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Another Long Race

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So, I fabulously flamed out of my half marathon training last fall, after some freak thing happened to my calf. As I mentioned in this post, I was pretty annoyed at my middle-aged body betraying me in such mysterious fashion. Why the resentment to a little speed work, huh?

Undeterred, however, I’ve signed up for Around the Bay, the oldest road race in North America. 30K of fun at the end of March. This means winter training, and the last couple of weeks have been a treat indeed: frigid temps, slush, ice, and snow. Because I am trying to work in harmony with my body instead of at cross purposes with it, I joined a neighbourhood gym where I can hit the treadmill, cross train, lift weights, etc. It’s a tiny place, as far as gyms go, and works on the premise that all the members live in the area. So it dispenses with locker rooms, juice bars, and indoor lounging space. Come in, work out, leave.

Because of the aforementioned slush, ice, and snow, the gym nicely requests clean, gym-only shoes be worn inside. Although I find some of those directives to be super annoying, I also don’t want to have to lie down in the muck to do my crunches, such as they are, and this meant I had to buy new shoes.

Behold: the shoes of awesomeness.

So fast she's a bluuuuur

This means I will be super fit and super fast, right?


Written by Jennifer

January 28, 2013 at 3:57 pm

A Project or Two

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When I was a kid, it annoyed the snot out of me that my parents appeared to be completely discontented if they didn’t have projects to occupy what I thought of as glorious, unstructured, free time. Why not sit and read a book? I thought. The pool down the street is open, I opined. But there was always something to be done on the house, or in the yard, or in the sewing room. The house projects bugged me the most (I may have mentioned this before.)

Fast forward 30 years and here we are, with a house that will be a near-constant project for a while, a yard that is small enough to promise a modicum of stress-free entertainment, should I choose to pursue that, and a long list of things to knit, sew, and write about. Recreation involves creation, or so it seems.

And, because the new house and the job and the writing projects aren’t enough, I have just signed up for the Hamilton Half Marathon. November 4 is only 9 weeks away. Watch me run.

Written by Jennifer

September 5, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Posted in sports

In Which I Play a Gym Rat

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In order to combat a chronic, recurring, annoying piriformis and ITB issue, I have acquiesced to the necessity of trips to the gym for the purpose of lifting weights. Thoroughly chastised by my long-distance chiropractor and my at-hand husband, I know the wisdom of their words. I am a fortysomething woman and, even if it were not for the nagging pain in my ass (literally), I know it is only wise to build muscle as I age–to counterbalance the inevitable effects of gravity and loss of elasticity and whatnot.

So I have a list of seven exercises: dead lifts, lunges, squats, one-legged squats, sit-ups on an exercise ball, hanging crunches, and cross body chopping/bailing thingies. (I guess that makes eight. I wanted to forget the lunges. But there they are.) I need to do these at least twice a week. Shouldn’t take me more than 20-30 minutes to go through them all, so the time commitment is not what needles me. I resist this because, having just gone through a set not an hour ago, I feel so damn awkward! Unbalanced and floppy and weak and oh-so-uncool. I realize the point of doing them is to not be unbalanced and floppy, so I shall persevere. The uncool thing is probably beyond help at this point.

But I need a gym buddy. Even a virtual one. You wanna go lift, or something? 😉

Written by Jennifer

March 26, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Posted in sports

My legs keep no pace with my desire

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. . .such was the motto of Toronto’s A Midsummer Night’s Run, held in the waning daylight hours of a recent Saturday in August. Dale and I signed up because of the timing, the location, and the 15K distance. Nine+ miles qualifies, for me, as a serious run that requires training, but not so much training as to become my part-time job.

One could also sign up because of the fairies, though. There were lots of them, in costume, including the Pace Fairies who did great jobs keeping their groups of runners on target for their race time goals.

I had not been particularly happy with my race preparation. I did almost all of the runs dictated by my race training schedule, though I felt that–for me–running 5x/week was just too much for the ole body to take for weeks and weeks on end. I feel better when running 4x/week: less fatigue, more spring in my step. So I cut out a few planned runs in the last two or three weeks of my training program. But whether I was running four or five times a week, I just felt SLOW. It’s been hot here (Canada? Who knew?) and kind of muggy, which probably affected my pace a bit. Really, though, I have just felt that I’ve hit the wall in my running. I can, when pressed, run a 10 minute mile. I’m just not going to get much faster, I think. Dale insists that I am wrong and, should I decide to dedicate myself to speed, I could certainly shave a good minute off my average per-mile pace. I think he thinks too highly of my athletic prowess.

But he could be on to something. My longest run during training was a 9-mile jaunt on August 8th. I ran that bad boy in 1:40 and change, which is an average of 11.01 minutes/mile. Whooopdie hoo, right? At 15K, A Midsummer Night’s Run is 9.32 miles, so I figured that I could run it in 1:42 or 1:43. This did not make me happy, as I really wanted to be able to run the distance in 1:30. So I gave myself two different pep talks. The first talk went something like this: dude, you’re 40 years old and you can run 15K, or 20K, or 40K. This pretty much makes you a stud, regardless of how slow your times are, relative to those who are naturally talented or willing to invest more into training than you. Just enjoy being out there and running your race and don’t worry about your time. The second talk was a bit more aggressive and sounded like this: Jennifer, my dear, it is a race. The worst thing that can happen to you is that you leave everything out on the course and fall down in a crumpled heap somewhere near the end, perhaps puking your guts out. How would you know this is the worst possibility, though, since you’ve NEVER left everything out on the course before? (well–maybe the marathon in Dallas. It’s all such a blur now.) And if you do crash and burn on the course, the running gods will not descend from the heavens to smite you; nobody will be disappointed in you (except perhaps yourself) and life will go on. With that in mind, just head out there and run your guts out and see what happens.

I joined the 1:30 Pace Fairy group, right next to the Fairy himself (with a wreath of laurels and a blue tutu). In the first few kilometers of the race, I stayed right next to him. But after four or so, I felt I could go a little faster. So I did. Just out in front of him, with a man named Ravin next to me. We kept a steady pace right in front of the 1:30 group for about five kilometers. The other 1:30 pace group–a group that had a run/walk plan–was also nearby and they were a weird bunch to run close to. We would be out in front of them, because they had slowed to a walk, and then they would surge and catch up to us, since their per kilometer pace was slightly higher than that of the continuously running 1:30 pace group. Their surge was audible, too. It sounded all of a sudden as if there was a large predator gaining speed on you from behind. Quite motivational in a way: RUN OR BE EATEN! After a few kilometers of finding a pace that kept me steadily in front of the surging beast, we were near the end of the race. I knew I was in front of both 1:30 groups and felt I could hang on and come in before them.

It was hot and muggy and threatening to rain. My right piriformis hurt, as per usual, and I could feel a blister forming on the outside of my left food. I focussed on form (hands down, arms swinging, hips forward, shoulders erect) and knew it was all doable. Whether it was the energy of 1500 runners, the initial motivation of the Pace Fairy and my buddy Ravin, or the threat of the surging run/walkers gaining on me, the race environment was a good one for me and I ran the best time I would have allowed myself to think of: 1:28:13.

Go me!

(Dale ran it in 1:06:51 with a stomach ache. And had the nerve to be bummed about it!)

Written by Jennifer

August 21, 2011 at 10:23 am

Posted in sports


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As I’m currently sending around the Interwebs via Facebook, I ran the Good Life Toronto Marathon today and feel super happy about the results. My marathon PR (from Cologne in 2009) was 3:31:22, but today was only the third I’ve run. My stated goal was to run a Boston qualifying time, which for my agedness means <3:21:00. I trained mainly with a target of 3:16-18 or so in sight, and thought if the stars aligned I might pull off 3:13, so given the rain, wind, and general crappiness of the weather, that I ran a 3:14:26 makes me joyous beyond belief.

What blew my mind was when J looked online and told me my overall results. I was 77th overall (of 1261 finishers) and ninth in my age group, which, as is the norm at this distance, was the largest age bracket (152 finishers). Never, ever thought I could seriously hope to run an urban marathon and finish that high. Top ten, holy cow!!!

Particularly satisfying about the day is that I had a plan and stuck to it. I ran the front and back halves in nearly identical times (1:36:26 and 1:38:09), and was slower over the first 30K than most of the people around me in the overall standings. That just means I avoided going out too fast, and had power left at the end, something that comes from the wisdom gained from having nearly killed myself in the 2010 Leipzig half marathon by starting too fast. Both of my splits today would have beaten my PR in the half marathon. Conversely, I ran the last 12K faster than most in my vicinity.

Feels silly to toot my horn this way, but I’m just too damn happy to contain myself. I’m so glad that my runner wife got me into this, and supports me as I support her in this madness. Can’t wait to run a race again with her (A Midsummer Night’s Run in Toronto, dear? Followed by drinks and dinner?).

She recently gave me a copy of Haruki Marukami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Greatly enjoyed reading it, and he helped me think about my own desire to run and the simple pleasure in just moving forward. Also gave me two very useful mantras, one of which he noted comes from another source (some famous distance runner). I used both today, as well as a third of my own devising:

  • pain is inevitable, suffering is optional
  • at least he never walked (Marukami wants this as his epitaph)
  • Weissensee

The first two are obvious choices, but the third represents my two failed attempts to skate 200km in Austria. Sure, the first time it was severe injury, and the second time the conditions were abysmal, but given what I put into the training (especially the second time around), the failure to achieve that goal has stuck in my craw for some time. Today’s conditions were really less than ideal (albeit better than too warm or too humid), but somewhere around 10K I said, no, this gets done today. No excuses.

Oh, one last bit: last year J and I ran the epically comical and epic Tollenseseelauf marathon in Neubrandenburg, Germany. Our times were stately, but I think in hindsight we will never regret running there (it was, visually, spectacular). At any rate, I finished side by side with her. Today, as I came into the final stretch and the spectators were calling our names (on our numbers), someone yelled at the woman running by my side: Go, Jennifer! Despite my misery, I laughed out loud. She finished about four seconds directly behind me. If I run another marathon, I think now it is essential to find a Jennifer for the finish.

Written by Dale

May 15, 2011 at 4:25 pm

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Over at, Linda Holmes has written an essay calling for all of us NPR listeners (and New Yorker readers, and so on) to recognize the fact that we will never be able to read everything we want to. Nor will we be able to listen to or watch everything on our cultural bucket lists. It is just plain numbers, she says. (How many books can you read in a month, how many months will you live if you live to be 85, what number does that give you? It’s not enough)

Holmes differentiates reactions to this realization into two categories: culling and surrendering. In the former, people take a determined stance to reduce what they consider worthy of attention: I will not watch TV, it is all trash. And while “The Real Wives of Orange County” is likely no great loss to them, they may have really enjoyed “Mad Men” or old Poirot mysteries on A&E or the Superbowl. They won’t know, though, because they have culled TV from their cultural consumption. Dale’s previous post on all the books he won’t read falls (somewhat shakily) into this category: Jane Austen is not worth his time. (Don’t throw things at him. I know she’s a good writer but I am also pretty convinced he can live a happy existence without reading Pride and Prejudice.)

Surrender is the strategy Holmes herself appears to advocate. In this frame of mind, we are completely aware that WE ARE GOING TO MISS SOME GREAT SHIT and we just have to be ok with that. So, for example, if Dale dies without having read Die Blechtrommel or Doktor Faustus (both of which he will not, he tells me, ever read), that does not make him a less-well-read individual. He just knows that there is a finite amount of literature he is going to ingest and he wants to enjoy what he does read and not beat himself about the head and shoulders for not reading Thomas Mann’s greatest novel.

Holmes reminds us that being “well read” is not a destination at which you arrive. It is a process. Are you interested in the cultural production of the world in which you live? How big is that world? I feel compelled to know a bit about what is going on in contemporary German literature, as well as on the US literary market. My desire for an expanded world reduces, in pure page volume, the percentage of what I can know of each. If your cultural wold is the American Midwest in poetry in the twentieth century, you can probably hope to read most of its literary output before you die.

As a professor of literature, I have a bit of difficulty with the surrender notion. We in black, with our Foucault oder Bhaba tucked under our arms, are generally more inclined to talk like the cullers: who me, watch sports? ick. Not worth it when I could be reading Kant. Surrender implies that we know that we cannot know everything and that someone out there will have read more of x, y, or z than we and then we aren’t experts after all and aaaaaaaahhhhhhh. . . . . . .

But deep down inside I have surrendered to the knowledge that I’m just not going to get to it all, nor should I try. I want to always be reading something and am very pleased that the past year or so has meant a return to pleasure reading for me. I’m working through the books that I bought at the MLA, as well as some genre fiction, and have started writing a story of my own. (shhhh) And, in solidarity with Dale, I will now list the Books I Will Not Read (with a healthy side dish of Books I Have Given Up On):

Tolstoy, War and Peace (I brought this with me to Hamburg when I spent my junior year of college abroad. My logic was: I will miss reading English but don’t want to pay a premium for buying British paperbacks. I’ll bring THIS GINORMOUS book and it will tide me over for months and months.) Unfortunately for me, I didn’t know squat about Russia in the nineteenth century and was totally confused about why they were all speaking French and how in the hell in Napoleon get there, anyway? I gave up about 1/4 way through it and know that I just can’t bear to trudge through all of those pages again.

And if I’m really honest here, I’m going to just clump all sorts of Russian literature together and say: won’t get to it. Someone told me to read The Master and Margarita a couple summers ago (blog post here) and I enjoyed it. But it didn’t make me yearn for more.

I’ll also agree with Dale on Faulkner. If any of you read my post on The Sound and the Fury, you’ll know why. Ick.

Autobiographies of any political figure, ever. Clinton, Bush, Bush, Obama, Rumsfeld, whoeverthehellyouare: I don’t care. Reading what you would have to say about the world would spike my blood pressure. I also don’t need to read Master & Commander-style narratives that talk about the political or military exploits of those who never got around to writing their autobiographies.

Any book with the words “chicken soup” in the title, unless it actually involves a dead chicken and a pot of water with veggies.

I am sure there are more. Oh yes, I am sure. But right now I’ve got to run and read more Sookie Stackhouse 🙂

Written by Jennifer

April 20, 2011 at 9:14 pm

What does a hockey coach do?

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flickr - mhaithaca

My cousin Ethan asked me the other day what a hockey coach does. I had to think about it before I responded, but I’m happy with what I came up with since it allowed me to give free rein to my inner sportsdork. Here goes:

They do a lot, but hockey coverage tends not to fetishize the coaches as much as football coverage does. It helps that the coach is behind the players and not capable of roaming all over. Since there is no playcalling as in football, they wear no headset, etc.

What they’re doing is subtle, but very important. For one, line changes are based on rules, and after a stoppage, for example, the visiting team must change lines first before the home team does. That allows the home team to put out its preferred matchup, and puts substance into home ice advantage. So a coach has to be able to scan the ice, see what the other team put out there, and match up properly. The visiting coach has to be creative about whom he puts on the ice to try to create problems for the home coach, etc. It’s quite an intense mind game.

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Written by Dale

March 31, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Posted in sports