Mind, Motion & Matter

Running, Essentially . . .


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The Boston Marathon, a bigger picture

Toronto_Marathon_1995

Running a first marathon with mom

Before I met Amy, the author of this blog post, I met her mom, Jeraldine Ballon. But the circle has closed and now Amy and I are members of the same track club. Knowing something of what the Boston marathon means to her, I asked her to share her very special memories of her mom and their shared love of running. Here is her beautiful story.

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It has been 12 years since I last ran the Boston Marathon, but this time of year still brings back many memories of Boston and my mom. Of the 10 marathons my mother ran between the ages of 51 and 56, four of them were Boston. This is her story of becoming an athlete, and her road to Boston.

Boston marathon 1997

Boston marathon 1997

Always the last kid picked to be on a team, I don’t think my mother thought she had an athletic bone in her body. Plus, as someone with a penchant for beer and potato chips who happened to be rail-thin, she may not have thought that she even needed to exercise. Everything changed when she won a membership to a posh, downtown Toronto gym. I remember the day she went in for her fitness assessment in a pair of sparkly sneakers she’d purchased on vacation at a K-Mart because they were the only ‘runners’ she owned.

The positive experience she had in the gym quickly snowballed and she fell in love. Not only did she enjoy watching her body grow stronger, but she discovered running. Her goal of running a marathon followed soon after and she planned to run the New York City Marathon. As I stood on the sidelines that day, both our lives were changed. My mom was hooked, and I was inspired. I promptly began training for my first marathon

Together we ran marathons in Toronto, Chicago and Washington. My mother also went on to run Paris. Our times decreased and our love of running increased while we logged hundreds and hundreds of training miles together. My mother started to get really fast, consistently winning her age category. I counted myself lucky to have this special relationship with both running and my mother.

Boston 1998

Boston 1998

And then there was Boston. My mom ran Boston in 1997, 1998 and 1999. And she ran with me after I qualified in 2000. Boston in 2000 was also special because it was just six months after her hysterectomy. She had had emergency surgery after cancer had been discovered in her uterus. Funny enough, it was her running that led her to self-diagnose. Her training had made her so aware of what was going on in her body, that went things started to feel ‘off’, she advocated for herself very quickly. She was treated, given a clean bill of health, and a 98% survival rate.

Things were good that fall: I was newly married, newly graduated from business school, and working in a great job. Training for was going well too, until one day when my mother told me that she didn’t think Boston 2001 would be in the cards. She wasn’t feeling well.

A few months later her worst suspicions were confirmed: Against the odds, the cancer had metastasized and her body was riddled with it. She was told that she had a few months to live. Nothing could be done to treat her.

In April 2001 I traveled to Boston with my husband, my dad and my mom who came to support me. My mother was not in great shape. It took a lot of effort to walk even a block or two. But she managed to score three passes to the finish line seats on the bleachers on Boylston Street. (Thank you, Adidas!) That was not an easy race. Heartbreak Hill took on a new meaning for me that day. Choking back my tears, I saw my family in the stands as I crossed the finish line. Boston was the last trip my mother took. She died a few months later.

Losing my mom was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. But how lucky am I that I had a mother who, by inspiring me, introduced me to running and changed my life? How lucky am I that I got to run the Boston Marathon with my mother? How many people get to say that?

Boston 1999

Boston 1999

I haven’t run Boston since that year, and in fact took a ten year hiatus from the sport. But I have started to run again. Who knows, maybe I’ll be back on Boylston Street one day; maybe with one of my own daughters. One thing I know for sure: When I run now, the inspiration my mother provided is right there with me.

~ Amy Ballon

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The long and short of running

Lynn Kobayashi, Lynn Deutscher Kobayashi, Jeremy Lin jersey

Asian athletic pride

I’ve only blogged once in May due to ongoing busyness and a backlog of chores. A major highlight was Mother’s Day brunch at the InterContinental Yorkville where I received a Jeremy Lin jersey and consumed a dozen oysters among other things. Another high point was taking my parents to Auberge du Pommier for lunch as a late Mother’s Day and early Father’s day outing.

Happy Mother’s and Father’s Day

So I have been running long, or at least long enough for 5K training. After racing indoor track in February and March and then 5K and 10K in March and April, I felt I had reached a bit of a plateau so I took three easy weeks which coincided with my busy period. After that  I hit the track and was pleased that our track repeats were on the short side. The past three Saturdays I’ve done three decent longer runs at a faster-than-usual pace. I’ve been having trouble sleeping in the past year or so, so I’m not as eager to head out super-early on Saturdays despite the great feeling of finishing 10-18 miles by mid-morning. The body will not properly absorb training without a good supply of deep sleep.

I ran with a teammate a few weeks ago, who normally would be too fast for me but as he was recovering from the Boston marathon, sharing a run was doable. He told me that he remembered my name as the woman in the 50-54 category who was faster than him in one of his first half-marathons when he took up distance running six or seven years ago. He told me that as a young runner his benchmark had  been that he was always able to finish ahead of girls his age. So he was startled to discover that a woman ten years his senior beat him in the half-marathon.  He was also startled when I told him that his easy, recovery pace was putting me into the threshold heart rate zone as we ran.  Ah, I was so much faster then, I’m older than that now.

Another Saturday I ran with a teammate who is very new to running and has run excellent times for his category of 60-64. At our pub night a few weeks ago, I was astonished to discover that the farthest he had ever run in training was 12K. Following our conversation he ran 17K on his own and then ran 16K with me the week after.

Last Saturday a friend, who now lives in Regina dropped in to join the usual Saturday run crowd. What a treat to catch up on the run. The last time I saw him was last year when he lived in Ottawa. We had breakfast at the Chateau Laurier which is perhaps more of a treat than a hard 13. 5 miles run. I was having a hard time sleeping and woke that morning at 4:30 a.m. I left for the run at 7:00 a.m. It felt fairly hard and I was bagged when I got home, taking a cat nap shortly after. In the afternoon I napped from 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. My recipe for a sound sleep – wake early, run hard, nap . . . hmm.  There must be a better drug-free way to deep sleep.

One reason why the run felt hard was that on Thursday I had a great track work out of 8 x 300 meters. I ran the final 300 in 56 seconds! Not bad for an aging racehorse. I’m gearing up to run a couple of 5K’s in June.  I think I’ve got the speed honed and will concentrate on speed-endurance for the next couple of weeks. I’ve started back to my weight lifting routine and as is always the case upon returning to this routine of a few decades, it feels great to flex those muscles. My goal for this training cycle is to go under 21 minutes. Weather will be a factor as I do not run well in the heat so cross your fingers for cool June mornings.

Due to lack of photos of the above, I leave you with photos of what fuels all this activity 🙂

Sea bass and best Brussels sprouts ever! 

Eggs Benny and oysters for Mother’s Day

Our twenty-something roommate cooks for us

Classic dessert mille-feuille, deconstructed à la Oliver & Bonacini


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Three cheers for Bloor Street!

People4Kids Gala

We did it! Last Wednesday we pulled off another gala at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, Canada. It was hard work and as we were in the homestretch of organizing my husband, who was on domestic duty while I did my special events schtick, asked if he should spoon feed me, chained to the computer as I was. So we raised enough money to provide support to over 65 children orphaned by HIV-AIDS in Ethiopia. That felt great! And many thanks to our  supporters and the outstanding People4Kids Gala committee.

People to People AID Organization Canada, Board Chair, Tigist Abebe (left)

Favourite photo from 2011 Gala of my son and his girlfriend

Two doors west of the ROM is Varsity Stadium, home of my running club. The day after the gala I went for drinks with my running pals. Last year while in event-organizer mode, my training suffered greatly. This year, thanks to the regular workouts and support of my club, I ran some solid races and was awarded Athlete of the Month status for April. That felt great!

What the running club bought for the newborn twins of one of our teammates.

In between the ROM and Varsity Stadium is the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM)  and guess what! On Friday, we were there to enjoy the music of Egberto Gismonti in Koerner Hall, located in the RCM. I saw Gismonti perform about 30 years ago at the Bamboo Club (now LUSH Handmade Cosmetics). It WAS great!

Still on-the-go two nights later, just next door to the ROM

I’ll be hard pressed to pack in that much excitement into a one-block, three-day stretch again. Triple-dipping on Bloor Street . . . WooHoo Toronto!

Look up! It’s C5 at the ROM, scene of the gala – as seen from the lobby of Koerner Hall

Where we were on Wednesday, Thursday & Friday last week


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Busiest month ever?

I had meant to post these quotes last weekend but time has slipped by quickly in this which is perhaps the busiest month of my life. Belated Easter Greetings!

Happy Easter

“There is enough in the world for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”  Frank Buchman

“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But … the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’  Martin Luther King

At the moment I am oh-so-tired but I got my long run of 15 miles in today and it looks like I will hit my mileage goal of 55 mile/89 km for the week. My plan seemed at risk on Thursday when I could feel a cold coming on. I decided to make it a short day at work due to fatigue but stopped at Starbuck’s on the way home hoping for a caffeine lift. Sinking into one of the big cushy chairs after one sip of my latte, I fell asleep for 30 minutes. When I got home I napped for 90 minutes and didn’t feel too bad afterward so I picked myself up and headed to my team workout. The workout was 4-6 800’s which I ran at a brisk, but far from top-end pace. Surprisingly, I felt better after the workout than I had felt all day. I slept well that night and ran an easy six miles before work.

Moving back in time, I ran 50 miles last week on the heels of my 21:04 in the 5K.  In spite of over-stimulation on three fronts, my course, my work and working towards the People4Kids Gala on May 2nd I have managed a bit of fun since my last blog. And now, more blogging fun as post-long-run fatigue finds me a little lacking in the focus needed to plow through my school assignment.

Bay of Quinte, Prince Edward County

In early April we stayed overnight at a B & B in Prince Edward County, a stay that prompted me to write a 2 Star review on Trip Advisor, my second bad review, the first being at a hotel on the Ramblas in Barcelona.  The main benefit of the time away was that we were very happy to return home.

Never too old for an Easter egg hunt

We had some fun on Easter Sunday with a family gathering and I was pleased that my trademark home-baked challah was a bit hit. Another highlight was a lunch at C-5 our gala venue with my mom and two of her friends from her days of fighting for redress for Japanese Canadians. One friend a writer and Companion of the Order of Canada and the other the first female judge of Asian descent in Canada. I enjoyed hearing them catch up on news. On the topic of busy months I’ll have to ask my mom, mother of six children and 14 grandchildren, how my busiest month stacks up to hers?

Trio of role models (my mom in the center)


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Let the wild rumpus begin!

After three years of enjoying empty-nester style New Year’s Eve getaways, we decided on something completely different. Three years ago we spent a few days in Chicago. Two years ago we attended opera’s greatest hits at Roy Thomson Hall and stayed at the King Edward Hotel and last year we partied at a friends place in the Beach and stayed at a nearby B & B on Balsam avenue. This year we opted for an evening with two nephews and a niece ages nine, seven and five, which included an outing to see the Muppet movie.

Party of Four

All was going well until I began to experience some ominous tummy rumblings and subsequent symptoms of food poisoning. My husband did not seem entirely sympathetic when I announced during our pizza dinner while viewing “Where the Wild Things Are” that I just had to go to bed. It was then that the wild rumpus really began, for my husband at least. I slept for several hours and gathered the energy to rise just before 1 a.m. just as the Pirates of the Caribbean was ending, to wish the still-awake 9 year old and my husband Happy New Year and then crawled back to sleep.

I woke in the morning after a long but very shallow and disrupted period of sleep with just enough energy to cook pancakes for breakfast and spend a bit of time with our lively crew of youngsters. After their departure we attended mass but I had trouble staying awake and spent most of what remained of the day sleeping. It is the one day of the year that I make a point of running and I think this may be the first New Year’s day in 31 years that I have missed a run.

Thus in the first two days of 2012 I have spent more hours asleep than awake, I’ve not yet run and my diet has been confined to ginger ale, apple juice, plain chips, a few pancakes and Campbell’s chicken noodle soup.

This gave rise to thoughts of how lucky I am to be nornally blessed with such good health and resolutions to remember that each and every day and remember those who are ill. One of the reasons I run is that like Emerson, I do feel that on this earth our “first wealth IS health”!

Wishing you health and wellness in 2012!

Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.

(3 John 2)



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To the Bakery and Back

Christmas tree, Distillery style

With no companions for this run and so-so weather, I knew I would have to gear up mentally for my 12 miler, my longest run since the NYC marathon. Yesterday, I did my first treadmill workout due to the slushy, messy road conditions and icy sidewalks that come with precipitation when the temperature hovers around 0C.

I decided to run an unusual route in that normally I run routes with minimal pedestrian traffic but with the threat of slippery sidewalks, sticking to well-trodden routes is a necessity. My route incorporated a run along Church Street, King Street East and the Distillery District, three areas which are off our beaten path.

Art in the City

I ran east on Davenport and then down Bay street, over to Yonge, east on Wellesley and down Church Street. I was able to get a glimpse of the new Loblaws housed in Maple Leaf Gardens. I never did see a Leafs game although went to quite a few Canadiens games while growing up in Montreal. I think I’ve seen three concerts at the Gardens, Neil Young, Rush (free tickets) and Hall & Oates. I think the bulk of my mega-concert days took place in Montreal at the Forum.

Brick Street Bakery

North of Queen and Church was a striking mural and close by a large Metro grocery store. There seems to be big-time inner-city grocery wars happening. I guess that is a sign of a very liveable downtown core. As I got closer to my planned turnaround point at Trinity near Front, it dawned on me that one of my favourite pastry treats was very close-at-hand. At Trinity and Mill street in the Distillery District is the Brick Bakery. WooHoo! While I woke up this morning with the mantra “no more chocolate” reverberating in my head, I said a big YES to an eccles cake pit stop.

Eccles cake

Brick Bakery offerings

Eating eccles cake

Fueled up I began the return leg westward via the lakeshore. The stretch of the lakeshore east of Yonge street is quite dismal but it is usually quiet enough to run on the road and one of the first roads to be plowed after a snowfall. I made another pit stop at Harbourfront Centre where I was able to check out an art show featuring portraits. A portrait by Louie Palu of a 22 year old marine serving in Afghanistan was particularly compelling and I found myself saying a prayer for our troops.

The rest of the run was part of my usual six miler which always makes the time seem to go by faster. I felt comfortable and steady all the way, with energy to spare when I returned home. Energy which will be put to good use this evening as we have as guests our 5, 7 & 9 year old nephews and niece. Muppet Movie, here we come.

I am almost 100% committed to a spring goal of running a fast 5K. I’ve never really trained specifically for 5K but I think I need to do this to get some speed back. This will involve joining  a hard-training track club. Yes, you’ve heard it before, the false starts I’ve made in signing up but I think 2012 is the year that I will finally do it.

What is it that you might finally do in 2012?

Happy New Years all!

p.s. Ever since tasting my first eccles cake a few years ago, I have been meaning to bake them hence another finally-do for 2012. I got the contact info I need from the clerk to get the Brick Bakery recipe.


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Christmas Greetings

Best wishes and blessings to all! My last post about our trip to Stratford, Ontario was written from Edmonton while visiting my husband’s dad for a few days. The difficulty when you are busy, busy, and fall behind with blogging is that it is hard to know where to start. Over the next while, I’ll have to forgo the immediacy of a linear narrative in order to catch up.

While I may not be blogging much, I’m always be aiming to run every day with the odd exception. In the past, one exception has been days of early morning travel (leaving house at 7:30 a.m. or earlier) as I give myself a “pass” upon reaching the destination. On our trip to Edmonton I surprised myself by bounding out the door an hour or so after arrival for an easy, shake-off-the-jet-lag two miler. I enjoyed four memorable runs while in Edmonton which I will blog about shortly.

In the past 12 days I have cooked for four parties, two here and two in Edmonton. I crowned myself Queen of my father-in-law’s kitchen due to the three meals and batch of cookies I baked while there. On returning to Toronto I cooked dinner for 16 on Thursday, a farewell gathering for a workmate and then hosted our family dinner for 11 adults and 10 kids on Christmas day. I cooked the turkey, stuffing and provided cookies and an appetizers while three siblings (I have five) and my parents provided all else. There is a at least one very good cook in every family so this works very well for our clan.

Candy cane cookies, a favourite

Once a year, we splurge on eating out to celebrate our son’s birthday. We were all well-pleased with our Asian fusion meal at Lee’s on King street last week. We were especially impressed with the grilled tofu.

Birthday dinner at Lee's Restaurant

As for the weekly mileage tally, I hit the 40 mile mark two weeks ago but last week I had to cut back as I have been fighting a scritchy throat. It was disappointing to cut back my planned 12 miler to 6 miles last Saturday but perhaps today is the day, that things turn around. I usually wake between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. but slept in past 8:30 a.m. this morning and I’m hoping that “sleep, the wonder drug” will have worked its magic. We normally attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve but opted for 9 a.m. mass this year in order to maximize the benefits of regular sleep routines. I have to confess that I enjoyed not having to fight off drowsiness at Midnight Mass. Wishing you all peace, joy and good health!

What child is this?

Christmas is the renewed invitation not to be afraid and to let Him-whose love is greater than our own hearts and minds can comprehend-be our companion”               

Henri Nouwen