Monday, September 30, 2013

The Joy when they get it.

This isn't a post about running. Nope, I do more than just run. I, umm... yeah, there will be more on that list. Just give me a minute.

All those that know me, also know that I am a Mamma to an exceptional kid. An Autistically gifted exceptional kid.  Its not a path for the faint-hearted and is in essence a battle against the world in education and tolerance. The education of the masses and your tolerance of idiots.

In Canada, I was pretty used to the stares and mutterings of other parents.  When my kid had a fit at a child who pushed in line, it was my kid who had the problem and not the golden 'typical' brat. I have had to remove my child on a number of occasions from a situation because children couldn't deal with my son and the parents were unwilling to be educated. No-one made life easier for you and you just had to accept that this was your deal. You were an outcast from the school gate -- never to mingle with the 'School run hoards'.

This was my standard. I accepted that this would be my life now. Moving to the UK would be no different.

How wrong I was.

Over the last couple of months, I have been overwhelmed by the actions of people who have gone out of their way to make my life easier.  These aren't the usual suspects, but just people I have run into doing the normal errands that life throws at you.

Like the customer service lady I spoke to about a prang someone did on my car in a car park (and then left without providing details). It was just before the school summer vacation and I had to leave it.  I couldn't risk the car being out of action for weeks whilst D was home. I couldn't get a courtesy car to tide me over, because, well, D is Autistic. This is the boy who refused to get in the car for three days because we moved the car seat to the other back seat. This meant when I eventually called up to report the incident 8 weeks later, I should have been pretty much up the 'insurance creek without a policy paddle'. I explained the situation and tried to not sound to lame when I explained why it had taken so long. Not a problem. The agent even went out of her way to make things easier for me by contacting various people because she thought it might be tricky for me with D home so much. (D likes to start shouting as soon as I try to use the phone - hence why I use my ipad and mail SO much).

How about the bodyshop guy who organised the work to be done on my car? Again, I explained why it had taken so long to get the dent repaired and he organised a courtesy car that matched our car as much as possible so D wouldn't be affected so much. He also went out of his way to organise the paperwork so I didn't have to.

And the ride operators at the Kiddie amusement park. Again, I explained D was Autistic at the gate and we were given a pass to skip crowds, so D didn't have to wait. It wasn't explained very well, so we thought it meant an adult could wait in D's place in the ride line-up. We were so wrong. As the operator of one ride (who also had Autism) clarified.  He actually had a moan at me for not using the pass properly and made D wait longer than he needed to. Yep, he was upset at me because he couldn't be MORE helpful to us. Every time we used the pass, we apologised to the operators for using it. We felt wrong queue jumping and didn't want to cause trouble. The parks attitude? Go ahead - people will stare at you and your kid enough in life. Ignore them and use all the help you can get.

I am not even going to get into all of the other parents, grandparents, shop assistants and strangers, who haven't glared at me when D was playing up. They just nodded at me as if to say, "We can see he has Autism, it's fine".  Even when D's disability was clear in his behaviour in Canada, I never had that amount of acceptance.

There is an idea that mental health issues are still stigmatised in the UK. A case of 'Stiff upper lip; we don't discuss it'. That the British feel uncomfortable seeing and dealing with anyone who has a mental disability -- as if they would prefer them to be hidden in the attic. That perhaps the 'New World' is more enlightened and accepting. Canada prides itself on it's inclusion of differing nationalities, cultures and beliefs. When you think of Canada, you imagine a polite society where everyone -no matter who they are- are dealt with respect.

Yet, moving here, I am overwhelmed by the general acceptance of D and his Autism. IF I have to mention his disability at all, I don't receive pity and a need to explain, but just a small nod of the head and small little acts of help that are freely given. This attitude free's my heart.

Small acts of acceptance are worth more to me than a plethora of pity.

(And before I get flamed with all the exceptions to the rules, let me clarify. Yes, there are intolerant, uneducated arses in the UK who find Mental Health issues repulsive. There are also a number of tolerant, accepting people in Canada. I am talking about my general experience and frankly I would rather be under the illusion that there are more tolerant and accepting people out in the world, than the uneducated arses. So, just be kind and don't burst my bubble too much!) :)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

5K on Saturday morning!? You must be 'Conkers'! Nah, Just 'Park' and 'Run' it

Clear... and again.  I can feel a pulse.

Yep, that's the sound of me trying to resurrect this blog from the clutches of impending cardiac arrest.  I think -although still poorly- perhaps I may have just managed it.

Unfortunately drunken ramblings may have to wait for a little while. Although it's five-o'clock somewhere, I have to be a good girl and wait till later. I have a girls' night out later, and it may be poor form to show up as you mean to end up. So, you will just have to deal with my compos-mentis whitterings for a while. Yes, all those who are slightly upset can leave now by your closest exit.

Today, -after procrastinating for the last several weeks, (broken computers, failing networks and lost printer cables; honest)- I managed to run my first ParkRun 5K. To all those new to ParkRun, this is an organised version of a Fat Ass Run. Every Saturday at 9am across countries throughout the world, people gather together to run 5K. Currently there are eight countries that organise ParkRun events. The beauty of this event -apart from being free-, is that it is informal, fun and timed. Everyone who registers with ParkRun, gets a unique barcode. This barcode is then correlated to a timing chip handed to everyone in order at the end of the finish 'tunnel'. Somehow through the magic of science and computer programs (although I do firmly believe Elves and Fairies are really responsible), this bizarre setup creates a 'time' for you at the event. You get shirts for 10, 50 and 100 runs and there is cake at the end. Seriously, what is there not to love?

The event is run by volunteers and utilises public rights of way. No permits, no minimum or maximum age limits, no pressure. The barcode can be used at ANY ParkRun event. Going on holiday and want a quick run on Saturday? Not a problem, if you are lucky to be visiting one of the eight countries, then there is usually a 5K near you.

My local ParkRun is truly local --about ten minutes down the road in fact and is just called 'Conkers' after the activity centre carpark the run uses as it's headquarters. (Did you see what I did there in the post title? Now, is it clearer? No? Darn it, perhaps I should drink before writing these posts).

I was eventually bullied into attending the run by my running mentor, Nikki -who may be secretly trying to kill me with running- and my new-running friend, Roger; both who vowed to hunt down where I live and drag me there. So, at 8:15 I crawled out of bed:  Better to give in gracefully than being dragged by your toenails -- Nikki can be feisty sometimes.

As a ParkRun newbie, you have the usual confusing, 'What the Fudge do I do here?' The lack of chips attached to your shoes and timing mats was very confusing. Luckily the regulars are used to the Newbie asking for help -- although sanity is usually left at the starting point. After a pre-race briefing which usually boils down to 'Don't be a bitch to others, be nice to Volunteers and don't die', you go to the 'Start line' (demarked by an open gate) and you are off.

At the Conkers ParkRun there are about 250-300 runners. Yep, you heard me. I have been to some trail races that don't have that many participants, and this race is a weekly event. There are a number of ParkRun's in the area, but people somehow skip those and come to this one. It's not hard to see why. The people are truly friendly, the volunteers are cheerful, the course is beautiful and the coffee at the end is decent.

I have to admit I was awed by the sight of so many runners stretched over the double wide trail. I had trouble to get my head around that this run was free and I could do it every weekend if I wanted. I was also bowled over by the age of the runners. In most races, there is a minimum age limit of about 10-11 for a 5K. But, as the runs depend on you not being stupid and being responsible for your kids, if you children want to run, then they are able to. There were kids of 6-7 all running 5K, and honestly that was amazing to me.

I met up with Roger just before the midway point and we ran together again. Goofing along as usual. Its nice to already have made connections and have someone to welcome me -as well as drag my sorry arse along the course.

My run today came in a few seconds over thirty minutes - not bad considering that I am only coming back to running. Although, I think my physio, Dave, will have to take me to task. Considering his advice was 'powerwalk with occasional and short bouts of slow running', my mileage of 18 miles this week won't impress him.  It is safe to say, that my back has felt the sudden increase, but nothing that painkillers and alcohol can't fix. It's stiff not broken, and despite the fact I may have to tone down the mileage next week, it is looking good that my back is on the mend. Crack open the pantry and bulk buy the food. I am sure my runners' appetite' will kick in soon.

Today my friend Jason, posted this article from the Wall Street Journal about how finishing times for marathons have been getting progressively slower over the couple of decades.

I read this article after running the ParkRun and frankly it riled me. Today's event just goes to show what is wrong with the article.  It is true that finishing times of Marathons have increased over the last twenty years, but what the article fails to highlight is the number of finishers of Marathons over the last two decades. The number of runners, of all ages and fitnesses who feel comfortable to race.

Twenty years ago, to run a marathon, you had to probably be a high-school or collegiate track athlete. You had to be good and you had to compete. There was no other way around it. You were the best and you had to be the best. Yet, over the last twenty years a change has happened. Running isn't something that track stars do. This is a sport that everyone can achieve. Okay, you may not run it quick and it might not be pretty, however the fact remains, this is an activity that has achieved its 'access all area's' fame.  If you can do the time -or training as it is sometimes called- then you should be able to do the crime. Yes, I know that idiom is the wrong way around, but hey.

Is it wrong that a handful of running stars are lamenting the fact that now races are being run by people who frankly just want a good time? Yes. Running is about pushing your boundaries and finding inner strength. We all achieve this is different ways, but if -like me- goofing around is a way for you to achieve this, then carry on.

The fact of the matter is that running is now no longer an occupation, it's a past-time; a hobby. Running and racing is something people do to relax and they shouldn't be ostricised just because they want to do that slower than a 6:30 minute pace.

The ParkRun today highlighted this. What would the running track stars say if they came to a ParkRun event? Would they lament the fact that ordinary people entered the event -- How dare they believe they can run? Or would they -as I did today- look at the sight of two-hundred-plus people run a 5K race EVERY weekend and marvel at how magnificent that is?

When we go to races we should see every runner as someone who has motivated their behinds and have decided today, they will move further than reaching for the TV remote. When I saw the snaking lines of runners through the trail, I saw this: There are two hundred people who are reducing their chances or heart disease, strokes, cancer and pretty much every major disease plaguing modern living. There are two hundred people who are socialising and using physical activity to make personal connections. There are two hundred people who are showing everyone, young and old, that you can run if you want to; there is no size, age or gender that is unable to run.

Frankly, the authors and contributors to that article can run -at high speed- off a short bridge as far as I am concerned.  They don't see the bigger picture -- but secretly, I think that was their aim. The ParkRun today just highlighted the beauty of like-minded people getting together and doing something they love.

Now, if that is not a reason to drag my sorry arse out of bed at 8:15 on a Saturday morning, then I don't know what is.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Limits? Where we're from, we don't have limits!

Me and my new-running-friend Roger.
You see he does exist!
I know -before you pick yourselves off and stare at the screen in horror- two posts in two days, on a blog that was barely breathing. Well, I have my mojo back and yes, I also know that is a scary, scary thought.  You may -if you wish- run away now, screaming and waving your hands in the air.

Today, I ran a 10K race with little -okay, closer to no- training; testing my limits and giving the proverbial finger to life and everything she wants to dish out at me.

I wrote yesterday, that prepping for the race, felt like a marker in life; a hint that today, I would learn something about myself, my running and about the community I live in.  I did.

I had no expectations on this race. I just wanted to finish. I am so glad that this was my only goal. I think if I was concentrating on getting a PB and not enjoying the ride, I would have missed out on so much.

The race started -as they usually do- with the hares at the front and the tortoises at the back.  I placed myself in the mid-pack, knowing that really thats not where I should be. This was the start of my life re-education:

Lesson #1 - life is fast. Control and determination is not about pushing every limit, but learning which boundaries to test.
As I started in the mid-pack, I became more contented as I let the hares pass me by and to run the race at a pace I knew would allow me to finish. Just because I wasn't running a 8:30 mile, didn't mean I wasn't determined, but that I had the courage to back off and run and live life at the pace that meant I got the job done.

Lesson #2 - Your life is an on-going series of personal connections. Embrace them all, but accept that not all of them will develop.  As I started the run, I used a few people as involuntary and unknowing pacers. I needed to keep myself grounded, and I needed to keep myself slow. I always feel guilty about using the person in front of me as an unknowing pacer; I know how irritating it can be to hear footsteps on your heel whilst you silently wish, "just overtake me already". So, I would always say 'Hi' to the person and apologise to them about what I was inadvertently doing. Today, these burgeoning interactions didn't create any connections. Meh, maybe next time.

Lesson #3 - As you flail, life throws you a line. Roger, what can I say about you? Thank you is not enough.  As I was doubting why I was running this race, Roger comes along and makes a comment about my awesome INB (InkNBurn to all you -soon to be hip- uneducated kids out there) calf sleeves. A simple comment,  changed a race I wanted to forget, to a race I really enjoyed and learnt from. It is safe to say, without Roger, I am not sure if and how I would ended my race today.

Lesson #4 - The most interesting people are those pushing their limits. Yep, Roger, it's back to you Mate.  I commented to Roger, that the reason I run races are to share them, not with the hares who run forty-minute 10K's once a week, but to share it with those who were pushing their own boundaries. I stand by that comment. Roger -I found out- usually runs a 5K once a week, but on Tuesday was offered a bib from a friend who was injured. He has only run three 10K's and his longest run is a seven-miler. He was taking on a challenge he hadn't planned and he was pushing his boundaries.  The most inspiring people are those who take on life -and instead of winning or running better than X,Y,Z- are there just to see what they can do.

Lesson #5 - An goal shared is a goal achieved. It is believed that -in the end- running is a solitary sport. Wrong. Running is about taking your goals, your limits and your personal achievements and sharing them. Today, my goal was to run a 10K, my limit was to battle a broken body and my personal achievements were all the races I had run before. I shared all of these with the people I met today on the course and together we fought all our demons and we revelled  in every small success; together we shared and in the end we all achieved.

Lesson #6 - Slowing down to help each other is not a sign of failure. There are many runners out there who's aim is to get to the end in a certain time; to be better, quicker, faster, stronger. Wrong - so, so wrong. As I ran today, there were a few times I slowed right down. Sometimes I had to do it so I could keep going, but sometimes I did it because I knew someone else needed to take a breather, so they could keep going. It could have been someone who was using me as one of those involuntary pacers. It could be a new-found friend who was having an issue with a section of the course. My goal was to run all of the race, but then as I walked with someone -thereby failing in one of my aims- I realised that this was not a failure.  This is what racing should be, and now as I had failed in a goal, I came to remember, that this was the real reason I run.

Lesson #7 - Laugher is always the best medicine. At the end, my friends' partner mentioned I was too enthusiastic in my non-running exploits. High-fiving the kids as I passed, or making a comment to a volunteer.  I did probably spend more energy being a goof than I should have done, but then I would not of finished if I had toned it down.  All of those over-the-top-goofball-theatrics were the reason I kept going.  Just to make someone smile, made me smile and I would not have reached that finish without it.

Lesson #8 - The only i in team is the hole in the 'A'. Okay, that made no sense unless you have seen the meme on the internet.  Write the word 'TEAM' in that old-fashioned 'Tetris' block type writing you used to do as a kid, and then you will find the letter 'i' in the middle of the letter 'A'. Anyway, I am digressing a little. The point is, you may be running the race, but you would not be there if it wasn't for everyone else out there. You may get your PB and pat yourself on the back, but think: Did you thank ALL of those volunteers who got up before you and then stood there in the cold, wind and rain and directed you onto the path of personal victory? Did you thank those people who unwittingly got you to that PB as you used them as pacers then raced past them? When you were low, did you thank the stranger who spurred you on? Did you thank all of your running buddies who trained with you two-three-four-more times a week and told you could do it?  If you didn't then you are the 'i' in the 'A'-hole. Get on FaceBook, Twitter, whatever and do it now. Without them, you couldn't brag about the shiny new medal and that glow of your new PB. (So, just to make sure I have covered everyone, here goes: Thank you to: All of the organisers and volunteers out there today; Everyone who helped me and didn't know it -I wish I had some of your names; To Roger, who got me to the end; To my friends, who sent me luck; To Nikki, who got me to the start; To Nikki's family who brightened my day; and to my Family. Thank you for being there at the end. So Am I covered now? Is that medal all mine now? *grin*)

Lesson #9 - Everyone is pushing their limits. Today a Canadian Facebook friend of mine, reminded my in his post that this weekend is 'Terry Fox Run' weekend.  I am not sure if there is anyone outside of Canucksville who will know who Terry Fox is.  He is a Canadian legend. At the age of 22, after having his leg amputated due to cancer, he embarked on a run across Canada to enlighten others to the struggle of those battling Cancer and raise funds at the time.  His goal was to run a marathon a day and to show that disability was not a hinderance.  He died of cancer before he could reach his target, but that does not mean he didn't push his -and everyone who watched him-boundaries. Every year around the third weekend of September, people run in his name and raise funds for Cancer research. His legacy and reminder is still poignant thirty-plus years later.  Everyone is pushing their limits. You may not know it, or even understand it, but everyone you meet has their battles to fight. Respect that.

So, did I learn something today in my race? You betcha! Was this race a 'life-marker'? Hell, yeah. Was I reminded why I race? Definitely. Would I do it again? Probably, but ask me when I have sobered up - that medicinal alcohol is bound to wear off soon.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The calm before the storm

There is something quite calming about getting your kit together the night before a race. A conscious attempt to reach a zen-like state when your tummy feels like it is going to reach its way out of your mouth in an Alien-esque type way.

You have flashbacks to being eighteen again taking your high school exams; where you try to remember all you have learnt and try to calm yourself so you can sleep, with only the thoughts of your life failing before you have started crashing through your mind.

Okay, its not quite like that. However,  there is a strange contradiction that goes through you. You know that a race isn't that important, but somehow -the night before a race- you feel as if you have reached a marking point of your life; that somehow tomorrow after the gun has gone off, nothing will be the same again.

Tomorrow is not a race I had planned.  It is not something I have been counting down to in my diary. It isn't the culmination of months of training. Yet, it is still a marker in my life.

It is safe to say, that this time last year my life wasn't like this. I was sunning it in the glorious surroundings of Greater Vancouver, telling myself that my life is a series of decisions I had made and that I shouldn't lament any of them.

It was a mantra. Something I was telling myself to ignore my destiny. Lies I was saying, to remove the wrench I was about to suffer.

This is not a year I had planned.  If you had asked me where I wanted to live, Swadlincote, Derbyshire was probably not on the list. Heck, it wasn't even on the list of those on 'the list of the ones not on the third list'. Don't get me wrong, I am becoming content on my life here, but it would be wrong to make out that this was what I had planned.

Since our move out of Canada a year ago, life has been... well...turmoil.

It was an endless ream of paperwork and legal conversation. There were hoops to jump and then there was the fire-pit and barbed wire I had to battle to even get that far. Even though the battles are still on-going, there was a feeling that the worst was over - the war was on the brink of being won. Then my body decided it didn't want to play.

I have had many injuries in my time. Most of them through my own lack of judgement and an over-sense of my 'daring-do'. There were always ways to cope. You could -if you thought outside of the box- ways to do pretty much everything you could before -as long as you accepted that you now possessed an additional limb made out of tempered steel. However, I have never experienced an injury as debilitating as a protruding disc. The pain in itself was enough to stop you in your tracks, but it was the frustration that even the most simplest task was out of reach. One and off for over six months, the thought of picking up a basket of laundry was enough to bring a mild panic. There were days, weeks and lets face it months, where I was incapable of doing the smallest errand and that painkillers were a constant part of my life.

I think this is why the race tomorrow is bringing its own sense of 'being a life marker'. I was on the point of counting this -the first year since I started running in 2008- would be the year, that I would not have a race-bib or medal to my name. The first year I would count as a 'Did Not Start' (DNS). Yet, thanks to my new found running buddy Nikki, I came to realise that if this year was a DNS, it was through no fault except for my own lack of determination.  The failure wouldn't be that life had got me, it would be that I had let it. So after a sign-off to start some 'fast-walking with short periods of slow running' from my physio, I ran a 6.5 mile run on Tuesday. (Yeah, before you ask, he doesn't know about that yet). Then I decided that 'No. This would not be the year life defeated me' and I signed up to the National Forest 10K. The run will not be fast and it will not be pretty. It will hurt and it will be hard.

So, as I get my kit ready for tomorrow -that calming ritual that runners do, which makes no sense to anyone else- I am relishing those jumpy feelings in my tummy.  I am enjoying every part of the process I have done countless times. Embracing the little things: like deciding if I should run as a zombie or a robot; packing a bag of Jelly Babies as my on-the-run goodies; finding a towel and a sonic screwdriver to put in my drop bag; and wondering if I should pack the wine and the mince pies for after.

It seems my pre-race ritual -like my attitude to life- is an eclectic mix of geeky humour which no-one quite understands. As one of my 'life-markers', I think thats just how it should be.