Winter Running

This year I’ve decided to keep running as much as possible. Unlike other years when I stop running in the fall and then start again in the spring, having enjoyed a lovely winter rest, this year I’m running in the winter. Okay, so I wasn’t great at running in the late fall and early winter, but I did get out a few times. I even ran indoors a few times. What amazed me was that I still had some decent speed in my legs and lungs. That said, preparing to brave the cold of an Ottawa winter was a whole other issue.

In December I took part in Jayme Rae’s plank challenge. Since this worked out so well, I thought I might try to take on Run Ottawa’s running streak challenge #RORunStreak on Twitter and Instagram. At first I wasn’t sure I would be able to even do this since I don’t like to run in the cold, but then I got to thinking that I have to go out to walk the dog anyway so why not run; we could both use the exercise. Two things I had to consider:

  1. Kip is a spaz and has typically tripped me when we have tried to run before. Did I really want to risk a wipe out?
  2. I DO NOT LIKE RUNNING IN THE COLD.

The more I exercise, the more I learn that running is like trying to get little kids to eat something. On average it takes 11 attempts at a food before a child will realize it’s okay and they like it. Running is the same; you can’t just give up. If you want to succeed, then you must try more than once. This was going to be my one more time moment.

If you’ve followed me on Twitter or Instagram then you know I have in fact been running almost every day this month. Some days it’s just 1.5 km in the morning and again at night, some days it’s a bit longer. I was lucky that the first few days of January were relatively mild here so getting out was easier than I thought. By the end of the first week, though, the temperature dropped to a brisk -16C (felt like -20C). Since the dog still had to go, we ran around the block. Guess what? We both survived. In fact within a few days Kip and I seemed to have figured how to run together. After 17 days, there have only been 3 days when I wasn’t able to run, but I did walk those days.

My mother, a long time runner, told me that running in winter is simply a matter of dressing right and being careful. I have to admit she is right. I still have trouble figuring out how many layers to wear, but it’s a lesson I’m happy to keep learning. I’m not a hardcore winter runner, but I’m getting the hang of it. It doesn’t scare me like it used to, and I know I will appreciate the effort come spring. Maybe one of the nicest things to come from my efforts was a colleague telling me I have inspired her to run with her dog this winter.

Thanks to @RunOttawa and all the #RORunStreak participants for your continued encouragement and support!

Where did THAT number come from?

Have you ever had one of those days when you stepped on the scale, looked at the flashing light, and then stifled a slight gasp when the numbers stop flashing? That was my experience this morning. I knew my weight was creeping up ever so slightly because I’m not running right now, but I did not expect what was presented to me today. How could this happen? I’ve been so careful; even though I’m not running, I am exercising. Sure I wasn’t being careful at Christmas, but hey it’s hard to completely abstain when there was so much awesome cooking happening, which of courses required the appropriate libations. But that was a month ago and I had recovered from those indulgences.

One of the things I’ve learned in my job as a Vice Principal is that you have 15 seconds to think before reacting. Instead of beating myself up about gaining back a bit more weight than I thought, I paused and took sometime to think about my eating habits in the last few weeks. A little reflection is a powerful thing, and here’s what I discovered. We had a retirement party for our Office Administrator — snack food and drinks. Last week was exam week which means we order lunch one or two times — chinese food, shwarma with a side of potatoes and garlic (I NEVER get the side but a colleague bought it for me), a can of ginger ale. Those two lunches alone would have been enough to kill any efforts to keep my wieght in check, but when you’re on a roll why stop.  That’s right, I also realized I consumed of few more treats last week: dessert squares, cinnamon loaf/sticky bun from the Rideau Bakery (if you’re from Ottawa you may know why it is hard to resist this awesomeness), and guys night out beer and wings. But heck, with things going so well, why stop there. This weekend my daughter had a ringette tournament in Kingston. We usually eat healthy food when we hit the road, but there are few things that aren’t so good. In addition to the three visits to Minos where we had a couple very tasty Greek salad with sliced chicken breast — she ate a medium all by herself and I had some chicken souvlaki pita wraps — we had a visit to Woodenheads for gourmet pizzas. I also had an excellent 8 Man English Pale Ale from local brewery MacKinnon Brothers.  Add to that the oversized hotel breakfast, pizza dinner with the team, Lone Star fajitas, and beverages, and I know I had way too many calories coming in. Running 5k on the treadmill and doing my regular workouts while away couldn’t keep the weight at bay. I finished everything off with a potluck lunch at work yesterday. Even taking small portions, I still managed to eat too much. Again, even though I worked out last night, the little numbers on the scale continued to go up.

All of this brings me to today. It’s the beginning of a new month and a new semester. This is an opportunity for a new start, a new resolve, and a new direction. Interestingly, on one of the blogs I regularly read, Andrew Richter’s Fitness for the Regular Guy was a motivating post that reminds people to Keep It Simple, Stupid when it comes to getting back on track. Timely for sure and pretty basic, but good to remember. I’m keeping track of my exercise in a journal, I’m going to get back to more blogging, and I’m focusing on eating healthy food in appropriate portion sizes. I know where the number came from, and I’m working hard to get away from there.

Improvements Made, Lessons Learned

The first time I ran a race, the 2009 Army Run, I had never run any long distance.  My training was inconsistent and uninformed.  Yes, I tried to follow the 10 & 1 rule recommended by various experts.  I ran around the neighbourhood and the school track a few times, much to the amusement of my family.  I knew I wasn’t going to finish anywhere near the front of the group, but I knew I was going to finish, I just wasn’t sure how long it was going to take me.  The route takes runners past Parliament Hill, the Canadian War Memorial, and along the World Heritage Site Rideau Canal. It is also the route many students from Lisgar Collegiate Institute have run for years as part of their Canal run in gym class.  As my father was a teacher and Head of Phys. Ed. at Lisgar for 33 years, he knew exactly how long it should take somebody to run that 5k loop.

2009 Army Run Result

When I finished my first race, I proclaimed my success to any and all who would listen. My dad’s response he has stuck with me more than anybody else’s. He was pleased that I had completed the race, but my time of 36 minutes received a less than enthusiastic response: “It should’ve taken you 25 minutes.”  That’s it. At the time I was impressed that I finished at all. Sure I knew I could go faster, like maybe as fast as 30 minutes, but 25 minutes was just plain crazy. That’s the kind of pace/time super-fit, lean, long-legged true runners achieve. Not 220 lb, stocky, thick calved coach potatoes lumber to.

The idea that I could run 5k faster than I did, let alone in 25 minutes, has stuck with me since. As a result, I’ve been more aware of my pace, my form, and my effort. When I did finally run 5k in 30 minutes (last year), my daughter’s wise assessment was “That’s what happens when you run more.” Not bad for a then 11 year old. Typically, though, I do not spend enough time each year running to get much faster. Last year I was averaging about 7:15/km while still holding to the 10:1 pattern. This time held regardless of the distance; sometimes I was a bit faster and sometimes I was bit slower. While I was pretty pleased with that time, I knew I was getting faster and stronger. I started running a couple of times a week in April of 2015, and fairly quickly (no pun intended) I was getting under 7:00/km. Sure enough those times started dropping below 6:00/km and I wasn’t stopping for walk breaks anymore. Imagine my surprise when I finally ran 5k in 5:05/km — that’s a time of 25:22. I had finally achieved what my father said I could do, something I didn’t think I would ever be able to do. What changed? Quite simply, I did. I exercised more this year than any other year. I made better food choices. I worked at it.

I weigh less and I move more; that’s a simple equation for success. But there’s more to than that. I value each accomplishment I’ve made, and I recognize that while those accomplishments will come and go like the tide, I have to keep at it. Here’s hoping I stick with into the winter and beyond.

Self Assessment Time

As a teacher, a coach, and a parent I often challenge people to do a little self assessment of their goals and progress.  Today (okay I really started this 2 weeks ago) seems like as good a time as any for me to commit a bit of time to some self assessment on my exercise plan, my blog, and my photography.  Some reflection on our learning. As often happens, self assessment isn’t all sunshine and glory, but that’s okay because that kind of learning is just as important.

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First off, my exercise plan is going just about as well as it did last year.  If you know me then you know this isn’t a good thing.  I have not been running nearly as much as I had hoped.  In fact I just about to restart the 5k plan I started 5 weeks ago because the first week and a half of May were complete write-offs.  Sure I walk the dog multiple times every day, and I walk around my school and community as much as possible.  No I don’t have a pedometer for my walks around school, but I do track my dog walks.  As always, I do have grand plans, but somehow being a parent and husband keep getting in my way — yes I know I am supposed to make time to exercise, but I have not started scheduling it into my day like Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) suggests in her blog.  Oh to be like Vicki!  But really this is okay.  I must have been getting enough exercise since I managed to get through the winter maintaining my weight for a change.  Anyway, the snow is finally gone, the weather is warmer and dryer, and I still have a good plan to get more exercise into my life.  My brother-in-law is once again pushing me to be more active.  This year he says I need to try a duathlon with him.  So it looks like I might be giving it a try.  Who doesn’t want to run 2k, bike 20k, and then just for kicks run another 5k?  I will let you know how this goes, or if I even have the nerve to try.

After a torrid start to blogging this year, the blog also slipped by the wayside.  The only person to blame is me as I didn’t give myself the 15 minutes a day I should have dedicated to just writing as suggested by Steven Downes a few years ago. There were many days when I could have, but I just didn’t.  Sure I can blame work and my coaching schedule, but the reality is I just didn’t make the time for writing.   When people learn I taught English, they assume I was or am also a writer.  Nope. Not ever.  I didn’t teach English because I like to write.  I taught English because I like to read and talk about books and other media forms.  To actually commit to writing a blog has actually been a challenge for me.  A challenge that I enjoy, but one which I need to make a greater effort with.

When I started taking pictures last century, I had a Polaroid, a little 110 mm point-and-shoot, and then an SLR.  I learned to take pictures and develop them as well.  I had to be careful about what I shot because I only had 24 exposures available.  I really loved photography.  The pictures I took made great gifts for family and friends.  Some of them are still on display in people’s homes.  Then life kind of got in the way, and I put photography aside.  Sure my wife and I have had a few smaller point-and-shoot cameras, both film and digital, over the years, but we didn’t seem to do too much with pictures we took.  When I turned 40, my wife bought me a Nikon DX-40 — my first DSLR — and I was thrilled.  To be back in the land of real cameras was awesome.  Except that I had almost forgotten how to take a picture with a camera that wasn’t using an AUTO feature.  EEEKK!  One the interesting things about the advancements in phone technology is that almost everybody now has a camera in their pocket.  Sure that’s a great thing, but there is a science and an art to taking a picture that is lost when all you have to do is point and shoot.  I have continued to experiment with my camera in different settings, using different settings, and getting varied results.  That’s okay.  I just want to keep taking pictures and doing something with the photos.  Much like Peter Reynolds books Dot and ish, I am learning to accept that what images I take are picture-ish, and art-ish.  Also, I have found an audience who appreciates my attempts at photo art-ish.  My daughter wants me to print some of the pictures for her room.

As with all good reflection on learning, there needs to be some next steps, some planning for improvement.  So as summer approaches, I am going to try to write more.  Or at least post more things to this blog more regularly, whether it be the ongoing journey of my efforts to become a fit human in the last few years of my 40’s, or some of the pictures that I take and then usually do nothing with.

Learning Never Stops

I’ve been poking around my blog the last few days, feeling guilty that I have let things slide since the end of the Blogging101 course I did in November.  It turns out I’m still learning how to make my site really useful and functional.  It looks like there are a few more changes coming this way in the days ahead.  Glad to know that I haven’t stopped learning.

Blogging101: Say “HI” — Can you hear me now?

Communication is about transmitting and receiving.  Every time we have a conversation, of any sort, we send a message and receive a message.

When I first started to blog I wasn’t really sure what I would write about.  I had one blog that was about my dog, but it was really a counter to my sister-in-law’s blog about my niece.  I had one blog about photography and pictures I was taking.  Then I started to focus my work on things related to my daily work as a teacher. In addition to the blog created to relay information to staff about current initiatives in our school, I created a blog for my students so that they could keep up with class work.  I really liked this way of communicating with students and their parents as it closed a communication gap that needed to be addressed.  I also turned to social media as a means of communicating.  What I did not do very well was follow other blogs; I even questioned why random people would follow my blog.  Sure I follow a few hundred teachers and exercise-related Twitter users, who provide great information that helps me improve in both areas.  I have communicated regularly with a number of these people and I appreciate their input to my practice. With the demise of Google Reader a few years ago, I stopped reading some of my favourite blogs.  Sure I could have made better use of the Reader feature in WordPress, but I didn’t — until now.  What today’s challenge has encouraged me to do is actively follow what other people are writing and thinking in the longer blog format.  140 characters can convey a tremendous amount of information, but what some of these people put into their blogs should not be missed.  As I move forward with the Blogging101 initiative, I look froward to meeting more bloggers and learning what they have to share — so far I haven’t been disappointed.