was running on asphalt I probably would find that the wear would be minimal.

As you can see they collapse pretty well on themselves. They aren't perfect, but hey, they are a pair of wetsuit socks and some glue - have some patience please :D. The ground-feel wasn't fantastic initially, but as the neoprene begins to collapse on the sole, the ground feel is getting better. Despite this, they are still remarkably warm. The whole glove vs. mittens ethos. Closed toe will ALWAYS be warmer.

I did find I had to wear socks underneath; the injinini toe-socks are the best. There is a lot of movement within the aqua-sock and as I was running trails I was finding the aqua-socks were rubbing the top part of my foot a lot and causing blisters. There is no way of tightening the shoe, so preventing the rubbing is the next best thing. As for warmth, a thin pair of socks and the shoes were warm enough to deal with -6C/21F temps. They are great in the damp and seemed to keep my feet warm despite torrential freezing rain.

Cost fantastic. A pair of Terra Plana's or Sockwa's are anything between $60-$160. These were a princely sum of $22. You heard me! $22!! Twelve dollars for the shoes and Ten dollars for the glue!

So, my fellow runners, let me introduce the "Smithie's". As to the name, well if you are a Doctor Who fan then you would have guessed that they are named after the 11th Doctor; Matt Smith. The "Tennant's" were named after David Tennant; the 10th Doctor. He wore tan converse trainers whilst wearing a suit. Nerdy I know. Let's hope they last, because I don't really want to have to deal with either 1) a new Doctor, or 2) a new naming convention. I suppose he is a "Time Lord", perhaps the Mark III's will be the "Ecclestones" - Nah, sounds like a fruit cake! No, wait, that's me..:D

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Going Primal

So my running regime lately has been as erratic as the weather. Snow one minute, warm sunshine, then rain, then cold. The last few months have been so changeable that I haven't yet manage to sort out a running routine. My plans for running once a day have been scuppered by colds, kids and general grown-up stuff that has left me frustrated and frankly a little pee'd off.

Okay, so I am not the worlds most regimented athlete. (I am not even an athlete, so I have struck a dead-end with that already!) I do have a tendency to want to skip the run and hit the coffee shop instead. I mean, it's Vancouver and I don't know of one person in the Northern hemisphere who doesn't want to hole up somewhere warm and just forget the terrible weather outside. Even so,my running funk is now going beyond the occasional skipped run to an expanding waistline and a fridge empty of chocolate. I would like to say we have had an invasion of carb-hungry, cocoa withdrawn, junkie Christmas elves, but we all know they don't visit this time of year. Santa keeps them locked up at the North Pole rehab centre so they don't cause a scene with the kiddies. After all that business last year with the candy canes I don't blame him!

So this week I made a change to the whole training routine. No itinerary, no times, no distance. I was going to put on my hacked wetsuit aqua-socks and hit the trails. I was going to run as fast as I could for as long as I wanted. There would be no ipods, no watches, nothing. Just me, my crappy lungs, my spindly legs and my appalling dress sense.

The whole experience has left me realising I have had the whole training plan all wrong. I always maintained that I was only going to run when I wanted, but frankly needing to fill in so many miles a week just forced me to NOT do it. Now I don't even have a mileage plan. I have NO plan. In fact I am going so minimal in my running that fairly soon I probably will be leaving my feet at home because they are just an un-necessary addition that just ruins the whole experience!

So I have managed 3 trail runs this week. Each run was 5 miles and above and all in times I would never have tried for before. I literally did run as fast as I could. I would take the longer paths just because I could. I did hill-repeats because I felt like it. It was glorious, just feeling the continual motion of my legs, hearing my feet crunch the gravel, feeling my heart racing and feeling my lungs and muscles burning. I could feel the blood rushing around my body. Glory in the way all of my muscles connected with each other. Rejoice in endorphins reaching every cell. I had forgotten that running could be like this.

As I raced along, skipping over tree-roots and down the washed out banks, my mind cleared. I wasn't thinking of school meetings or therapists schedules. I wasn't singing along to music or playing air-drums. I went to another place. In fact I went primal. There was no conscious thought in what I was doing; it was like I had been transported thousands of years into the the past and I was hunting. I was chasing down other runners on the trail. Not to be quicker than them but just to catch them. Although I was wearing a pink skirt, winter leggings and a florescent jacket, I might as well have been carrying a spear for the way I felt. Lucky I wasn't carrying a spear, I would probably be up on a manslaughter charge about now!

There are times as runners we forget why we do this. We get lost in all of the schedules and goals. We monitor pace-times, gradients, distances and calorie expenditure, but we forget. Running isn't about being able to eat the 2nd chunk of chocolate from the fridge, it's connecting with our animal selves. We are creatures that are designed to hunt and chase. Until we realise and accept that, we can't experience the true enjoyment of the "hobby" we do. Oh and being able to have that second chunk of dairy-milk chocolate without the guilt, that's pretty good too.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Winter snow and a barefooting meetup

(A picture from my snowy trail run this weekend. It was meant to be a 3 mile road run, but then ended up being a 5 mile, road/trail mix. You can see why!)

So even in this comparatively tropical part of Canada, (well tropical compared to the rest of the country), we have had our first snow. A little earlythis year and it looks like the forecast that this year will be one of the snowiest on record will be true. This idea had filled me with dread. Winter running, in snow.. yuck. But as the snow starts to come down there is that little kid part of me that can't wait. Instead of my expected reaction, I want to run in the snow. I want to create barefoot snowy footprints and see how far I can go before my toes protest. It may only be 10 steps, but I so desperately want to try. Last year we didn't get snow and the year before I was only 6 months into minimalist running and I didn't want to try. This year I have decided to embrace the cold. I also have the incentive that other members of the Canadian chapter of BRS have a spreadsheet going on how long we can run in sub-zero (metric) temperatures. I am not a competitive person as such, but when the game is as wacky as thatone, I can't help but try!

This is a change-around from my previous post where I was lamenting my cold toes, but there is a reason for that. I have found a temporary solution to the winter running issue. Whilst in our local Outdoor equipment store, MEC, I found a cheap pair of aqua shoes. Aqua shoes/boots have been a stand-by for winter minimalist and barefoot runners for a long time. So a couple of days ago I gave them a go. Heaven. Cold, torrential, winter rain you have nothing on me now. HAHA, I laugh at your attempt to send me to the Emergency Room with Frostbite! Obviously there was alack of feel because.. well a pair of wool socks and aqua shoes aren't thin - but my feet were toasty. I rejoiced. I even tried them on a bit of easy trail. Great. I still have to be careful on roads/trail as there is NO grip on them what-so-ever in the wet, but that just makes road running more engaging. Try running 4 miles when you aren't sure ifthe next step is the one where you are going to go "arse-over-tit" as my Dad would say.

Let's just say I am excited.. Can you imagine the comic episodes arising from an unco-ordinated runner, running with soft shoes with NO grip in ice and snow? Get your popcorn ready, it's going to be one hell of a show!

In other news, I actually met up with a fellow Minimalist Runner for a race this weekend. An organised meet-up. One where the parties know each other!! When I say organised, Ireally mean, "We only decided two days ago to register". When I mean "The parties know each other", I really mean, "we know each other virtually, but have never actually met". Welcome to the world of Barefoot Running. We are so randomly dispersed that it's actually very rare if we know each other in real life. Of my 84 friends, probably half of them are barefoot runners. Of those Barefoot runners I haven't met a single one. Yet we know each other so well that we send Birthday Greetings and continual messages and jibes. I would like to think that we have a common bond binding us all together, however, we all accept, that the only ones we know who are as secretly Kooky as us are each other!

So today, I picked up Simon, a newish Minimalist Runner, for a 10K race. The Fall Classic. (The Half-Marathon at this event last year, was my first ever race in Minimalist shoes). His longest run"sans-shoes" was about 5K, so he was effectively doubling his mileage. Saying that, he has been running in his Vibrams for about 2months, so a little "caution to the wind" was allowed. I was his pacer and running coach today. Trying to give him handy hints and comment on his form. He was awesome and I was so proud of him. I could tell he was aching towards the end, but after a couple of friendly reminders his form picked up. I would say the only thing he needed to work on; which all new MR/BF runners have difficulty with, is his cadence. I always think, if you get your cadence right then a lot of the other form issues disappear. As soon as he increased his cadence from about 150ish to about 180, his posture straightened, his stride shortened, his landing became below his centre of gravity. It's amazing what a little tweak can do. He ran a pretty good pace too; especially as this was his longest minimalist run yet. We both finished (of course), at 1:04ish. Pretty good I thought, although I think he will feel it tomorrow. Good work Simon - you did an awesome job. Keep it up!

The snow hadn't vanished today. In fact the snow had thawed and frozen. The Race directors had laid rock-salt to melt the course. Unfortunately, the temperature had dropped about an hour before the race and rendered their best efforts redundant. The frozen snow, ice, rock-salt and wet road, along withtemperatures in the mid 20 degrees (about -3ish for those in metric), meant my plan for running the 10K barefoot was not possible. I ran in my wonderful aqua-shoes, (which it appears wereseriously trashed by the conditions) for the first 9K. At 9K, I decided to go ahead and run the last kilometre barefoot. If for no other reason, it was hilarious to see the stunned looks on the spectators. In fact the announcer at the finish just stared at me in shock as I crossed the line. I don't think he even managed to call my name. Fantastic. I probably could have managed another kilometre barefoot, but not much more. The combination of rock-salt, wet and cold really made my feet sting.

Simon was kind enough to take some photo's of me running barefoot. I have checked my photo album and there are very few photo's of me running Barefoot. Iknow why. I generally tend to run alone and it's pretty hard taking photo's of yourself whilst you are actually running. So here are the best ones. The smile isn't a smile; I think it's me silently cursing my stupidity for allowing my hobbit feet to hit the freezing pavement! Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cold Toes and running woes....

So first running woe... Let me shake my first and curse, "back to school colds". My son started Kindergarten this year and within a month the dreaded lurgi hit. Admittedly a cold would just hit and maybe derail you for say a few days. Not this bugger! A month, YES A MONTH, later and I think I have just about managed to get rid of the coughing part of the cold. So I have had a month of reduced running; just because I couldn't seem to go further than about a mile before I had to walk, cough like a 70 year old man and regurgitate something that would be classified top secret and placed in AREA51. I mean what have they been giving viruses these days? It's almost as if they have been drugged up, placed in an intensive training program and then given huge gunk guns for good measure!

Yep, it's also THAT time of year. The clocks have moved back and any hope of a warm, sunny day has pretty much left the building. It is also this time of year where most minimalist or barefoot runners (anywhere North of the tropics) start the whole dilemma.. "how I am going to keep running?"

I have been running with little or nothing on my feet for about 18 months now, and somehow I have managed to avoid this whole situation. Last year we had the freakiest warm winter weather. It broke records! There is a logical explanation as to why this happened. Why didn't we get the usually sleet/cold rain/frost? Forget about "Global warming", the explanation is a lot more sinister.... Our little corner of Canada was hosting the Winter Olympics. I mean come on. There is a whole sky full of deities and they have to have a laugh too. What a laugh; what a joke! Seeing the little humans ship in snow on trucks and trailers, so they could ski down a mountain on little sticks. If I had eternity to live in, then I would want to play the odd practical joke too.

So last year, I was running in Mid-February and there was cherry blossom on the trees. Not really a "frozen toe" crisis.

This year, the situation is completely different. In an effort to get the most of the practical joke, (It was a good one), they are prediciting the worst winter in 55 years for the North-west Pacific region. i.e. my little part of Canada! So what the heck am I going to do!!

I have poor circulation in my feet and already I am suffering from the cold-toes situation due to my funky toes. My toes already host one of those freaky horror side-shows that you get at the circus. "Roll up, Roll up... come and see them. Kate's toes. See how they stick out at odd angles, see how they seem to look at you regardless of where you are in the room. If you are pregnant, have a weak heart or you are under the age of 10, we advise you stay away!"

We aren't even at the end of Novemeber. The lack of sensitivity in my feet has meant that running trails is proving interesting. I am landing heavier because I can't "feel" my landing as well. Normally wouldn't be much of an issue on the roads as you can use the sound of the landing to help determine how you are landing. On trails, you can be landing like a 10 tonne Elephant and would still scare the squirrels. The trails here are ALL gravel... So there have been a few moments when I have had sworn enough to earn an Adult rating if I had passed by any local film classification employees!

What happens when the snows hit? I know, road running. I can hear you say it. Let me introduce you to the Vancouver city authorities. We had bad snow a couple of years back and that's when we found out how few snow-ploughs and salt-trucks there were. Only a few roads were cleared and then they were fairly slippy. As for the sidewalks? Where did you think all of the snow went? At one point I remember going to the local store in snow-shoes and pulling D in a sledge. I am not in the rural outskirts... we are talking mid-city here!

So I need another plan? I have already "informally" asked the local recreation center about running on their indoor track and I have been told that for "safety" reasons, everyone needs to wear "proper" athletic shoes. Yep, let's not even go there! I am going to challenge them on that point, but that may take a while. I have even considered asking the local indoor shopping malls, if I can run there before the stores open in the morning? Here the stores open at 10AM, so I could run about 40 mins before the mall get's busy. Anyone else have any other ideas?

Of course there is my trusted elliptical machine, the local aquafit classes and perhaps even some aerobic classes. Not quite the same as bearing my freaky toes, but....

Hey, I am wondering, do you think if I look up in the sky and tell the multitude of deities that I PROMISE to dress as a chicken whilst running, they will get a big enough laugh from that and give up on the whole winter snow idea?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hello Canada!!! We're open for Business!

Yep, BRS has hit Canada. To those who think BRS may stand for "British Royal Sausages", or "Batty Retired Socks", BRS actually stands for the "Barefoot Runners Society".

It has been active in the US for a year now and their membership is growing. Now they are branching out globally with Chapters of BRS in Australia, Germany and Norway. The Canadian Chapter opened this week and I was very proud to be asked to help run it.

If you are a Barefoot or Minimalist runner based in Canada, there is now a place where you can find like-minded people. So if you haven't already, head over to The Barefoot Runners Society and check out the site.

Then check out the Canadian chapter; we are always open, always ready for a beer and we definitely want to party with you!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The (Ex) Network Engineers project development guide for project "Halloween Costume"

Firstly, although unknown to most, a lot of project development ideas come from some "tinkering" previously done with no real goals. In this case it was a half-hearted attempt at a ladybug costume made on a rainy afternoon which was unfinished and left in the corner for months. The project was largely ignored and dismissed by well.. everyone.

Then out of the blue, came an unexpected "customer" request for a "special" Halloween costume. The project is hence-called "Dwarf Spotted Bulborb costume", or the "costume" for short. It's left-field, completely whacky and definitely unfeasible. This particular "customer" is an internal customer already known to the development team. "Five year old boy" (from here we will call him, "internal customer D") already has a reputation for asking the impossible and then immediately becoming bored with the idea once work has started. It was felt at this time, the request would be logged, but pretty much ignored. The likelihood that the project is ever going to amount to anything is small. There are better things to do. Best not to mention it again.

The unlikely happened. "Internal customerD" had not forgotten his previous project request and demands that it is followed through. After much re-iteration that the project is pretty much impossible, "Internal Customer D" blusters that it is essential to the working of the "family company". Without the"costume" the company will collapse after an extensive period of moaning, screaming and in the worst case scenario, throwing of toys. This was highly unlikely and the request was still refused. "Internal customer D" threatened to tell the current CEO of the company, "Granddad", about our unwillingness to consider the project. At this point the "Dwarf spotted Bulborb costume" project was the highest priority.

Negotiation immediately started on how to fund the project. Financing had to come internally and this meant cutting of other budgets. It was suggested that the "halloween party" budget was scaled down for this financial year to accommodate the new project. "Internal customer D" reminded the development team that this budget had already been agreed upon and cannot be cut for legal reasons. After much analysis it was determined that the project would be funded with the minimum that can could be scrapped from budgets, "Food", "bills" and "transport".

Now came the hiring of resources. "Dwarf Spotted Bulborb" is a legacy off-shoot from an old Nintendo game called "Pikmin". The game and consequently anything relating to the "costume" could not be sourced as a pre-existing product from the usual Halloween costume vendors; e.g. "toys'r'us", Zellers and "London Drugs". Therefore the whole project had to be developed in-house. Due to the legacy nature of "Pikmin", there were only two engineers in the "family company" that had any knowledge of "Dwarf Spotted Bulborb" and of those engineers, there was only one that had any crafting skills enabling project "costume" to go ahead. The engineer was currently working on projects, "Cooking", "cleaning", "Taxiing" and "bum wiping". The engineer was over-worked, underpaid and stressed. However, once it's confirmed that the project should take a day maybe two at the most, she agrees.

On examining the previous prototype it was felt that it would be unusable with the updated customer expectations. If the costume had to withstand maybe one party, then the previous project could be adapted. However, the new loading was now 3 perhaps 4 parties, one halloween skate and 2 hours of "trick and treating". The "costume" would also be needed throughout the year as well as being potentially used next year. Paper, string and glue were not up to the job. The job was serious and would require the finest materials. All that was available was left-over material from previous projects, thread found randomly in a cupboard and an old pillow. It was felt that there was justification to buy a sewing machine, however, the cheapest and consequently underpowered model was signed off from financing.

The engineer assigned had NO sewing machine skills, and there was no time or financial resources to send her on a training course. She could manage with the manual and some "on-hands experience".

As the project started it was clear that the engineers sewing skills were not to scratch, but as the initial work was going to be covered up with the fancy craft paintand glitter at the end, this wasn't much of a problem. As long as the product worked, how the seams looked, or how well the stitching held were not essential. As long as it looked pretty, then "Internal customer D" would be happy.

When the project progressed, the initial timeframe for completion was increased from 2 days to at least 5. The man-hours required per day were also increased, so in total the project was clearly under-resourced. The equipment budget also escalated as "internal customer D" kept making development requests and changes. Other budgets had to be cut, in fact to the point where the "family company" maybe required to downgrade the "food budget" to tinned beans and toast in the foreseeable future. The project clearly did not increase the companies stock-worth or create any new avenues of income. However it was a HUGE hit in the playground!

On completion of the project, it became apparent that the ONLY person who would understand the finished product would be "internal customer D" and as such a complex schematic of the what the product SHOULD look like had to be tagged to the "costume" as documentation, in case anyone asked the inevitable question; "What are you dressed as?"

Despite the haphazard development process, the "costume" held up well during the "3 parties, 1 halloween tea and the trick-or treating" load testing. There were a few issues with broken equipment, but these were easily solved with sticky tape and safety pins. After a little maintenance, it is clear, depsite the wishes of the development team, (who would like to see their work buried, never to see the light), that the "costume" will be around forever. In fact it is inevitable,that the project willbecome one of those legacy services that willstill be workingeven though, "Internal customer D" has outgrown the "costume" and attending parties holding beer!

As to whether a similar project will be allowed to proceed in the future. I think that depends on the forcefulness of the "internal customer D"'s arguments, and whether the development team is drunk enough to consider the future project.

For your reference, please see an attached photo of "costume" as project documentation.

and what it should have looked like!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

So what's the Swedish for "The redeeming race"?

I was going to go for the title "So what's the Swedish for "redemption""?", but that had too many biblical connotations and frankly the cold meds and wine is not a combination to start a theological discussion. Or maybe it is? No, wait.. it isn't..

Sorry it's taken so long to get the race report up, but shortly after the race, I ended up being "Sick Mamma" and then "sick Mamma with sick kid". I need to know, sick kids are meant to lounge on the couch, groaning, only moving to switch on a new TV show, right? Okay, need to send mine back to the Supermarket I brought him from; there's something wrong. I never known someone with that sort of temperature, causing so much destruction!

So last Sunday, I pulled myself out of bed at the usual stupid time of 5:30AM to run another trail half marathon. The second trail half in less than a month. I am not sure why I felt I had to verify my "trail-runner" status? I am not a competitive person as such. I run races for the atmosphere and personal achievement and not for the fact I beat X,Y and Z. I think I felt betrayed by my previous performance. As if, the race had phoned me up, drunk, at 11PM on a Friday night, to say, "You aren't the trail runner you think you are, *burp* oh and you're lousy in bed". It could also be the fact it was called "Rubber Ducky" and it was cheap. Actually that probably is closer to the truth..

So anyway, "yadda, yadda,.. etc", I got out of bed, ate breakfast, got changed and pulled the wine out of the fridge. The trail course this time was a LOT easier. No horrible mountains to climb, just a nice gravel trail to run around. Saying that, I am coming to the conclusion I hate gravel. As a minimalist runner, it's... well... painful. You can't avoid the rocks and no matter how hard you try, at some point your form will fail and you will swear louder than a sailor who has just reached port and found the women have gone on holiday.

I had decided that this time I was going to run the race in "kittyK" fashion. I wasn't going to get wound up. I was going to skip, prance, sing badly, play air-drums, check out everybody as much as possible and at the 16K mark, drink wine. I wasn't going to look at my watch, I wasn't going to worry about everyone else. I was going to have fun.

The race itself is around Burnaby Lake in BC. It's a natural lake, partially wooded, partially boggy, enclosed in the usual urban squall. It was also incredibly foggy. I would love to describe the vistas, the atmosphere, the imposing presence. However, all you are going to get was that I could see some way in front and at some point around the 15K mark we could see the sun!

It was also bitterly cold. I made the decision that I wasn't going to wear my winter tights. I knew it was going to be cold, but mentally I still wanted it to be summer. I have forgotten how cold 2degC (about 36degC) is after the summer. By the time the race started, (about 10 mins late), my feet were frozen, I was shivering and I swear I had a little frosty moustache. I knew I would warm up eventually, but the shock that summer is finally over was a little sadness to the start of the race. I did have a bit of brightness, as I saw someone else with frozen feet. Another VFF wearer. Seeing anyone wear anything else other than conventional shoes is such a surprise that you cling to them like a man-overboard grabs a life-bouy. You become overjoyed that you aren't the only freak, that somewhere in this "toe-enclosed" place there is someone who is willing to bare his tootsies... I seem to have gone on a bit of a euphoric rant there. Anyway, his name is Kai and he was cool..

The first 6K or so were rather uneventful. I started at the back of the pack, so after a few dances between other runners and a lot of air-drums to "Arcade Fire" and other rocking tunes to get warmed up I eventually managed to get to a place where I could chill out and relax. This is the point where I marvel at the other runners and see how dedicated they are. Checking their watches for designated walk breaks. Checking their Garmin for pace results. Taking in water and fuel. Wearing sensible, conservative clothes. Whenever I go to races I always get blown away at how unconventional I am. Not in the shoe department but in other things too. I look at my shocking pink plaid running kilt skirt, the thermal top I painted pink the night before and my the sharpie tattoos on my arms and legs, and realise that NO-ONE is dressed like me. I look at the focused faces and the determined forms and I realise that no-one is playing airdrums whilst they run, or in fact smiling. I look at the other runners and I honestly wonder how much fun are they actually having. From where I am standing it 'aint much! These are the times I am thankful I don't give a *cough*..[fill in any appropriate swear word you can think of]

At about 12K I was inbetween packs. I had passed the slower runner/walkers and was starting to chase the more dedicated runners in front. I had about 3-4K where I was on my own. Usually this is a low point for me, but this time I realised despite being alone physically, mentally I was with a lot of people. At this point the song , "The Cave" by "Mumford and Son's" ,came on, and I immediately thought of my friend AngieB who was running her first marathon that day. I then thought of Shelly, also running her first marathon, and I wondered what it would be like if we were running together. I thought of Larry and if he would appreciate the pancakes at the end. I then thought of my friend Jesse, who at that point had probably completed his first marathon and imagined him next to me as we shouted obscene words at the wildlife. Life as a minimalist or Barefoot runner can be a bit lonesome. The liklehood of meeting anyone in real-life, that understands why you run the way you do is small. However, virtually, there is a close knit group, connected by the quirkiness. It's cool, because no matter where you are running there is always a virtual pacer just waiting to be stupid with you. I have been a virtual pacer for a lot of people before. It was the first time I think I actually felt them running with me. So to you all 'Thank You', oh and Jesse, that was a fantastic burp at 13K!

At 16K I decided to pull out the wine-iskiate, and then in a moment of uncharacteristic thoughtfulness decided to hold off for another 1K or so. I remembered from my first loop that there was a section of very thick gravel coming up and perhaps I needed be sober for that stretch. I tell you, I think that 1K was the fastest stretch of the course for me. I finally understand the power of "incentive" when wanting to perform faster, better and stronger.

After the thick gravel I had hit the back of the front pack. I was still probably a long way from the winners - heck, they had probably already finished. However, I was back with civialisation and again had the opportunity to check out the competition. My "checking out" had more to do with "TMI bum" and seeing how serious they were but we all have to take our pleasures somewhere! It was this point, "National Express" by "Divine Comedy" came on the iPod. It's like an hilarious show tune. I defy anyone not to want to do Jazz hands, tap steps and sing loudly to this. So here I was, in a group of serious runners (well serious by their standards probably), literally singing and dancing my way through the course, with a flask of wine in hand. I have now officially earned my "non-runner" status. :D

I was getting close to the finish and I suppose I should have concentrated on that. The dancing and singing were done. My airdrums were put away and my wine was drunk. Oh, I forgot, the "TMI Bum" watching. As if to make my run complete, in front of me was a lady with a very hypnotic arse. If I had any competitive spirit, this arse would have killed it. For the last 2K I followed behind in admiration. It wasn't until the grass field we had to sprint across to the finish, did my mind come back to the present and I realised I had enough energy to sprint to the end. (Secretly I think my soles were just glad that the gravel was finished and they were enjoying the squishy, soft, "non-ouchy" ground).

I finished with a time of 2:03 and some seconds. I think I came 16th in my age/gender group, but as I don't know how many runners were in the group this could mean ANYTHING! I collected my funky race medal and went to thank "women in front" and apologise for running directly behind her for 2K. I don't think admitting I was admiring her arse was a good idea, but you have to give credit when it's due.

The pancakes were great, the complimentary foot massage was wonderful and as a local race it is something I would do again. It was for a local charity the WRA, and as an event it was well handled and friendly.

This race has wiped out the poor performance in my last trail half. (Yes, I know the course was easier). Mentally though, it was like I phoned up "trail running" after being dumped and quietly told him how he was missing out (I mean I am very bendy - this has to be a plus, right?). As always, "trail running" came crawling back and apologised! ;)