Oh, what a year this has been

My sweet baby boys are nearing their first birthday. In a couple days they will stuff their chubby little hands into some homemade banana cake with cream cheese frosting. We will sing and clap and they will make us all smile.

Our babies. Leo Thomas and Callum Robert.

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Photos by Ashley Daigle

They are so much more than twins. They are two distinct individuals with unique personalities. Callum is vocal and active, with strong, burly legs. Leo, often sucking two fingers, has a quieter disposition and so content to play on his own. His squeal of delight is contagious. Holding them both at once, while they nuzzle my lap or my neck, makes my heart swell out of my chest. They are each their own person, but they give us double the love – and double the challenge.

By some fluke of nature or by some grand plan, we were given these twins. Was it a test of strength and will? Was it a gift of pure joy? However it came about, we had to find a way. We had to wrap our minds, our family of three, around how-do-we-do-this, how do we become a family of five? How do we care for two tiny, helpless human beings at the same time — while our oldest, then three, still needed us so?

I grew those babies, and that was hard enough. And we were so, so fortunate to see them enter this world at full-term. Pink and beautiful. They latched on and joined me on a journey of struggle, which eventually became somewhat pleasant, in breastfeeding. Hardest thing I’ve ever done, but happy to do this one small thing for my sons.

They slept, sometimes. I probably stressed about it less than I did with Silas. Partly because I was too tired to care. I let them cry a little, and they slept and actually napped better than their older brother ever did.

Still, it was oh-so-difficult the first few weeks and months of their lives. For the first few weeks, they would only sleep on my chest. I remember falling asleep while my mom talked to me. I felt a new kind of tired. Like, absolutely wrecked. And yet, three little humans still needed almost non-stop.

I can handle being tired, but what got me some days was when I felt time and control over my world and my home was spinning away on me, and it was so hard to enjoy my little boys. It’s hard to take in the moments when you aren’t feeling great. I found that when I started getting out, exercising and of course, when I got more sleep, it really helped. Trying not to sweat the small stuff. And thank goodness for everyone who helped us during those early days.

Seeing any baby grow and change is pure magic. But there is something special about twins. They see each other – smile, laugh, head butt, steal toys and food – like no other babies do. They shared a womb for nine months, a crib for a few more months, and a room for longer. They are happy and relaxed in each other’s presence.

There were many days a few months ago when I wondered how I could possibly get through this year. I’m sure Mark felt the same. But one hour, one day at a time, we did it. We really did it!

The sun always came up tomorrow, and there was always more coffee to drink, more snuggles to steal.

And I will keep snuggling these beautiful boys, all three of them, until they won’t let me anymore.

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Marathon by the Sea: my 10K race report

It’s been a week since I took part in the 25th annual Marathon By the Sea, here in beautiful Saint John, NB. This is my “hometown race” (I’m a come-from-away) and I usually try to take part, although the past few years have included various stages of pregnancy and newborns! That being said, I always appreciate the opportunity to run and race, especially now that my children demand so much of my time. Running is my “me time,” which takes much of the pressure off!

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So this year, now that my twins are 11 months old, I wanted a reasonable goal. I haven’t had a ton of time to train, but I figured I could pull of a 10-kilometre run. I didn’t expect to make it a personal best by any stretch — especially on this “certified tough” course. But I knew it would provide some good motivation to train and keep active through the summer.

Well, training went OK. I barely got out for enough runs – maybe two or three per week. My longest run was 9-ish km. I don’t even know because the wristband on my trusty Garmin Forerunner broke off! And let’s not even talk about my nutrition this summer… after a few months of clean eating, I went hog wild all summer, especially on the ice cream!

So when race weekend arrived, let’s just say I wasn’t chomping at the bit. I almost forgot to make time to stop by the expo to pick up my race bib! And I made no elaborate plans for a new running outfit (which I have done in the past), nor did I force my husband and kids to pick a fun spot along the route to cheer me on with a “Go MOM WE LOVE YOU” sign. Wouldn’t that be nice! Instead, I was just lucky to have the chance to sneak away early in the morning and get a peaceful run in before 9:30 a.m. What a treat.

This was my first time trying out the 10-km distance at Marathon by the Sea (MBTS). In the past, they have offered a 5-mile, full and half course. I have done the 5-mile and half-marathons before, along with a 5 km night run a couple years ago. One of the things that appealed to me about this course was the chance to run across both the Reversing Falls and Harbour bridges. Coasting high above the Saint John Harbour is quite an experience by foot. It’s almost enough to take the sting out of the bridge’s cringe-worthy gradual incline.

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After a very hot summer, especially for temperate Saint John, race morning was generally good. It was a little cooler and overcast, yet muggy. By the time I was done running, I was dripping in sweat but at least the sun wasn’t beating down.

I felt as though I kept up a good pace. I wasn’t fast, but steady. I followed a middle-aged couple who were strong, steady runners, and tried to keep them in my sights. I only stopped to walk at the water stations, and even then only briefly.

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The toughest part is actually the first 5 km. It’s all uphill! Starting out at the cruise ship terminal along the harbour, we took Harbour Passage, up to Reversing Falls, still up around Simms Corner to Lancaster Avenue with the peak at Olsen’s. Then there was a nice downhill as we ran down Prince Street and Riverview Drive on the lower west side to the base of the Harbour Bridge. As mentioned the big Harbour Bridge included another significant climb levelling out, going down for a bit then up again on the highway exit back to the uptown. Whew! Lots of hills on this race!

For the final stretch, I tried to race the woman next to me but ran out of steam. She peeled ahead, but I’m glad I gave it a final push. My final time was 59:05… a personal worst, by far. I think my next slowest time is 55 minutes!

But hey, I now have THREE young children, two of those not yet one year old. I grew those babies in this amazing body of mine, and it can still take me on a 10-kilometre run. Now that is something to celebrate. It honestly fills my eyes with tears when I think about it.

Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers at Marathon by the Sea, for bringing such a great event to the city. It’s a wonderful thing to be a part of, and to see friends and visitors use the power of their bodies to take in the majestic views (and hills) this place has to offer. It’s so easy to take for granted.

Back to the old me

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Swinging into summer with this crew.

As spring stretches into summer, and the longer days and warmer air beckon runners and outdoor enthusiasts alike, I have just wrapped up my second round of fitness camp at Third Degree Training Saint John. It feels bittersweet.

I’ll miss the accountability, the camaraderie and the excellent sweat sessions. I’ll miss having a guided workout four times a week, no two workouts the same, and I’ll miss having the chance to bring my little ones along to the Baby & Me classes — although, now that Callum is crawling it could have made for extra-challenging workouts!

Although I know I could have done better, especially during the past month, I also know I had a few first-world curveballs thrown in my direction, so it’s best to chalk it up to “life with kids” and move on.

After my stellar results last round, I think I actually gained a pound or two and an inch or two in the past month. However, my little family of five went on TWO week-long vacations during this time. (Neither of which were very relaxing with three under three in tow, but I still feel fortunate to have gotten away for a bit). And of course sandwiched between trips, we were all slammed with head colds, which meant little sleep and little volition to workout.

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An evening run on PEI’s north shore. Such serenity. beauty, and a good way to run off ice cream.

We actually called off our recent PEI trip early by one day, just because we were all tired and missing home, but that meant I was able to swing by Third Degree for the very last class of Week 8. This was good because I had intended on trying to make it to a class at the franchise’s Stratford, PEI location, however family life did not permit it. (And believe me, I tried!)

Overall, my nutrition was good for the first four weeks of this boot camp. I continued to follow the plan laid out for me (an active breastfeeding mother of twins), and stayed on course fairly well. During both trips away, I definitely indulged now and then, while continuing to ensure I ate plenty of protein and veggies. The rest of the time I found I would start off the day fine, then make excuses for why I could have a treat here and there… and before I knew it, I was treating myself every day! Bad, April (slaps own wrist). This has always been my Achilles heel.

I know I feel better and have better energy when I eat well, and this is especially true now that I have sub-optimal sleep. I am now back to eating clean, well a good three days of it, and hoping I can stay on the healthy train.

Following one round of fitness camp near-perfectly followed by another one that was less-than-ideal underscores a couple of important points:

  • Accountability under the Actual Nutrition program works! For the first 8 weeks, I emailed Kevin, who owns the Saint John facility, my food diary every single day. Just knowing he would be seeing what I ate automatically kept me on track.
  • Sometimes life does not allow you to make eating and working out a top priority. And that’s OK. What matters is that after the “event,” you can get back on track.

The high-intensity workouts at Third Degree – including movements such as burpees, squats, planks and dozens of variations interspersed with cardio – are so much fun and so effective. I love getting my heart-rate up but what I’ve really noticed is that my soreness after a workout is not as intense, and I feel stronger. Even after my slacker weeks. I’m definitely fit enough to crank out a 5K, which actually surprised me because I haven’t run much since having the twins.

In these respects, I have achieved my goal when I set out on this journey.

I wanted to become stronger, fitter and energized. Check! Losing weight, yeah that would be nice, but not a prerequisite to anything. Still I am down to my “normal” weight and fitting in my pre-baby jeans, so that’s awesome.

The best side effect of being in shape is how you feel. Feeling good, as a busy mother of three, including 9-month-old twins, is essential, not only for the sake of happiness, but for survival! Happy mom = happy kids = happy household.

I gave Catt a sweaty embrace as I left that Friday evening, endorphins rushing. I’m so grateful for this experience, I told her, and I only hope that I can inspire other mothers of young children to get out there and do something for themselves.

It doesn’t have to be the program at Third Degree, it may be as simple as doing lunges during a stroller walk, or turning walks into slow runs, or doing a few planks and push-ups beside your baby on the living room floor.

When I think back to how I felt when I embarked on this program four months ago, I can see that my mental wellness has shifted in a positive direction. Back then, I felt sluggish, overwhelmed and frumpy. Oh, and starving. I felt kind of lost in motherhood. And while it can take a few months for any mother to get her bearings after giving birth, the solution was simple: combining a wholesome diet with regular exercise. Now, thanks to the good people at Third Degree, I’ve been able to shift my habits back to a healthy lifestyle.

As I work towards my next goal of running my first postpartum 10K in August, I know I will be tackling it with a stronger body, with confidence and, because I’m so grateful to be back to the old me, with joy.

Falling off the wagon on vacation

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Lion’s Head, Ontario.

When we packed up our family of five for a trip to Ontario last week, I was anticipating staying on track with my eating and writing a fabulous blog post about how I avoided temptation and kept on my Actual Nutrition program even while on vacation.

Wrong!

Instead, I got in zero runs, zero workouts (despite packing my running shoes). I ate homemade goodies galore, ice cream, wine, s’mores, probably not enough vegetables… the list goes on.

And do I feel guilty about it? Not one bit.

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No apologies.

I had a wonderful time with family and friends. And although I would like to believe I can eat perfectly 95 per cent of the time to maintain and continue making progress in my health and fitness after having twins, this is not reality. And I think this vacation provided a dose of “real life” in what has honestly been a pretty sheltered experiment the past few months.

I am on maternity leave and spend the vast majority of my time at home. While I am run ragged by my three little children most of the time, I do have the luxury of spending more time than most in my kitchen, which gives me plenty of control over what I consume. I don’t think this reflects reality for most people, who face temptations at work, at social functions and in their daily lives out and about.

I do want to continue with all of the great things I have learned: eating hearty breakfasts with protein, more veggies and healthy fats and avoiding sugar and junk food. But there will always be temptations wherever I go, so I think it’s ok to figure out when it’s fine to indulge and when it’s better to turn down a treat.

After returning from vacation, it was almost like I had to teach my body all over again how it didn’t need carbs as a night snack, or sugar after every meal. Another week on the healthy train and I am just starting to feel back to more stable energy (despite my children constantly robbing me of sleep!). So I know it’s definitely worth it to keep following my Actual Nutrition plan, while making it part of my everyday life.

Some people may find it easier to say no to all treats but I know I will need to find a happy medium. With another trip planned to PEI in the near future, I want to do a better job at eating well, but of course with the odd ice cream cone mixed in. But how does one ice cream cone not lead to just a small bowl of chips, to a tasty donut at coffee time?

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How do you say no to those homemade squares? Or a cake adorned with your twins’ names?

On the workout side of things, I believe the week off provided good rest for my body. I came back with no aches or pains and ready to go. I was able to pack in two short runs and four bootcamp workouts at 3rd Degree this week… which is good because this second round is already nearing its end.

 

Fitness for feminists

I was busy preparing lunch for my twin babies and I when I flicked on the radio, as I normally do during meal times. CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon was accepting calls about a topic close to my heart: women’s fitness at mid-life, and how we often struggle to balance the need to prioritize our health while feeling pressure to achieve the “perfect” body.

I have never grabbed the phone to dial faster in my life. I feel so passionate about this, because as a mom of three young boys, I have learned that the moment I tossed ideals around the number on the scale, clothes sizes and feeling the need to look a certain way out the window, and learned to enjoy fitness and enjoy healthy eating, everything started to fall into place.

LISTEN to the show at 38:20. 

The radio show was hosting Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs, authors of “Fit at Mid-Life: a Feminist Fitness Journey.” The women also blog at Fit is a Feminist Issue. In the book and on the blog, Sam and Tracy – academic deans at two Ontario universities – share their journey to reach peak fitness by the age of 50, all while challenging modern fitness culture from a feminist perspective.

I was fortunate enough to share my own personal experience with making fitness an important part of my life as a 35-year-old mom (does that make me middle-aged?!). I wanted to let listeners know that although my life is busy with three young boys, I have managed to return to a healthy lifestyle thanks to the workouts and nutritional guidance from 3rd Degree Training in Saint John.

The host asked if my goals have changed over the years, and since having children. Absolutely, I said. My first goal is so simple: to feel good. Secondly, I want to be in good enough shape to run half-marathons again, and hopefully another (injury-free) marathon one day. If my jeans fit better and I lose a few pounds and inches, I truly regard this as a bonus.

Tending to the needs of young children can be extremely tiring and at times exasperating. Carving out time in a busy week to exercise pays me dividends in so many ways. I have crept out of the fog of the newborn days and I now feel stronger, more energized and my mood is lifted up so I can better take on the daily challenges of motherhood and life in general.

As a woman, and a mother, I have a deep respect for my body and that fact that I have been able to carry and give birth to three beautiful boys. It’s easier to treat my body, which is both beautiful and imperfect, as a temple, when you think of it from that point of view.

Of course it helps that I honestly enjoy working out. I love it. If you can find something you love to do while getting active, it makes all the difference. Throw out the scale and focus on what makes you feel good, and the rest will come.

I have also noticed that once I started back down the healthy path and saw some results – whether it was attempting a full push-up or feeling less-winded after a sprint – it encouraged me to continue eating healthy, whole foods and continue challenging myself during workouts. I have also set myself some running goals for the summer.

It was so fun to share my thoughts on Maritime Noon (even though Callum was making his voice heard!) and lucky me – my name was drawn to win the book! I look forward to reading more about Sam and Tracy’s journey.

Working out is better with friends

Most of my friends know  if they are planning a visit to New Brunswick, they better pack running shoes.

For Miranda, my friend of 15 years and blogger of Thoughts and Pavement, this was a given during her recent visit here from the United Kingdom.

Since I have managed to get in four HIIT workouts each week since starting at 3rd Degree Training 11 weeks ago, I wanted to find a way to stay on track while enjoying her visit. So I signed us up for the weekly Co-Ed Weight Circuit on Saturday morning, a great way to try something new while taking part in a class that is open to non-members.

The weight circuit is different from regular classes because the workout includes the use of equipment, including kettle bells, battle ropes, a spin bike and weights. It’s a fun way to mix things up at the end of the week with a guaranteed sweat.

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Feeling badass on the battle ropes!

Miranda is always up for a challenge and totally killed this workout. My red face shows this was a good challenge for me as well.

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Seeing Miranda this past weekend was a reminder to me just how special it is to have friends who share this passion for health, wellness and physical activity. I am lucky enough to have many friends – both nearby and far away – who like to lace up and go for a run or try a workout class when we’re together.

There’s nothing better than getting lost in conversation on a run (even if it’s breathless, for me) or enjoying a feeling of tackling a tough workout together with a friend. I’m so grateful for all my workout buddies – you know who you are.

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Exactly one year ago today, I was running the @geneva_marathon_for_unicef! Today, I’m in Saint John, New Brunswick hanging out with the amazing @aprilacunningham and her beautiful family. This one inspires me daily. Mom of three boys, she attends boot camp 4x a week and runs regularly. Yesterday she took me on a little jaunt around Harbour Passage trail. What a beautiful place to run with the brisk ocean air in our face! In a week, when I’m running the @rungatwick half marathon, I’ll try to remember that feeling. I’m undertrained and not ready, but I’m running for @neurokinex kids, a very worthy charity that provides rehab for children with spinal cord injuries. There’s a link to my JustGiving page in my latest blog post [Link in bio] Now, off to enjoy my last day with the fam! #friendswhorun #canada #saintjohn #harbourpassage #happyrunners

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Summer running goals

I’m now well into my second round of boot camp at 3rd Degree Training, and as I continue to work on my strength, the spring weather has me itching to set some running goals.

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It’s hard to believe I have only run a handful of times since having the twins – who are now 7.5 months old. When Silas was about nine months old, I ran the Lorneville Loop, a 13-kilometre race! I’m nowhere near ready to take on such a distance but I know once I start training, the running will come back to me before long.

With three young children, the days slip by so quickly, and I feel like I need to go ahead and set race goals so I have incentive to get out and run, or else the time will just float by and my mat leave will be gone.

St. Andrews Father’s Day 5-Miler – June 17 – I have run this challenging course twice before – once in blazing heat, and once in pouring rain. Maybe this will be my lucky year and the weather will be perfect. This gives me six weeks to train and lines up with the end of this round of boot camp. A great way to celebrate! Not to mention honouring my awesome husband and father to three under three.

Marathon by the Sea 10K – August 12 – I want to be good to my body and avoid jumping into distance running too quickly. Training for a 10K is a great way to continue to increase my mileage without sacrificing my weekends to long runs away from my kids. A quick look at the Marathon By the Sea website indicates this run crosses Saint John’s Harbour Bridge, which is an amazing experience. There are lots of hills, so definitely not expecting a personal best, but Marathon by the Sea is always a hometown favourite.

To get myself back in running shape, I need to start getting the miles in. Doing this while completing another boot camp may be a little challenging, but I hope to attempt 2-3 runs a week in addition to my 3-4 workouts at 3rd Degree. The great thing about this is my stronger body should make me a stronger runner less prone to aches and pains.

I’m also still following my custom Actual Nutrition guide and avoiding treats except for special occasions, so I am curious to see how this impacts my running.

I’m still breastfeeding the twins, although they continue to eat an increasing amount of solids. So I still need to consume plenty of calories to keep us all going. As I gradually start weaning this summer, my mileage will be increasing so I will be able to pare down the volume of food a bit, but probably not by a ton. Ah yes, one of the greatest benefits of running is the food.