WOW - I can’t believe it I have been running for close to 14 years now. I started running to deal with the stress of raising a child with Level 3 autism (better known as severe autism). Before long running became a passion of mine. It was a time reserved just for me and before I knew it I was running; longer, faster and stronger. I went from wanting to complete a 10km road race to running the iconic Boston Marathon (2013 & 2014).
My running journey has been a magical one, from running dirt roads in Vermont alongside cows in the pasture to the City streets of Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Boston. I have run in the most affluent neighbourhoods to the sketchiest parts of town. Those who know me well know that my preference is to be out under a blue sky, sun shining and with little to no one cheering me on. Running is like meditating for me and so the quieter the better. I am not good with crowds, I feel the nervous energy of all those around me. This makes it hard for me to stay calm and focused before the gun goes off.
There was a time I ran with only one goal in mind and that was to cross the finish line. The more experience I gained the more confidant I became. I started lining up with the intention of winning the race or my age category, at least. I became competitive, wanting to always be in the top 10% of female runners. I was thirsty for it! It is something I could achieve in the shorter races (5km, 10km and half marathon) but not the marathon. I am proud to say I have been the first female to cross the finish line in a few local races. Getting a medal at the end of of a race has made me feel accomplished but standing on a podium has made me feel badass! I am especially proud since I was the girl who almost always got picked last in gym class and wasn’t good enough to make any sports team in high school. I share this because you are never too old to start something new and excel. I am living proof.
One of my proudest running accomplishment was becoming an official race organizer. In 2009, I married the love I have for my son, Keyan and the passion I had for running and organized the first Autism Awareness Run (Candiac, Qc). I wanted my family, friends and community to come together as a show of support towards Keyan, my family and the autism community. This was the beginning of my life’s work, becoming an autism advocate/activist beyond my own home. Running gave me the courage to do things I never thought possible. The more I challenged myself in running the more I challenged myself in my own life – I could never have imagined the gifts running would bring to my life.
Over the years I have slowed down and I think both my age and having gained a few extra pounds (that I struggle to loose) is the reason. It led me to believe that maybe triathlon would be the next best thing. My husband, Kunal bought me a road bike for my 40thbirthday and so I thought triathlon was the next natural step. He said, it would help save my knees – peculiar since I never had any real running injuries, including my knees. I welcomed a new challenge. I went for it and bought all the gear to jump into the world of triathlon. The problem was I was terrified to be on the bike. It took me 3 years simply to get comfortable.
I had manifested wanting to run the Boston marathon the year I turned 40 and I thought for my 45than Ironman 70.3 would be a good way to celebrate life. Nothing could have taken me more outside my comfort zone than the half Ironman. It was one thing to cycle on the flat roads close to home but the hilly course in Mt-Tremblant, Quebec would have me praying to god just to stay alive. I am that person who presses on the brake coming downhill. I break so much that I loose momentum for the uphill portion. That makes for a super slow rider. I did it though. In June 2018, I crossed the finish line to the Ironman 70.3 Mt-Tremblant. I knew immediately afterwards that it would be a one and done. A check off my bucket list. I am still in awe of people who eat up triathlons for breakfast they will forever inspire me but its not for me. That experience reconfirmed that I am best with my two feet on the ground.
I am that typical runner who doesn’t have a runner’s body. I am bottom heavy with bad posture. You can spot me from a mile away because you can see my rounded shoulders from the front and the wiggle jiggle in the back. This baby got back! I am one of those runner’s who’s hashtags include: #realrunner #realrunnersbody #motherrunner #marathonrunner. Throughout my time as a runner I have been strong but never skinny. There are so many things that define me but my stature, body type and weight are not any of them (they have bothered me at times but never defined me). Regardless, of how I look to the world, bad posture and all I will never give up running. Running has been my companion through my darkest times. Running has saved me from living in a constant state of anxiety and helped me to avoid depression. When people say that I inspire them because I run I always say, “I run otherwise I would be chasing down prescription pills with a bottle of vodka”. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a good old dirty martini or two and sometimes three but I have been careful not to self medicate with anything other than running.
This past April the Board of Directors of S.Au.S. (the organization I am Founder and President of) had to call off our biggest fundraiser, the Autism Awareness Run. I was sure this was going to send me into a tailspin. This event usually brings in $50 000, which is a huge chunk of our operational costs. I didn’t allow that to dampen my spirits. I was more concerned with the current pandemic and about keeping my loved ones safe. Something told me to let go and trust. The cancelation of the run made me more prone to want to get to run. I needed time and space to myself, especially now with everyone confined to home. For a few days I was lost and didn’t know how best to show up. April is usually a month that I talk a lot about autism but the “mute” button was pressed on my expression. I was quiet until we came to the last weekend in April. On April 26th, 2020 the day the event was scheduled I decided to run a half marathon. I ran to honor the work being done by S.Au.S, highlight the thousands who had joined us over the years (participants and volunteers) and to show that even though we had been knocked down we would get back up. I needed to show up as a leader. That weekend we felt the love of our supporters who helped us raise $15 000. The work would continue and my heart was filled with hope.
In October, 2019 I lined up for marathon number 9, in Albany, NY. When I took to social media saying it would be my last 42.2 km distance, my friends strongly expressed disbelief. After reading several books and articles while listening to runner podcasts, the more I submerged myself into running culture the more I grew to understand the number of challenges beyond the marathon. I got to the point where I no longer got from the marathon what I once did. I accomplished what I set out to do in the marathon and Boston was it!!! I am not naturally gifted and what it would take me to get back to Boylston has lost its appeal. I would have to become obsessive in order to get to the start line. I would rather train and work toward something I haven’t done before. I want to meet new people and experience go to new places; body, mind and spirit.
Recently, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasters, Rich Roll and he was interviewing Rickey Gates. Rickey is a regular guy who has done some incredible running. When Rickey sat down with Rich he had just run across America. The stories of his experience were utterly captivating and beyond inspiring. It makes you realize there is so much to running than merely putting one foot in front of the other. You have to want to see beyond the physical act of running. I was equally impressed that he had run every street in the city of San Francisco. It sparked a movement called every single street. I love hearing original and new ideas with running at the root. Creativity combined with athleticism excites me.
COVID-19 has made it so that races all over the world have been cancelled. For me it makes it hard to continue training without a goal. I secretly set goals for myself to stay motivated but they fizzle and I allow the excuses to set in. Truth - it’s the races that push me and help me to stay consistent in my running. I am not part of a running club, triathlon club or any kind of sisterhood to keep me motivated. I only recently joined STRAVA which I have to admit it doesn’t do it for me. My biggest source of inspiration are my friends.
A few weeks back, my friend Rob (@robkemp) was posting maps of his daily run on Instagram. I asked why he kept running in circles. I could hear him laugh at me. He responded that he had decided to run every street in his city and that meant sometimes looping back, which made it look like circles on a map. A spark was ignited in me. Truth be told is I got tired of counting kilometers or pace. This would present itself as a new way of running. Yessssss, a new challenge. Sign me up. No no no there was no official sign up – it’s simply a figure of speech. During quarantine Rob has designed many challenges for himself. He ran 42.2 kilometers, a whole marathon on a 1 kilometer loop to stay close to home and his children. Running a marathon is hard but I could only imagine how much harder it is on a 1 kilometer loop. It was the cutest thing he had only two spectators, his lovely children who cheered and provided him with water and snacks. They had also hand crafted a BIB and medal to mark the occasion. That is what I call creative!
Looking outside of my GARMIN watch I was now focused on land markers, houses or street names to ensure I was covering as much raod as possible. A new challenge is just what I needed. Instead of running straightaways like I usually do I was forced to run roundabouts. It made me feel silly but in a childish way, a good way. I swear people must of thought to themselves why is that crazy lady running in circles? My thought focused on running sections instead of kilometers. When I ran a section of the city I called it a sweep. Now when my husband or daughter asked how my run was I would respond with the street names of the sections I swept rather than how many kilometers I travelled. I didn’t prepare ahead of time, by looking at maps or planning out my run, I preferred simply heading out. As I started getting close to reaching my goal its then that I took out a map to see what section remained. I knew for sure there would be a few I would forget if I didn’t trace my steps on the map. For my last run, I went out to cover the few hundred meters that I had missed.
On May 4th, 2020 I set out to run every street in my city. I have called Candiac home for over 20 years now. It took me a total of 15 days to run 124 kilometers, finishing on May 27th, 2020. My shortest run was 2.93 kilometers because I forgot to restart my watch after stopping to tie my shoelaces. No worries, I went back another time so that my GARMIN could register the section I missed. My longest run was 12.30 milometers. I have to tell you I really enjoyed this challenge because it made me use my brain in a different way. Instead of focusing on my watch I was looking at the things surrounding me; people, houses, cars, parks, water, trees and things previously gone unnoticed. I loved that my running was now referred to as a sweep. Well I have swept this town and I would encourage all of you looking for a new challenge to sweep too.
Until next time – Happy Running.