Christmas blog swap 2016

One of the best things about sharing my running journey online is getting to know other bloggers who may be going through similar experiences. So when western Canadian runner Leigh from All You Need is Love invited me to join the Canadian Christmas blog swap this year, I gladly joined in.

I was matched up with Christy from The Last Honest Love. She bravely shares her story of infertility turned motherhood. Her posts are honest and real, and her one-year-old daughter Eleanor is just precious.

I received her little package in the mail from Calgary this week. How fun to rip open a gift so close to Christmas — just for me!

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Christy, this gift is perfect. A wine cozy, dark chocolate and a running ornament? Can we be best friends?

Adorable ornament from @hellochristyy Thank you! #bloggerswap #runnersofinstagram #runnerslovechristmas

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I am notoriously five minutes late for everything, so this ornament couldn’t be more bang on. Such a great addition to our tree — and motivation to keep my December run streak alive.

I’m very grateful to have been included in this year’s swap, co-hosted by Lindsey from A Running Tale. Be sure to visit Leigh‘s blog to see the list of participants and check out their stories.

Mom ecstatic as boy gets gift of health – Telegraph-Journal

By April Cunningham

Zackary Shaw may not make it home for Christmas, but he’s already received the greatest gift.

After years of battling leukemia, including a second diagnosis last spring, the nine-year-old from Back Bay, near St. George, has just received news that an umbilical cord stem cell transplant was a success.

“My heart is exploding with so much happiness right now,” says his mother, Courtney Shaw, who remains with Zack at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, on Thursday. “It was the best feeling in the world to tell him he fought cancer for the second time. There are no words to describe what I’m feeling.”

Preliminary results from Zackary’s October stem cell transplant were a 100 per cent match, Shaw says, meaning his old cancer cells are gone and he is completely cancer-free.

The news could not have come at a better time for Zackary and his parents, who have spent months in Toronto after a series of intense chemotherapy and radiation treatments leading up to the transplant.

He was diagnosed with chemotherapy for the second time in May, just seven months after finishing treatments. This time, the cancer had spread through his blood, chromosome 21, brain and spinal fluid and his bone marrow.

But just as Zackary and his mother hoped he would be given the all-clear to return home to the Maritimes in time for Christmas, a series of infections led to his readmittance to hospital.

Shaw, who has been forced to keep her chin up, saying positive through the battery of tests, treatments and pain she has been forced to watch her son endure for the past four years, called it “just another bump in the road.”

What was once a Christmas wish to return home to St. George, west of Saint John, faded to a slim hope of even making it as far as Halifax, where Zackary would remain close to pediatric oncologists at the IWK and where they could reunite with his sisters, Jennika, 14, and Harley, 4, who remain in St. George.

“We aren’t sure when we’ll be home,” Courtney says. “But if we don’t make it, we will Skype the girls Christmas morning from here.”

The latest setback had wiped Zackary’s typical sweet, demure smile from his face — aside from the day he had the chance to meet a few members of the Toronto Maple Leafs, his mother says. He was downtrodden, leaving his mother to make any attempt she could to bring a smile to his face, as they played “Russian roulette” with his fragile immune system.

This latest news was the lift he needed.

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Back in 2012, Zackary had been lethargic and ill for months, and while his doctors thought he had throat and ear infections, the antibiotics they prescribed weren’t doing a thing. They finally sent him for bloodwork.

“I got the phonecall at work,” Shaw says in an interview over Facebook video chat, Zackary snuggled next to her. She was just a few days into her new job as a Charlotte County physiotherapist when she received the news that her four-year-old son had leukemia. “I couldn’t even go home to pack my bags. They wanted him straight through to Saint John, and at 4 a.m. the following morning we went by ambulance to Halifax.”

It was scary, Courtney says, but she put her trust in doctors and the healthcare system.

“When you’re going through this, you don’t know what to expect,” she says. “It was all a foreign language to me.”

Little did she know she was entering a medical world she would become only too familiar with over the coming years, as they ferried Zackary back and forth between Saint John and Halifax for nearly four years.

He finished his final treatment on October 17, 2015.

Only a few months later, on May 30, the cancer was back.

It seemed to come out of nowhere, Courtney adds, since only six days prior, Zackary’s weekly test results were completely clean.

“Then he started having signs of weakness in his arms,” she says, adding it was a symptom of infection. “He couldn’t write, or pick up his chair at school to put it on his desk at the end of the day.”

Zackary was at his father’s house one day — his parents are separated — and he went to the Saint John Regional Hospital for bloodwork to see what was behind the weakness.

Once again, Courtney got the call at work. “He had relapsed. This time, it was a more intense diagnosis,” she says. “That’s why he needed the bone marrow transplant.”

Although Courtney and Zackary’s father, Jaret Wentworth, were told he would likely need the transplant, they were warned that even with 28 billion people on the registry, the chances of a match are rare.

One day before the St. George community organized a September bone marrow clinic — which attracted nearly 200 people willing to add their names to the registry — officials found two matches suitable for Zackary.

What ended up being the selected match came from the umbilical cord blood of a baby boy, which they hoped would make Zackary healthy again.

In a process that only took 25 minutes, the small bag of blood dripped through the lines in Zackary’s chest, leaving what Courtney describes as a strange yet pungent odour or cream corn in the hospital room for days after the transfusion, Courtney says. The smell leaked from her son’s pores.

******

Ask Zackary his age, and he jokes that he’s 100 years old.

What does he want for Christmas?

He shakes his head, looking down. “Nothing.”

The past few weeks have left a boy that his mother describes as “always playing, always on the move,” utterly depleted.

“He was very, very sick this time around,” she says of the second diagnosis. “He just didn’t have the energy to do anything.”

He lost his hair much faster, too.

The first time Zackary was diagnosed with leukemia, life because a series of predictable tests and treatments. But nothing has been predictable about these past few months, Courtney says.

“It’s been one disaster after another. Bad news upon bad news. So when we get good news, we’re like, ‘Finally.’”

As a mother, Courtney says the entire journey through cancer, the disease that can only be described by expletives, has been a lesson in patience.

“Doctors are slow,” Zackary chimes in. Courtney laughs.

“There’s never a true answer,” she says. “There’s always a possibility of something else happening. There’s always a waiting game. It’s one test to the next.”

Courtney has her down moments, for sure, but staying positive is so important, she says. In fact, it’s the only way to soldier on.

“No parent wants to see their child suffer,” she says, eyes welling up with tears. “It can get emotionally hard sometimes. But you just keep going. Life doesn’t stop.”

Another run streak?

I’m so sorry I have been MIA for an entire month. November is always such a tough month to feel inspired. Let’s face it, the days are shorter and darker. Today it felt like it was getting dark by 3 p.m. It’s so difficult to muster up the will to get out and run.

But hey, I have been running, at least a little. I’m grateful to have the treadmill these days. I even made it out for a long run with a group of friends a couple weeks ago. But without a race on the horizon, it’s only too easy to put off today’s run until tomorrow.

That ends Dec. 1.

I’m challenging myself to yet another December run streak and I hope you will join me.

Let’s plow through the sweet and savoury month of December and run every freaking day. Who’s with me?

The idea of a run streak is to run at least one mile every day in a row. It is modelled off the Runner’s World holiday run streak which actually bridges the gap between the American Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. As the magazine suggests, please don’t attempt this if you haven’t been running consistently for at least six months.

Why streak? The holidays are busy, caloric and at times stressful. Running provides at least 10 minutes of “me time,” and provides a little balance at a time of indulgence. I have participated in two previous December run streaks and was amazed how great I felt at the end. I recall running at midnight after covering a city council meeting and another day at 6 a.m. before covering the Dennis Oland murder trial last year. When I was just a few weeks pregnant in 2013, I remember feeling so triumphant after dealing weeks of early-pregnancy queasiness to get out and run every day (and I didn’t even have a treadmill then). I remember Christmas baking cookies, sampling a few, then running.

Truth is, I tend to feel pretty listless without a goal. I need this to keep me accountable and to give me licence to sample a few more goodies over the coming weeks.

Are you ready? Let’s go streaking!

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Last weekend I ran with Silas a few blocks to the Santa Claus parade. Every little bit counts, right?

 

 

A new personal best

There’s nothing like capping off the 2016 running season on this kind of high.

I shaved a mere seven seconds from my personal best time for the half-marathon — 1:59:47!

This is what a personal best looks like! (Pic by @freshstartmolly)

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This was my third time taking part in Moncton’s Legs for Literacy race, and the second time doing the very fast and flat half-marathon. It’s the biggest race in New Brunswick and so much fun.

Every time I have done this run the weather has been iffy, as the end of October tends to be. This year was no exception. We had all of the weather: cold, wind, clouds, rain, rainbows, sun, warmth, followed by extreme gusts and pelting cold rain at the end. My crazy lime green hat, which I won at the expo, nearly blew away at certain points.

One of the best parts of this race was running alongside my friend, Jenn. (I have two running buddies named Jennifer so try not to get confused.) We instantly fell into the same rhythm and having her nearby made me feel secure about holding a fairly challenging pace around 5:40 min/km.

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Kevin, Jenn and April after a the Moncton Legs for Literacy half-marathon 2016. And my shark child at bottom right.

If it wasn’t for Kevin, I would not have bothered to sign up for this race. Kevin is so rational and convinced me it made complete sense to go for a second half-marathon and aim for a PB, after coming so close at Maritime Race Weekend. Good friends do that for you. He also lured me with free race registration for the Sweet Caroline 10K.

This race was important for me to know I am officially back to pre-baby race shape. It took a long time to get here, but I’m here. And now on reflection, I have gained so much running experience after having a child. I may even call myself a “seasoned” runner, to throw around a cliche. This year alone I have run one full marathon, two half-marathons and a few other runs. All with a toddler! I don’t think I dreamed this could be possible. I think I always had a quiet fear that my running life would peter out after having a child, but instead, it’s better than ever.

 

Of course, support from my hubby is an absolutely essential part of continuing to run, chase goals and just continue to enjoy the sport. He knows it makes me happy and healthy, and so he doesn’t complain (much) when I tell him about early morning long-run plans, which means he doesn’t get to sleep in after an evening shift, or yet another running road trip. In fact, he almost loves these trips as much as I do. I know, I’m really lucky.

So accomplishing this goal is not just about the number, or the sub 2 hours, or anything like that. It’s about knowing that I can continue to find strength to meet my personal goals even as life changes. It’s about carving out time for myself and showing my little boy that running is healthy and fun, too.

Looking forward to seeing what new challenges and adventures 2017 brings.

Run on!

 

These October days, though

The temperature is cooling off just a little, the horizon is brushed with golden, orange and red hues, the days are shorter. A solid base of running has been built over the past 10 months, making for a truly enjoyable fall season.

I haven’t been training particularly hard or with any set goals in mind, but what I thought would be a quiet month running-wise has turned into quite the opposite.

And I’m not sure if it’s just my imagination or the cooling temperatures, but running has felt just a little easier lately. I am not necessarily faster or slimmer but perhaps my fitness is finally where it needs to be for a half-marathon PR this coming weekend in Moncton.

YES, this is the first mention of a second fall half-marathon for 2016. It sort of came out of nowhere and I signed up last-minute.

Maritime Race Weekend was supposed to be my final big race of the season. But after my friend Kevin generously gave me his 10K registration for the Sweet Caroline run, he said my payback would have to be a half-marathon PR (or a beer). Well, I couldn’t argue with that.

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Home stretch of the Sweet Caroline 10K – 54:14

In a few days I will attempt to crack 1:59:54 at the Moncton Legs for Literacy half. We shall see if the stars align for me! My legs were feeling great at the Eastern Passage half a few weeks ago so hopefully the flat Moncton course and some better race day prep (ie not arriving late and requiring a mid-race porta-potty stop) will help me meet this goal. If not, I guess I will owe you a beer, Kevin.

{Side note: I have only managed to do ONE long run since the Eastern Passage run one month ago. And it was 18K on the treadmill. Will I survive?}

Last weekend, Silas and I took part in our very first 5K race together. It was the Island View Eagles 5K, which is really close to our house. We woke up early and made our way to the school on a very cold morning. Silas was bundled up in a winter hat and three or four layers under a blanket. We zoomed up and down Manawagonish Road to complete the 5K in 28:32! I didn’t really know what to expect so I was really pleased with my first official stroller 5K time.

Thanks for reading, friends!

Run on!

Race Recap: Maritime Race Weekend

Rolling hills, scenic vistas, cool sea breezes and pirates: this was the backdrop for my 7th half-marathon and a season’s best performance at Maritime Race Weekend.

This well-organized and spirited event takes place in Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia, just outside of Dartmouth. The course is one of the most beautiful I have ever run — and I have run through many stunning places in the Maritimes. It starts off at Fisherman’s Wharf and weaves along the coast. The weather was absolutely perfect, around 18 C, but very sunny — I wish I had my sunglasses.

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I went into this run without any particular goal in mind. Life has been moving at a hectic pace and I have managed to get in my training runs but not much more, so I wasn’t expecting a PR. Still, I have felt strong the past few weeks, which really is to be expected at this point in the season, so I knew wouldn’t fall flat on my face.

Mark, Silas and I packed up and left for Dartmouth on Friday morning, making the four+ hour drive. We stayed at the same hotel where race kit pick-up took place, which made everything easier. Silas was immediately impressed with the pirate theme.

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We got to bed early and prepared for a 6 a.m. wake-up on Saturday, race day, which we thought would give us plenty of time to get to the start line in time for the 8 a.m. race.

Sleep was so-so with the two-year-old waking up at about 4 a.m. and tossing and turning next to me for the last couple hours of the night. I’m not blaming him for anything though because I had typical nerves and wasn’t sleeping the greatest anyway.

We woke up and I set straight into my typical race morning routine: chug water, eat English muffin and peanut butter, hotel room coffee, bathroom and get dressed. My watch and iPod were charged and ready to go. My two cheerleaders were moving a little more slowly than me.

I sent them down to the 7 a.m. breakfast buffet to pick out a couple items for the road while I finished up in the hotel room.

Instead, I went downstairs to see them seated in the dining room. I started to sweat. We still had a 15-20 minute drive ahead of us (in unknown terrain), plus we needed to find parking and I had to get to the start line. Finally we got into the car even though all Silas had eaten was a quarter piece of toast and a couple of Cheerios. The car was stocked with fruit and other snacks so I knew he would be fine and eat eventually.

As we arrived in Eastern Passage, the two-lane road soon became lined with parked cars. We started looking for a parking spot and ended up having to turn around and drive farther away from the start line. Eventually I got to the right place with less than five minutes to spare. Problem was, I needed to use the port-a-potty one last time (as many runners know this is crucial on race morning!). I figured I would have just enough time, but as I made my way to the crowd, I realized there was still a huge line-up and the crowd was packed. I tried to move up toward the two-hour half-marathon pace group but couldn’t get anywhere near them. I settled for the 2:20 group and figured I would just have to catch up.

As the gun sounded, the crowd didn’t move. It took a good 2-3 minutes before I crossed the starting mat. I tried to take it easy, thinking this conserved energy would help me later but I couldn’t help but feel anxious. I wanted to go, but I was stuck in the crowd. I weaved as best as I could, but there wasn’t a ton of room. I spent most of the first 5 km of the race like this. The up side was I didn’t go out too fast. (First 5K – 28:55)

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The first few water stops had port-a-potties but at least one person was waiting outside and it wasn’t an emergency at this point so I continued to hold out until the 5 km mark. The outhouse was hiding in behind the water station and no one was in it. Score! I paused my Garmin and managed to get in and out within 1 minute.  I hit the course again and caught up to the people I was chasing before in no time.

Around the 8-10 km mark I realized I was making great time, in fact it was the best pace I have been running all season around 5:30 to 5:45 min/km. Part of me worried I would run out of steam but I tried to focus on effort rather than the number on my watch. I enjoyed the scenery and relaxed. I was having so much fun! I took a GU gel at about 8K. (10K – 57:54)

Around this time we hit a few bigger hills. I slowed down but didn’t stop, trying to steady my heart rate. Cresting up a hill always guaranteed a beautiful view. While I was feeling good around the 13-14K mark, something weird was happening in my shoes. The smaller toes on my left foot seemed to be overlapping each other. I’m not sure what caused this, but it really started to hurt. I told myself some weird things like, Who needs baby toes anyway? Focus on the big toe. When I walked, the toes were fine. I can’t explain why this was happening. Hope I haven’t developed some kind of weird gait issue.

Around 15 km I told myself I was going to hold back a bit then boost the pace for the final 5K. I wasn’t sure if this was a goal I could sustain, but I wanted to try. I have always wanted to get negative splits (faster last half than first half) and I thought it might be possible this time given my slow start.

Lucky for me, as I rounded a bend, a person directing traffic yelled out, “Last 4K, all downhill!” and I practically fist-pumped. I got my second wind and really pushed it down a big hill. I saw this photographer and jumped in the air but looks like he just captured my goofy grin after the fact.

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For the final few kilometres I continued to push the effort even though I knew I wasn’t going to break the coveted 2-hour mark. I didn’t really mind because overall, I felt the strongest I have all year, and I knew I would come close. I continued to “go fishing,” reeling in runners ahead of me and picking them off one by one. Did it ever feel good to finish with a bang.

I rounded the final corner and saw 2:06:xx on the clock, but my Garmin (which I paused for the bathroom break) said 2:02. Awesome! I was so happy. Official time was 2:03 on the nose. And I did get the negative split I was looking for — the last half was three minutes faster than the first.

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I crossed the finish line and the first thing out of my mouth was “Where’s the beer?” I was directed to a small building where the after-party was taking place. I drank up rather quickly because I was anxious to find Mark and Silas. After grabbing a banana and an orange and some water, I wandered around for a bit and found my guys. They had spent the past couple of hours enjoying the scenery and throwing rocks in the water, one of Silas’s favourite things to do these days.

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We also ran into Anna from Piper’s Run! I was so happy to meet a fellow mom/running blogger from the Maritimes, and it totally happened without planning. So great to meet Anna and her husband Saï, who both took part in Maritime Race Weekend. Runners are great people! Go check out her blog. I love her honesty and can truly relate to how difficult it can be to balance chasing running goals with life as a working mom.

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Hard to believe I have now run seven half-marathons. And of course, I can’t wait for the next one. My body is definitely used to this distance and I know I could beat my PR from 2013 of 1:59:54 with better race morning punctuality. I’m tempted to sign up for another one this fall but taking it easy is also appealing.

Thank you Maritime Race Weekend for showing us “Good times in the Maritimes!” We will be back!

7th half marathon in the books in beautiful Eastern Passage, N.S. @maritimeraces

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Book review: The Illegal

illegalKeita is an elite athlete from the tiny, fictional country of Zantroland, who finds himself on the island of Freedom State, running for his life.

Viola Hill, a black lesbian who relies on a wheelchair to get around, is hot on the story.

For someone like me, this book has it all: running, journalism, political corruption!

The story takes places within an overarching theme of power and race, black versus white, good versus evil. In this story, knowledge is power, and young, up-and-coming journalists hold the key.

It was the perfect read for kicking back on my vacation, which happened to coincide with the Olympics in Rio.

I am a fan of Canadian author Lawrence Hill, having read and enjoyed The Book of Negroes, which tells the incredible journey of a female slave from the shores of Africa to Nova Scotia and beyond.

Reading his acknowledgements, I can tell Hill put immense effort into this story, writing it over the course of five years. He consulted with health experts, refugee experts and Canadian Olympic runner Reid Coolsaet. He spoke to athletes about what it’s like to compete in a wheelchair, which informed his writing of Viola Hill.

Among his other acknowledgments, Hill thanks my alma mater, Wilfrid Laurier University, for allowing him to write in Lucinda House, and he also thanks friends including sports journalist Stephen Brunt for convincing him to buy a place in Woody Point, Newfoundland, near Gros Morne National Park, where he finished this book. I love the Canadian-ness of this book and its roots.

While I enjoyed the story — hanging on every mile of Keita’s races — I also felt as though the novel wasn’t the calibre we might expect from this author.

A few things stick out at me, most notably an unbelievable love interest between Keita and a cop, who apparently only thinks about sex — and by the way, they go on a date at Tim Hortons (what?!). In general, many of the story elements seem to weave together a little too conveniently. It’s almost as if Hill was trying to condense too much into one story.

All that aside, the book certainly opens your eyes to the dangers that could be faced by athletes from around the world.

It’s common for Kenyan runners to move to Canada, seeking prize money to send back home to their families, according to The Globe and Mail. They must balance elite training with full-time jobs. Many find the life too difficult.

Every day I run without fear, and I do it for fun. For so many, running is a way to make a living, and it must be done while facing extreme circumstances.

I think it’s important to realize that running is about more than leisure, weight control and self-empowerment.

I loved reading about a runner who must dig deep to find the courage, strength and stamina to win.