The perfect storm

I’ve been a parent for 6 years now, so I should have known better than to think that the weekend of my half-marathon, which I had been planning for and training for for months, would go anything but smoothly. The moment you add children into anything that you do, everything is up in the air, a smorgasbord of possibilities, and the one that will land will never be the one you foolishly planned on.

Let’s, of course, back up to the point where the perfect storm of schedule nightmares really began.

My dear Sophie, my sauce-pot of a 6-year old, has never been able to breathe properly through her nose. Ever. If she has a cold, she can’t breathe. If she doesn’t have a cold, she can’t breathe. And when she talks, it sounds like she’s holding her nose. It’s awful. And perpetually boogery. Add in the super attractive snoring and gasping at night, and I figured I should ask our family doctor about it.

The first step was allergy testing, which made complete sense to me. I am allergic to everything with fur, feathers, pollen and dust (yay, me!), and I got my oodles of allergies from my mother’s handful of allergies, so I figured I had given Sophie an infinite number of itchy, sneezy, unhappy genetic gifts. Like the dutiful mother that I am, I took her to the same allergist that did my allergy testing waaaaaay back when I was about Sophie’s age, and discovered that Sophie had ZERO allergies. She was allergic to NOTHING. Which I immediately didn’t believe, because the kid is stuffed up, and itchy if we eat too much dairy, and breaks out into hives if a dog licks her.

The next step on the Sophie’s Nose Exploration was to consult an ENT. The lovely Dr. Zhang listened to Sophie talk for a few moments, asked me questions about Sophie’s sleep habits, her cold history, and agreed that she sounded stuffed up. She said that before she did anything she wanted to send us to a sleep study, since I had mentioned the super awesome jackhammer snoring and the gasping for air.

Have you ever done a sleep study? As an adult? It’s not fun. It’s this insane set-up with a bagillion wires connected to your head, your chest and your legs, and you’re forced to sleep in a bed that’s not yours with the hum of a variety of interesting machines, and then you’re woken up at 5:30 a.m. so you can be out of there by 6 a.m. It’s a couple steps short of torture.

You know what’s WORSE than having a sleep study done to you? Being the parent that gets to sleep beside the KID who’s getting a sleep study. First, you have to hype up this ‘super cool’ sleepover you’re going to. And then you have to get them to agree to sit still while they’re covered with a million wires (I can’t even IMAGINE Lillian having this done…Sophie is so pliable and amenable. Lillian would be like, F%&# YOU!).

My little Frankenstein

My little Frankenstein

And then you get to sleep in the same bed as them while they try to sleep with the crazy wires and noises and unfamiliar bed. And in Sophie’s case, she was sleeping flat, which she never does because of the boogers. She always sleeps propped up on a couple of pillows, but here we tried her lying on just one. Which of course caused her nose to try to kill her and stop her from breathing and she would thrash and cry and try to rip off the wires.

Finally the night end, I’ve not slept more than 1 hour in a row, and Sophie says to me, “That was FUN! Can we sleep here again?!” To which I say, “I hope we never have to do this again.”

At the beginning of April we got the results from our February sleep study, where the nice respirologist (the sleep doctor) explained that Sophie stopped breathing 70 times in a 7-hour period. Then he proceeded to tell me that the average kid stops breathing about once an hour…not 10 times an hour. He said she had moderate to severe sleep apnea, which means it wasn’t emergent, but it wasn’t awesome. It needed to be corrected.

Fast forward a few weeks to the Monday before the half-marathon weekend and Sophie and I were in the ENT’s office again, where she said she needed to stick a camera up Sophie’s nose to see if it was indeed her adenoids or if it was a neurological problem causing her to not breathe properly. Again I can’t imagine doing this with Lillian – first Sophie got a tissue shrinking solution shot up her nostrils, and then she got a camera, attached to a tube the size of really fat spaghetti, shoved up her nose. It was only for a few seconds and Sophie did squirm, but in the end Dr. Zhang got what she needed and declared that Sophie’s adenoids were completely blocking her nasal airway and needed to come out. Then, she was explaining the procedure, the risks, and the fact that with the sleep apnea she would be staying overnight for what is typically a day-sugery so they could monitor her oxygen levels. I found myself listening, nodding, and signing papers for pre-registration, which didn’t seem odd to me until we were at the receptionist’s desk getting an appointment for surgery THAT FRIDAY. As in FOUR days from then. As in TWO days before my half-marathon. As in NOT WEEKS AWAY.

The rest of that day is a blur – I signed Sophie out from school for an extended absence, I notified the parents of the little girl I walk to and from school that we wouldn’t be able to help out the following week, I told the mothers and Ben and anyone else I could think of. I rescheduled Lillian’s deaf school appointments and her speech therapy, and I tried to think of all the things I was probably forgetting, all with the pall of the half-marathon and the 21 km I was scheduled to complete hanging over me. Where I was supposed to be out of town. With an overnight stay. Two days after Sophie’s surgery. I didn’t think I could do both – be a parent at the bedside of my baby AND be a runner completing the longest distance I had ever run. It felt impossible.

Until I talked to Ben that night who said that he felt I should still run the race. That even though he and the kids wouldn’t be there to cheer me on in person, there was no reason why I shouldn’t still go. That unless there was an emergency or some kind of major complication in the surgery, I should go be a runner after I had been the bedside parent.

So I did it.

I hung out with my giant baby, with her long arms and legs, talking her gently through the pre-op process, helping her pick out a new stuffie from the hospital staff, explaining that she would be awake and not asleep for the IV process, telling her she was brave and awesome and that we loved her as she chased bubbles into the operating room, then waiting patiently while she was being put to sleep and cut open, then sitting and waiting patiently in her room while Ben sat with her in recovery (he was to be there when she woke up, I was to sleep overnight with her), then hanging out with a sleepy, sore, incredibly brave Sophie while she asked for a hot dog, her new Fire HD tablet we had got her for her birthday and popsicles, then helping her fall asleep knowing that she would have an accident because she was so worn out and the IV was pumping her full of fluids while she slept, helping her get comfortable and changed after said accident, then helping her eat her hospital breakfast, where the novelty of it outweighed the sad state of it, and finally bringing her home with her Nana to see her family and begin the healing process and week-long vacation from school.

My girl, brave and strong, sleeping after her surgery.

My girl, brave and strong, sleeping after her surgery.

And then, I needed to turn my eyes toward the 21 km prize, because Sophie was a champ and was recovering awesomely. There was nothing for me to stick around and do that Ben could not do on his own. So, I went ahead as planned, with my running buddies Bethany, Andrea, and Toni.

We slept overnight in Mississauga, the city that we were running in, which is about an hour away from our house. This way, we could get up and go to the start line for 7:30 without having to wake up at 3 something and get all of our babies ready and our husbands ready and our cargo ready. We could just wake up, drive 20 minutes, and be there.

The first leg of our race was to get on the shuttle from the parking lot to the starting line. It was cool, but not freezing, meaning it was a good 20 degrees warmer than most of our training runs.

Our fellow runners waiting for the bus

Our fellow runners waiting for the bus. The guy in the ball cap said that it was below zero last year…you know, the last time he ran it.

Andrea looking fresh and excited

Andrea, looking fresh and excited

A pre-running selfie, trying not to freak out too much or feel like the worst mother in the world for abandoning her babies too much.

A pre-running selfie, trying not to freak out too much or feel like the worst mother in the world for abandoning her babies too much.

Bethany doing Toni's hair since it wasn't cooperating. This would be time 1 of 2 that Bethany did her hair.

Bethany doing Toni’s hair since it wasn’t cooperating. This would be time 1 of 2 that Bethany did her hair that morning.

After we got shuttled (and Toni got her hair done again), we caught up with the thousands of other runners who were waiting to complete relays, the half-marathon with us, and the full-marathon like the crazies that they are.

Before the agony of 21 km

Before the agony of 21 km

It was intense standing in the crowd of people, listening to the psych-up music and the announcements from Hurricane Hazel and the organizers of the race. The energy was one of camaraderie (so many runners wished us luck on our first half-marathon, helped us take group pictures, and chatted with us) and endorphins. It was crazy-awesome and, besides the water stations, it was the missing element in our training runs. That energy definitely helped propel us through the race.

Andrea took this picture...if I tried to take an 'in the crowd' picture, it would look like a bunch of t-shirts, no sky and no start-line.

Andrea took this picture…if I tried to take an ‘in the crowd’ picture, it would look like a bunch of t-shirts, no sky and no start-line.

We got to run through some of the most beautiful neighbourhoods in Mississauga. Most streets were tree-lined and crazy giant mansion-lined. It was also spectator-lined, with people shouting encouragement, playing music (both live and speakered), and waving super funny signs, like “This is the worst parade EVER” and “I wouldn’t DRIVE 42.2 km on a Sunday!” I was also passed quite efficiently by an older man whose shirt said, “Running Grandpa 80 81 82 83 84 years young”, who was running the full marathon. I caught up with him in the last few kilometers of my half-marathon. He KICKED MY ASS.

The first 16 km were good – I was strong, it was the distance I had run twice before, and I felt fresh and energized. And then I realized that I still had a 5K to run. Another 40 minutes or so. That’s a hard pill to swallow after 16 km. I dug deep and used the awesome volunteers who cheered and the super nice spectators who were yelling support to get me through the next couple of kilometers. Around the 19 km mark, I really started to feel tired. My feet hurt. My legs were lead. I wanted to lie down and sleep. But I was still so far (SO CLOSE) away. There were a lot of walk breaks in those last kilometers, but as I was passed by an elite marathoner with his bicycle entourage, he said, “Good job” as he essentially sprinted past me. I managed to say it back before he disappeared from earshot and it gave me the oomph to get to the end.

No one from my immediate family was there to cheer me on – Ben and the babies were home with Sophie, waiting for me to get back. I was trying not to think about it as I got near the finish line. And then I didn’t have to think about it any more because Toni was there, SCREAMING her head off for me, and my name was announced as I crossed the finish line with the Boston Marathon qualifiers, and then I saw Bethany and then Andrea, and I was almost weeping – with relief and gratitude and empowerment. Finishing that race was SO hard. The week before it was SO hard. The training leading up to it was COLD and hard. And going from someone who never exercised, who quit gym class in grade 10 because it was no longer ‘required,’ to someone who could run 21 km was AWESOME. I would do it again, now that my feet have stopped throbbing and my legs are almost recovered, and I haven’t run in a week. To feel that again? It would be worth it.

All of us medaled at the end.

All of us medaled at the end.

I might even do the full marathon next time. All 42 km of it. I just have to convince my running buddies they’re as crazy as me…

~ Julia

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The long run

Today is the Boston Marathon. It is the oldest marathon and is watched in person by 500,000, run by 30,000, and followed by countless runners, runner-wannabes, and armchair warriors. It’s also the place where horror occurred, killing three people and injuring 264 in 2013.

It is an elite event that you have to qualify for (you can’t just register online and make magic happen). It is on many a-runner’s bucket list. And as my Twitter feed and Facebook timeline fill up with fellow bloggers who are making the trek to actually RUN IN THE RACE, I can’t help but feel nervous for them. A lot nervous for them. My stomach hurts.

And this year, instead of being the runner who can’t even fathom the kind of preparation or stress or effort it requires to train for a marathon, let alone BOSTON, I have a solid understanding of what it takes because I’m DOING IT.

No, not Boston (wouldn’t that be nuts?!). And no, not a marathon (did you know it’s 26.2 miles? That’s 42 kilometers, people!!). But a half-marathon. A full 13.1 miles. A full 21 kilometers. I am going to run one. In two weeks.

Isn’t that nuts?

Yes, yes it is.

It’s an idea that I’ve toyed with in the past. Waaaaaaay back in 2010. I was a new mom to Sophie, I was working, and I remembered, in my foggy-no-sleep-mom-brain that I had loved running once upon a time ago. So I challenged Ben (because I’m crazy that way) to a marathon! Let’s run a marathon TOGETHER. We made up a training schedule and we got excited. Sitting in our house. And then we got worried because the number of weeks from now until the marathon we picked weren’t so many…and the number of times we had run in the past weeks were none. And those two things together made us re-evaluate. We would do a half-marathon together! Shorter training time, shorter distance (by HALF), totally doable. It was done. We were running a half-marathon! And we were still sitting in our house!

We went on some training runs separately (remember that baby that we had?). We skipped some training runs together (remember that baby that we had?). And then I got pregnant. And I had spotting. And I was scared. So I stopped running.

Ben kept going though, and he finished the half-marathon as planned, as Sophie, Ben’s mom Dianne and I ran our own marathon, trying to find Ben on the course and driving around to cheer him on.

The awesome, incredible, finisher. Time? 2:45.

The awesome, incredible finisher. Time? 2:45.

Ben is now officially a footie man and only runs medicinally (when and only when he has to). And I am officially a runner, at heart AND practice (it’s not all talk anymore!). And I’ve decided to run a half-marathon. This time Ben will be the one cheering me on while I run my butt off.

Thankfully, I am not alone in this crazy scheme. I’ve managed to brainwash convince two other school moms, Bethany and Andrea, and Toni to do it with me. And thank goodness for that, because you actually have to TRAIN for a run like this. You can’t just ‘do it’, unless you’re Barney Stinson, but even then karma will balance everything out.

You need to have a plan that lasts for weeks. The one we picked was a 9-week map of how to get to the half-marathon without breaking our legs and dying of exhaustion. Which means, of course, that we started running in January to get ready to start really training in March. And if you haven’t done the math yet, that means runs in -20 degrees C weather…and running in the snow…and running over ice…and jumping snowbanks and skating down hills and landing in slush puddles, all to achieve the illusive stamina to get us to the finish line.

You need to eat right, and when you’re a parent, that sometimes feels like you’re asking to lasso the moon while standing on your head and trying to get your insane child to EAT BREAKFAST ALREADY. It’s near impossible some days. But if you have awesome training partners, there are more Pinterest-hunters, more bakers, more people willing to go the distance to find and make the perfect energy ball to take with you on a run or the perfect post-run smoothie recipe, or the best chocolate dessert to celebrate.

You need to stay motivated and there’s nothing like a frigid wake-up call at 4:45 a.m. so you can go run in the near extreme-cold-weather-alert temperatures, all bundled up and wondering what the hell is wrong with you. Or the long runs at night because you’ve run out of time in the morning to complete them and you find yourself putting your babies to bed and then getting suited up to go run for a couple of hours. For fun. Buddies make these moments easier to swallow and harder to cancel.

Seriously.

Seriously.

You need to do things you’d never in your wildest dreams even entertain in your mind as a possibility. And I’m not just talking about running for an unnaturally long time. I’m talking about other things. Like peeing behind a tree (Toni) or in a field (Andrea) or by a swamp (Bethany). Or pooping near a field (me…yep, Andrea, I am confessing – I pooped before our speed intervals last week…because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to finish the run OR I would have had a huge accident…so, I did it. I pooped. And I had enough tissue in my pocket to wipe well. And I went back and picked it up and threw it away after we got home from the run. And GOOD GOD who would have thought we’d be HERE?!). Because when you’re out running, you have choices. But they’re not easy choices, like walk a few steps and go pee, then come back. Or skip home to poop and then do speed work. They’re gross choices, like I’m a billion kilometers from home, so either it happens now, or I make a mess.

True story.

True story.

And when you get to the end of your training, like we have, you have to complete these insanely long runs that make you question your sanity the entire way. Like this past weekend – we had to do our longest run ever (as in, ever completed by any of us EVER, not just in training), and the longest run we will finish before the BIG ONE, the half-marathon. Saturday morning, Bethany, Andrea and I (Toni was sick with a crappy chest cold) tackled a 17 km run that took us out of our city, through a neighbouring village, and back again in around 2 hours and 42 minutes.

Sunrise near the top of the second giant hill of our run.

Sunrise near the top of the second giant hill of our run.

It was crazy.

It's hard to feel defeated when you're running past scenes like this...and they're REAL.

It’s hard to feel defeated when you’re running past scenes like this…and they’re REAL.

It was awesome.

This is what my long runs look like...Bethany waaaaaay up ahead, Andrea waaaay up ahead, and me waaaaaaaaay behind. I'm slow, but steady. I'll get there, but I'm not winning any land-speed records.

This is what my long runs look like…Bethany waaaaaay up ahead, Andrea waaaay up ahead, and me waaaaaaaaay behind. I’m slow, but steady. I’ll get there, but I’m not winning any land-speed records.

And finishing was all the sweeter because we got to share it and finish it together.

These beautiful ladies totally waited at the top of the last hill so that we could all finish together. They're running soul mates and I'm so glad I found them.

These beautiful ladies totally waited at the top of the last hill so that we could all finish together. They’re running soul mates and I’m so glad I found them.

I’m so nervous for the runners in Boston. I hope they run the race of their lives, whatever that means for them (winning or finishing or achieving a PR).

And I’m so scared I won’t be able to complete the race in two weeks (I’m a professional worrier, remember?). But I do know this one thing: I’ll have my running buddies with me and we’ll do it together.

~ Julia

My sleeping pill

I have a bedtime ritual. It is as regulated as our children’s bedtime routine, where we get into pyjamas, pick three stories (1 per kid) and then read them all until each kid is calm and sleepy and full of tales. It is absolutely necessary that I follow this routine, otherwise I will not be able to sleep for hours.

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison - A thriller that made me want to stay up all night...yet let me sleep.

A thriller that made me want to stay up all night…yet let me sleep.

I’ve tried skipping it. I’ve tried mixing it up, doing something different. All with disastrous results that end with me restless, sleepless, tossing and turning, and my brain talking up a storm.

Because therein lies the rub – my brain? My sadistic, nonsensical, ridiculous, overachieving brain won’t SHUT UP when I go to bed. It finds that the bed, with its cozy mattress and its warm blankets and its huge pillow is the perfect place to review all worry, concern, to-do lists, problems, and, of course, singing any of the ditties or jingles or super fun children’s songs I’ve heard that day. My brain SUCKS at sleeping. And I hate it. Because I LOVE sleeping, DESIRE sleeping, walk around all day long wishing sleep were mine right now.

Dear Amy, Let's be friends in real life, because you seem to really get it. And it would be awesome to be in the same room as all of your talent and sass. Love, Me

Dear Amy, Let’s be friends in real life, because you seem to really get it. And it would be awesome to be in the same room as all of your talent and sass. Love, Me

I figured out the key to my sleep a couple of years ago. It was when I was in therapy for PPD with Lillian. Nancy, my lifesaving therapist, asked me how I was sleeping. Of course, terrible! I had a newborn AND depression wrapped in an anxiety disorder. I would lie down and either Lillian would wake up or Sophie would wake up or my brain would wake up. And then it would be morning and I’d have to do it all over again.

She suggested I ‘download’ all of my lists and worries and problems onto a piece of paper that I kept by the bed. Essentially, when my brain popped up with something to think about the moment my head hit the pillow, I could write it down. The idea was with practice I could write down everything BEFORE I lay down and then my brain would be quiet and I would sleep and everyone would live happily ever after.

Sometimes I do running math in my head...converting miles into kilometers, thinking about training and running and not running...but this book put me to sleep AND made me never want to stop running.

Sometimes I do running math in my head when I’m trying to fall asleep…converting miles into kilometers, thinking about training and running and not running…but this book put me to sleep AND made me never want to stop running.

It didn’t really work that way. The act of writing down everything turned more into a brainstorming of session of things that I could think about during the night, versus me getting rid of things to think about during the night. In short, it backfired.

But then I tried reading. I love reading. But with babies and my scattered brain, sitting down and reading during the day was (and still is) next to impossible. But at night? When everyone is tucked in and I have the bed to myself (because Ben is inevitably playing video games downstairs), I can read under covers, curled up with characters and lands and stories that are not my own. And that is the key.

My current sleeping pill. I love this book so far. This one makes me want to keep turning pages, be a better writer, get published...and go to sleep.

My current sleeping pill. I love this book so far. This one makes me want to keep turning pages, be a better writer, get published…and go to sleep.

When I read at night, my brain shuts off. It tunes out of my reality and tunes into other people’s trouble, worry, concern, fantasy, dreams, and to-do lists. Reading launches me into someone else’s world, so I don’t have to think about my own.

And that is the key, the piece, the only thing I can do to really get to sleep. It doesn’t matter if I go to bed at my regular bedtime, 10 p.m., or if I go to bed at 1 a.m. It doesn’t matter if it’s before a weekend afternoon nap or the big sleep in a hotel room in Baltimore. It doesn’t matter one iota. All that matters is that I’m quiet and reading a novel, a memoir, fiction, non-fiction, short stories, works of art, or fluff pieces. I need to read to escape to find the peace and quiet that I need to get to sleep.

How about you? What do you do to get to sleep? Sex? Warm milk? TV? Candy Crush? Or are you like Ben and all you need is a blanket, a pillow and your hearing aid out? Because that guy? He can fall asleep in an instant and I’m left hanging out with a snoring bear, while trying to shut off my brain…unless, I’ve got me a book, then I can tune out the lumberjack and tune into another world that acts as a portal to the most treasured gift ever – sleep.

~ Julia

Ringing in a new you

‘Twas the season of cookies and eggnog, rum and champagne, sleeping late and long, staying up until tomorrow, and eating whatever whenever however with whomever. It was the season of mirth and good cheer and fun and family and friends and appetizers and chocolate and shortbread and brunch. It was the season of merry and plenty. And now it’s the season of SHUT IT DOWN.

There are commercials about it, about stopping the over-indulgences and getting ‘back on track’. They remind you that you’re still awesome, but hey, stop being so crazy and start getting back in line.

There are deals (OH THE DEALS) of 20, 30, 40, 50% off gym memberships, gym equipment, bootcamp classes and find-your-abs-under-your-keg plans.

There are the great sell-offs and purchases of people’s abandoned treadmills and stationary bicycles and weighted-yoga balls and workout clothes. Wanna make a buck? Sell your dusty workout stuff. Wanna get in shape for cheap? Buy other people’s dusty workout stuff.

And everywhere you turn are people helping you make the resolutions that will set your year on FIRE and give you a bikini body in three easy moves in just five minutes every day.

It’s exhausting. And it’s unrealistic.

Can you get a skinnier, toner, more fit you? ABSOLUTELY. You can. You will if you set your mind and body to it. You will if you make a plan that’s reasonable and realistic and if you really want to.

But can you do it the way you’re being sold it? Probably not. Because they’re not selling you change. They’re selling you a NEW YOU. They’re selling you a promise that they have no intention of helping you achieve. It’s mean. And it’s a vicious cycle that happens every year.

For me, 2014 was the year I solidified my love of running and of exercising. It was the year I really started writing again. It was the year I fought alongside my man for my marriage. It was the year we really got into the groove of being a family of five. It was the year we took control of our spiritual health and made a huge change to where and how we worship. And it was the year of rediscovering bits of me that I had lost in the fog of pregnancy, newborn schedules, breastfeeding and depression. It was a year. And now that I’m facing another year, I wonder what I’d like for 2015. What will it look like? What will we accomplish? What will I accomplish?

Instead of resolving to do a bunch of things (2014 was not the year of being able to magically create more time), I thought I would make a list of things I’d like to stop. Things I’d like to knock-off, cut-out, and generally quit. It seems strange, since statistically this is generally what happens on January 10, the day of quitting all your New Year’s resolutions, but for me, I’d like to get a jump-start on jumping ship.

1. Quit talking trash about myself. I eat a cookie, I eat five cookies, I eat the rest of the cookies and not only does my stomach hate me, my brain is a royal jerk about it. It berates me and tells me in no uncertain terms that I suck, that I’m a failure, and that I’ll never be thin and pretty and lovely because ALL THE COOKIES. In truth? I shouldn’t eat so many cookies, but I shouldn’t be a jackass about it either. It happened. It’s over. It’s time to remember the good things I did do and move on.

Voice in your head

2. Quit wishing away the day. I’m not saying I should stop and smell every damn rose, but I should stop wishing for nap time and Ben time and bedtime and then alone time. I should start enjoying the time I’m in. I have the energy and space and now the emotional and mental capacity to do it, and I’d like to stop living in my depression-era head space. I’d rather live here because I can. I fought long and hard to enjoy this moment. Now I need to stop wasting it.

Living for the weekend

3. Quit glorifying the busy. Oh, I’m a real winner at this one. I can tell you, in great detail, exactly how busy I am. But in reality, I’m as busy as I MAKE ME. No one else. Me. I am busy chasing children, sure, but am I chasing them effectively, efficiently, in the best way for them and me? Probably not. So, I’m gonna stop being a martyr of the schedule and start being the freaking empress.

being-busy-quotes-6

4. Quit coming up with new excuses. I feel like I’m stocked up for excuses on why I can’t/don’t want to/aren’t able to write my book. There is no reason why I need new and inventive ones for the roster. The old ones don’t hold water and work just fine for being weak and ridiculous.

Just Do It

5. Quit avoiding running. I stopped running when I started having weaning depression because from where I sat on my comfortable couch inside my warm house in my bare feet and pyjamas it was SO HARD. And then dear friends Heather and Bethany asked me what they could do to help me get back to being happy-brain me and I said, I need to run. Bethany instantly said, Tomorrow? And we did. I went. I ran. And when I got back I was blissed out on the high of it. I love running. It is in me now. And I need to stop abandoning it just because my brain forgets how awesome it is. I will be running until I am physically unable. Period. Enough trying to run away from running. Toni, Bethany, and another good friend Andrea and I will be doing a half-marathon in May just to solidify my commitment to quitting running avoidance. It should do the trick.

oprah-winfrey running

What are you going to quit this year? And what will you ultimately give yourself in the process?

~ Julia

Just get out the door

I love running.

I love how it makes me feel. I love how healthy I am because of it. I love the number of baked goods I can eat fairly guilt-free (just don’t tell Toni…). I love how powerful I am, how far I can go, how peaceful it is, and how high the endorphins make me at the end.

LOVE IT.

But something horrible happens every time I get up to go running.

Goofy weak ankles require a little support.

Goofy weak ankles require a little support.

It’s not subtle, either. It won’t be ignored and demands to be listened to, paid attention to, adhered to.

Some fuel before I head out.

Some fuel before I head out.

Evil-Julia kicks in and starts smack-talking me.

Good morning, quiet, sleepy world.

Good morning, quiet, sleepy world.

I tell myself that I can’t do it.

Leaving the city behind

Leaving the city behind

I tell myself I am NOT a runner.

This hill always gets me. One day, I will run up it WITHOUT walking. Dammit.

This hill always gets me. One day, I will run up it WITHOUT walking. Dammit.

I tell myself that it will be hard, impossible, painful, and that I will fall, hurt myself, embarrass myself, let myself down.

Just some nice farmland on the route...you know, no big deal...yet SO pretty.

Just some nice farmland on the route…you know, no big deal…yet SO pretty.

I tell myself that I don’t look like a runner when I’m in my regular, day-to-day clothes – what makes me think I look anything BUT ridiculous and poser-y in my running gear?!

I call this the home stretch. It's actually the 5 km mark of a 10.5 km run...so not really the actual homestretch.

I call this the home stretch. It’s actually the 5 km mark of a 10.5 km run…so not really the actual homestretch.

I tell myself I’m fat. I do. I talk about my thunder thighs and my chubby belly and my face that I feel looks bigger when my hair is up in a tight bun and that my butt jiggles when I run and that’s all anybody is ever going to look at.

One of TWO stunning ponds (although, named lakes) on the route.

One of TWO stunning ponds (although, named lakes) on the route.

I forget that I’m thirty pounds lighter than I was after Isaac was born. That I walked into a lingerie store to buy new bras because my boobs have shrunk SO MUCH and the lady told me, without any thought, that I was a medium (I’ve NEVER been a medium). That the clothes I bought at the beginning of this year because nothing fit me are too big for me and I’m rapidly closing in on the need to buy a whole new wardrobe. Again.

There's a blue heron at the end of the branch that's jutting out on the water. Can you see it?

There’s a blue heron at the end of the branch that’s jutting out on the water. Can you see it?

I forget that last weekend I ran 12.84 km, the farthest I’ve ever run and more than half-way to my 21-km-half-marathon goal for next year. I forget that I had to ask my brother-in-law, who runs twice as fast as I do, who has been running his whole life, who runs 10 km for breakfast, why my toes were going numb and he said I needed new shoes. Do you know what that means??? It means that I’ve logged so much mileage in these blue and hot pink shoes since the beginning of the SUMMER that I need new shoes already. Seriously.

I've caught the watching-the-sunrise-bug from Toni.

I’ve caught the watching-the-sunrise bug from Toni.

I forget everything good about what I’ve accomplished. But, I don’t stop moving. I don’t stop putting on my running gear that I laid out the night before for this very reason. I don’t stop making pre-run toast or peeling that pre-run banana. I don’t avoid reviewing the route, looking at the distance, and visualizing the scenery in my mind. I don’t stop myself from putting on those shoes, taking a deep breath and escaping the house like a ninja so I don’t wake up any babies as I leave.

Well-deserved chia-peach oatmeal with coffee and WATER.

Actual breakfast – warm chia-peach oatmeal with well-deserved coffee and absolutely necessary WATER.

And I step outside. And the cool air hits me. And the feel of the pavement is under my shoes. And the quiet of the early, early morning surrounds me. And all of the worries, the stress, the obligations, the responsibilities, the to-dos fade away. And I get to the end of my driveway and I start to run. And then I remember.

I’m a runner.

~ Julia

Thankful is as thankful does

I’m definitely a Christmas person – the lights, the sounds, the smells, the music, the family, the gifts, the love, the snow – LOVE it all – but Thanksgiving holds a special place in my heart.

There are very few moments in our regular day-to-day where we get to stop and really think about all that we have and then express explicit gratitude for it. Really, our days are (at least for me) tackled at a get-up-don’t-stop-keep-going-’til-you-drop pace, where there’s little time for rest, let alone reflection and then the expression of thankfulness.

But this season, this time when the trees turn and the air cools and the layers of clothing start piling up, is anointed with this beautiful gift of making time to be thankful. 

In our home, the home that Ben and I have been building together for over 8 years, thankfulness has sometimes been really hard to grasp. There was our first year of marriage, where Ben was unemployed and I had the worst job ever (went home in tears every night) and we lived in our crappy first apartment and had no money. Instead of wallowing, we forced ourselves to come up with one thing each to be thankful for every day the week leading up to Thanksgiving. Those fourteen things lit up our tiny one-bedroom like nobody’s business.

There was the year that we lost our baby, our Charlie. The year where nothing seemed to lift us. The year that sucked huge hairy balls of crap. The one where counting the blessings we had here, and not in heaven, was damn near impossible.

And then there have been years where blessings have overflowed, where the number of things to be thankful for was sky-high and singing in church choirs about praising God and going to the apple orchard and making pie and getting together as a family seemed like things we could do forever. Those are the times where Thanksgiving feels like it shouldn’t be just a season, but a year-round, daily activity.

This year, like every other, has its own marks of sorrow, its own trials, its own triumphs, its own heaps of blessings. It’s a year where we’re finally settling into our family of five. It’s a year where we are working hard on our marriage, harder than we’ve ever had to work before. It’s a year where we’re making big changes (another blog post for another time!) and hoping like hell (praying like maniacs!) that we’re making the right changes. It’s a year where my list of what to be thankful for feels more thoughtful than it ever has.

So, in my pause of reflection, here’s what I’m thankful for most this year:

1. Ben – Father of our children, lover of my heart, fighter for our family, breadwinner monetarily, strongman in all things, I’m thankful that he’s the one I’m walking this path with.

He's a handsome devil...and sometimes just a devil...

He’s a handsome devil…and sometimes just a devil…

2. The babies – No one makes me crazier, loves me more, lets me love them more, teaches me more, forces me to grow more, and makes me sit in awe more than the three nutters I call mine.

Crazy in love

Crazy in love

3. My sisters – No, this isn’t a plug for the blog, but seriously? My sisters? Without them, I don’t know what I’d do. And this year, I feel like I’m calling on all of the favours for all of the things. I’m asking for nannying help, I’m leaning for babysitting, I’m demanding workout buddies, I’m talking their ears off, I’m handing over babies for them to hold while I let my arms rest – all of the things.

Maybe we should take another one...where we're not wet...

Maybe we should take another one…where we’re not wet…

 

Who else would push your kids and their kid and all of your kids' baggage up the biggest hill and STILL love you?

Who else would push your kids and their kid and all of your kids’ baggage up the biggest hill and STILL love you?

4. My moms – Who else can say, “Not only do I talk to my mom every day, but I love my mother-in-law like a second mother”? Not many people that I know. Lucky doesn’t even begin to cover the love I get from my mothers.

My mom loving my babies...and ME

My mom loving my babies…and ME

She lets me wake her up at stupid o'clock and STILL loves me!

She lets me wake her up at stupid o’clock and STILL loves me!

5. Soul-friends – The moms at school pick-up/drop-off, the moms at bible study, the women who listen to me rant and rave and brag and are nothing but supportive, even though I probably come off as a complete nut.

Any time women come together with a collective intention, it's a powerful thing. Whether it's sitting down making a quilt, in a kitchen preparing a meal, in a club reading the same book, or around the table playing cards, or planning a birthday party, when women come together with a collective intention, magic happens. - Phylicia Rashad

“Any time women come together with a collective intention, it’s a powerful thing. Whether it’s sitting down making a quilt, in a kitchen preparing a meal, in a club reading the same book, or around the table playing cards, or planning a birthday party, when women come together with a collective intention, magic happens.” – Phylicia Rashad

6. Time – For finding myself, for running, for learning, for thinking, for everything – I feel like I’ve stolen more time for myself than I ever have and the proof is in the distance I can run (12.84 KM!), the fitness I have, the peace that I feel, and the depression I’m actively keeping at bay.

Me, the road, my breath, my thoughts, my meditation, my time

Me, the road, my breath, my thoughts, my meditation, my time

7. God’s love – I know that everything that I’ve listed here, everything that I’m thankful for every day, everything that I am, and where I am and where I’m going is all because of Him. THANK YOU.

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This year has not been our easiest, our most blessed, or our hardest, most awful. But this year, like all the rest, the thankfulness is found in what we have and where we are right now, not in what we don’t have or where we didn’t make it.

To you and yours, a happiest and most grateful of Thanksgiving seasons. I hope it’s filled with love, light, and turkey. (Mmmm, turkey).

~ Julia

Five favourite fitness truths

In recent years, I have worked hard on getting healthy.

What began as a mission for our upcoming wedding, quickly became a lifestyle – one that I happily committed to. Along my journey I have found a few tid-bits of wisdom that stuck with me and helped me overcome some seriously bad habits in my routine.

While I am no expert, here are my five favourite fitness truths that made the most impact on my progress:

1. Making small changes can make the biggest impact: When I attempted to make too many drastic changes at once, I found I was setting myself up for failure. It was so much easier to slowly work my way up to a goal by gradually tweaking my workouts, eating habits and even my mentality. It’s like training for a marathon.

Small steps, sure steps.

Small steps, sure steps.

I went from a 2 milk, 1 sugar coffee at Tim’s to a 2 milk, sometimes black. I switched our whole wheat bread and white rice out for whole grains. I cut back on my intake of cheese (believe me, it was a problem). I added 1 more lap around the track or a sprint lap during my training runs or I pushed myself for one more rep of my workout. I went from walk/running 5 km, to running all 5, then 8 and sometimes even 10 when my knee allows. I started eating breakfast. I’m not suggesting your goals will be the same. I am suggesting, however, that you make the smallest changes, make them a habit and then switch up another element of your routine. Which leads me to my next point..

2. Your fitness is 100% mental: I once read the quote, “your body won’t go where your mind won’t let it”. Brilliantly true, beyond true. Your mind is an extremely powerful tool and can be used for both destructive and constructive purpose. If you tell yourself you can’t do or accomplish something, you are absolutely correct. If you tell yourself you can do it, that you don’t have a choice, you are going to reach your goals.

Your mind is so very powerful

Your mind is so very powerful.

On top of pushing yourself and getting your self-talk-track right – to be your cheerleader and convince your legs they’re not tired, tell your lungs to keep control of your breathing, that your body is capable – your fitness path needs a WHOLE LOT of positivity and patience. If your brain isn’t being nice to you because you’re not seeing results or watching the number on the scale drop fast enough, tell it to shut the hell up. Go with how you feel, how your clothes are fitting. Take note of the energy increase you have and the pep in your step because of the shot of endorphins coursing through your body – and then celebrate those important victories. You have to want it and you have to make sure your brain is with you.

3. Eat: Do not be afraid of food! Be afraid of the wrong food – the processed, chemical-filled, GMO food – be very, very afraid. Do not be afraid of eating a hearty meal of the right foods – whole foods. I’m not suggesting you attempt “eating clean”,  but I am suggesting that you attempt to learn how to eat to nourish your body. For starters, make sure your cart is full of foods from the outside aisles when completing the weekly shopping trip. Buy more perishables than not. Just this small change can change the course of your health. Add in moderate weekly exercise and you’re adding years to your life and subtracting inches from your waistline.

Scary and true.

Scary and true.

Hand-in-hand with that, do not deprive yourself, but do monitor and have some control over the amount of giving into delicious urges. If you crave chocolate, attempt to satisfy your craving with fruit or dark chocolate. If it’s just a craving that won’t go away, even with provisions, give in – but a little. Have a small amount of milk chocolate, or portion control your chips if you’re a salt fiend, like me, when a few pretzels won’t cut it. Allow yourself to be human, forgive yourself, and do better the next day.

4. Get your water in: This is my demon. I struggle daily to get my required water intake in. It doesn’t help that my bladder is the size of an upside-down bottle cap, or that I am a complete coffee addict, but aside from that I totally know the rules, yet just can’t seem to follow them.

ALL THE TIME

ALL THE TIME

Like I know that for every cup of coffee, your replacement water intake is 2 glasses. I know I should have water all damn day long. I know that when I wake up, the first thing I should do is drink a glass of water. I know, I know, I know. I’m looking into the cost of an IV, but in the meantime, I’m going to keep working on it. Maybe I should appoint a water reminding delegate… Hmm…yup! Now accepting applications.

5. Do what works for you: Personally, I hate the gym. It’s only because I find the atmosphere and equipment intimidating. I wish I could love the gym. Maybe one day.

Instead I love HIIT style workouts with my sisters and girlfriends. Instead I prefer a challenging hike at the crack of dawn. Instead I run – for the body buzz, and the feeling of freedom and the way it makes my heart fly – mostly I run because I can and why not? I do squat challenges like completing 25 after every visit to the loo. I do hot yoga. I do whatever feels right and makes me want to move and challenge myself. And most importantly, I do what I know works for me.

It’s 100% personal and you’ll know when you find what works for you.

~ Toni

Morning meditation

I sneak out in the morning, before this sleepy little town wakes.

Before my dogs realize I am gone.

To be so comfortable in bed!

To be so comfortable in bed!

I run through the tiny trail that cuts  through the town.

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I stop and sit on the bench at the duck pond, I cross my legs. I put my head phones in, I press play and I breathe.

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Picture perfect

I pray for the day.

Although I stopped going to church, I am still connected to something – something that I send my thoughts and prayers to.

I pray for my family.

I pray for what I have. The air in my lungs and the food on my table. The four walls that surround me and the two arms that hold me. The women who guide me and provide me with strength. The friends who ground me.

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I start every day like this. I stop my world from spinning for a moment…before it turns uncontrollably again.

Sleepy town

I run away before I start my day.

I run away to start my day.

~ Jacqui

Mother-runner

According to my mother’s lore about my childhood, my first steps were not timid or slow. Allegedly, I ran across the basement at my grandparent’s house a few times. And then realized I was running. And then I sat down. But the first steps were running strides. I kind of love that. Because I kind of love running.

My affair with running has been an on-again-off-again relationship spanning my entire life. In grade 1, I joined the cross country team at school and loved it. I was never as good as the girl who came from an Olympic legacy (no, seriously), but I loved it. When I switched schools in grade 4, I joined that cross country team. Again, not the fastest or the best, but still in love. In high school, other things took my attention – grades, clubs, meetings, student associations and choosing church over everything (if there was a meet or practice on a Wednesday night when we had church services, then it was an automatic no-go). Also, high school started to care how fast I was. And joining that cross country team meant talking to a bunch of new people since my best friend at the time didn’t love running and I was easily swayed (damn peer pressure). So I quit. And got bigger and more sedentary.

Then university came. In the beginning, I didn’t join any athletic anything, nor did I take advantage of the free gym pass given to every student. I was stupid. But busy. Again. Busy being lonely and studying and trying to keep my head above water.

I was a Chapters-girl, going to the bookstore/coffee-shop for fattening drinks and quiet-yet-not-alone study time. And sometimes, shockingly, I would browse books.

Okay. So maybe it was all the times.

During one of those browsing sessions, I came across the The Complete Book of Running for Women by Claire Kowalchik, and I would flirt with the idea of buying it. And then the flirting turned serious and not only did I buy it, I brought it home and I read it. Cover-to-cover read it.

This book gave me so many things and is the backbone of my adult running. It taught me how to pace myself using my breath, it explained sports bras (for someone who has boobs but had never really exercised, this was important and new information!), it taught me how to tie my shoes (no, seriously), it gave me motivation, and it gave me an easy-to-follow 10-week training plan that would get me from thinking about running to running continuously for 30 minutes. In short, it was (and still is) magic.

So I did it. I ran faithfully four times a week for those 10 weeks, and it worked: I ran for 30 minutes continuously with Ben (my then-boyfriend *swoon*). It was completely awesome.

And then I just stopped. Because that’s where my training program ended and I didn’t have anyone but me to stay motivated or anything to work towards. I let it go. For a really long time.

I got married to my dreamy boyfriend, worked, had a baby, worked some more, had another baby, stopped working out of the home, and had a miscarriage. My heart was broken, Oreos were my best friend, and I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. I was the saddest I’ve ever been.

This was right around the time that Jacqui, Toni and I started going to a bootcamp together. At the time when I needed something to do, something that wasn’t about babies or dead babies or marriage or dishes or laundry, when I needed something just about me, it was the perfect fit. And after the miscarriage, it gave me an outlet that wasn’t wrapped up in refined sugar and carbs to kick misery’s ass.

Part of my recovery after our miscarriage was that bootcamp and rekindling my love for running. It included Ben putting together a 5K run, complete with signs and certificates, for me and my family and friends, to celebrate and remember the baby, Charlie, that we lost.

The group that ran with me

The group that ran with me

And then I ran my very first 5K chip-timed race, The Santa Pur-Suit, with Ben and my dear friend Jill, finishing with a time of 43:01:2.

The three Santas post-race

The three Santas post-race

If you’re keeping track, I’m missing a baby. A few weeks after this race, I got pregnant. And because of some spotting and cramping, I had to (and wanted to) stop running. I had a healthy pregnancy, an early, yet safe delivery, and a healthy baby boy. And I was itching to get back to running. And exercising. And being active. And feeling awesome again.

It’s been 7 months since our last baby appeared and 5 months since I started moving again. Walking to and from school with Sophie has been a great warm-up to more intense exercise, but even those two hilly 20-minute walks every day aren’t enough for this busy mama.

Now, I am working out/running 3-4 times a week and it has been a huge part of my recovery from my third bout of postpartum depression. I find that if I don’t get some sort of exercise in, I am a beast, my worst self, my most anxious most angry most resentful most awful me. So as part of my healing regimen, I go to therapy once a week, I take medication every day, and I make sure that I don’t go more than two days at a time without something active. In this moment, running is saving my life.

This past weekend something absolutely magical happened: I went on my first outdoor run of the year AND I went with three of my sisters: Toni, Jacqui and Kim.

The sisters getting their run on

Getting our run on

I can not tell you how happy I was during and after this run. It was the highlight of the weekend, of my week, of the months since my brain broke again. It was by far one of the best days ever for me. And all because I got to share the beautiful, early-morning-early-spring air with three of my biggest supporters, cheerleaders, and best friends.

Duck pond on our route

Duck pond on our route

It was completely free (aside from the gas and the pants and the shoes). It was so simple: show up, talk, run, talk, have coffee, talk, go home, shower. It was so healthy: fresh air, exercise, camaraderie. It didn’t involve Oreos or feeling sorry for myself. And it was so freaking empowering to finish.

Affirmation

Affirmation

I love running. It’s hard. Some runs really, really suck. But in the end, I’ve never regretted going on a run. Never. I’ve regretted sleeping in, eating too much, and watching too much TV. Never ever a run.

I read this recently and it sums up completely how I feel about running in this moment in my life:

“Running can help you through a cycle of depression or self doubt by making you feel strong and in control of your life.” – John Stanton

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I’m ever so grateful for this gift.

~ Julia