Mind, Motion & Matter

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Imagine, Ethiopia

Arba Minch - Sunrise 01

Sunrise on “Bridge to Heaven”, the mountaineous sliver connecting Rift Valley, Lakes Chamo &  Abaya

“As once the winged energy of delight
carried you over childhood’s dark abysses,
now beyond your own life build the great
arch of unimagined bridges.”                       Rainer Maria Rilke

The road to Ethiopia began on a treadmill at the YMCA exactly five years ago.  I had made a commitment to organize a fundraising gala for People to People Aid Organization. With a venue booked at the ROM I realized that I had better start envisioning how that event would look. So in the free-flowing creative state that can be invoked on an easy run, I began to write the event blurb, “Imagine spring with cherry trees in bloom, and an evening party in the elegant and sophisticated lounge setting of C5 at the ROM.”

Lalibela-Hike01

Hike to Asheton Maryam Monastery at 9800 feet. (Photo, John Chou)

My husband and I went on to 5 years of organizing and chairing the People4Kids Gala to raise funds for children orphaned by AIDS in Ethiopia – three years at the ROM and two years at the LUMA in the TIFF Bell Lightbox. From day one we began to meet many members of Toronto’s Ethiopian community who appreciated our efforts to help out. One constant message was to keep in mind that Ethiopia is a beautiful, vibrant country. It felt inevitable that we would one day visit – it was just a matter of “when”. Five galas later with much money raised, and close to full-retirement for us both, we finally made it to see both the country and the organization whose work the gala had supported.

Here are Five Things that Struck me about Ethiopia

  1. Ethiopia IS a beautiful country with vistas both stark and lush.
  2. Ethiopians are special people with a unique and remarkable history.
  3. Ethiopia is a one of the poorest countries in the world.
  4. Ethiopia is not an easy country to run in.
  5. Ethiopia is a very safe country.

BEAUTY

We travelled to 8 different cities and towns flying first to Arba Minch in the south and then the classic Northern tour of Bahir Dar, Lalibela, Axum and Gondar all by air. We returned to the south with a road trip to Hawassa and Lake Langano. Our two trips to the south included stopovers in Ziway, Chencha, Dorze village, Butijara and a quick visit to a coffee collective in Aleto Wondo. Did you know that 90% of Africa’s mountains are in Ethiopia? The Rift valley with its lakes with mountain surrounds, the rugged mountains of Lalibela reaching 10,000 meters and peeks from afar, of the Simien and Bale mountains, amply illustrate this fact.

Lalibela-Church01

Rock hewn churches of Lalibela, Unesco World Heritage Site (Photo, John Chou)

HISTORY

Ethiopia has nine UNESCO world heritage sites, which along with Morocco is the most of any country in Africa. Nine of those ten sites are cultural sites. Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that has never been colonized. For a short period it was occupied by the Italians but it is point of pride that it has never been a colony. It is for this reason that the African Union Headquarters is in Addis Ababa.

POVERTY & HEALTHCARE

It is one thing to know intellectually that Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world – 11th from the bottom in per capita GDP. Actually seeing how people living on $2 USD a day live is like the difference between looking at a picture of food and tasting it. Currently there is a severe drought in the Tigray and Afar regions which some say is worse than the drought of 1984 which killed more than 1 million Ethiopians.

On the positive side, life expectancy has risen from 52 to 62 over the past 10 years. Although with so little resources for medical care, a child in Ethiopia with cancer of any kind has little chance of survival.

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A little wind sprint, North of Gondor, Simien Mountains in sight (Photo, John Chou)

RUNNING 

While one of Ethiopia’s greatest exports is world-class distance runners including Haile Gebrsellasie, the greatest distance runner ever, it is not that easy for a visitor to run in Addis Ababa. Driving style, pollution and poor road/sidewalk infrastructure make running in Addis a huge challenge. Running in some of the smaller towns or cities can be a bit easier. The advantage of training at altitude, Addis is about 2600 meters, helps to produce world-class distance runners but for the everday athlete adaptation to altitude can be quite variable. Fortunately, for all my fears due to a bad experience in Sante Fe a few years back, I had no adverse effects but I was severely limited in my runs by the other constraints.

SAFETY

Not being a particularly adventurous sort, the fact that Ethiopia is one of the safest countries in Africa to travel was an attraction. While it may be a very poor country, there does not seem to be a culture of criminality alongside this. We always felt very safe. Far safer than we did in our visit last spring to Chicago. People were kind and helpful and you got the feeling that if you did run into trouble on the street, the locals would help you.

THE FUTURE

Sister Tibebe

We met the amazing Sister Tibebe of Hiwot Integrated Development Association (HIDA) a few years ago when she spoke in Toronto as a guest of CUSO. We were pleased to meet again in Ethiopia at a party for the children of the various programs run by HIDA.

So this trip was the culmination of an important part of our lives for the past five years. Most of the ferengi (foreigners) we met while there, were those involved in aid work. In fact, we bumped into friends from 22 years back with whom we lost touch with and discovered that they have lived in Addis for 18 years and very much a part of the community of NGO’s in Ethiopia. We met a Dutch man working with religious leaders in small communities so they can help influence their communities to abandon the widespread practice of female genital mutilation, a Japanese man involved with helping strengthen coffee cooperatives and a young economist with the World Food Programme who had decided that he had written enough papers on international development and it was time to some experience on the ground.

And most importantly there are the Ethiopians, the returning diaspora and the extensive world-wide diaspora working towards change in multi-faceted ways. Notably Haile Gebrsellasie, who I had the great honour to meet. He showed us around his Addis office and introduced us to the staff of the Great Ethiopian Run, Africa’s largest running race. But this I think is a topic for a separate blog post.

Haile Gebrsellasie-01

I greatly admire the committment to change all these individuals represent. While Ethiopia is a wonderful place to visit, for those used to the comforts of developed nations, living there for longer periods of time would be a challenge for most of us.

As the impact of this trip takes hold, I find myself thinking it is only a matter of time before our relationship with Ethiopia will be reimagined, knowing that imagination cannot contain the fullness of what the next five years might hold.

Arba Minch -02 John

Dining room at the Paradise Lodge, Arba Minch, Ethiopia

 

 

 

 

 

 


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A Canadian reviews America’s 10 Best Cities for Runners

Running in Washington D.C.

It’s all about the sights on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

While visiting Austin, Texas in January I happened upon a Forbes Magazine article listing the top ten cities for running in the U.S.  I was surprised to see that I had run in 9 of the cities on the list. As the ten cities were not ranked, I’ve listed them in alphabetical order.

  1. Atlanta
  2. Austin
  3. Boston
  4. Boulder*
  5. Chicago
  6. Minneapolis
  7. New York
  8. Portland
  9. San Francisco
  10. Washington

*Boulder, Colorado is the only city I have not run in (or visited). However, having run in Santa Fe which is 7,199 feet above sea level, when I had a slight cold, which exploded into a very painful chest cold after a lung-searing run at that altitude I have little desire to run in Boulder which has a slightly lower altitude. I’m taking the liberty of substituting Sacramento, California for Boulder on my re-ordered ranked list below.

Austin-Running

Running through the center of Austin, Texas on a Ladybird Lake trail.

  1. Austin
  2. Portland
  3. Washington
  4. Boston **1998, 2000. 2007, 2008, 2013, 2014
  5. Chicago *2006
  6. San Francisco
  7. Sacramento *2007
  8. New York *2009
  9. Minneapolis
  10. Atlanta

* *Years that I have run a marathon in a city

Austin, Texas

It was tough to decide between Austin and Portland but Austin won out because of its dirt trails with overhanging trees which line Ladybird Lake. Portland’s prized bike-running path, the Springwater Corridor is mostly paved and does not have much shade.

Portland, Oregon

One feature of running in Portland is the ease of bike rental on the river trail. This is a great way to have a non-running friend or spouse join you for your run.

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Portland Rail Trail, The Springwater Corridor

Washington D.C.

Running is the best way to see some of the sights like the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorial. Another bonus is the number of clean public restrooms around the public parks and monuments.

Boston

Boston is well, Boston, but apart from the marathon, a run along the banks of the Charles river on the Cambridge side while rowers pass by makes for a storybook setting.

Sacramento

Love the slightly downhill course of the California International Marathon in Sacramento. There is also a long-standing distance race in November which serves as a tune-up for the marathon. The Clarksburg County Run used to be 30K but is now a 20 miler with a 5K, 10K and half-marathon option. Proximity to San Francisco, a 2 hour drive, is another plus.

San Francisco

Running along the waterfront route from Market street over the Fisherman’s Wharf is one way to avoid hills in San Francisco. Love the idea of their women’s only marathon but not on the hills of San Francisco.

Chicago

Runs along the lake are pleasant but summer races in Chicago can be stinking hot. The Chicago marathon course is my favourite. I ran it once when it took place on the third, rather than the traditional 1st weekend in October.

New York

New York is near the bottom of my list as I’m personally inclined towards the urban outdoor experience of west coast cities like Portland and Seattle. But I do love the shorter races in Central park organized by the New York City Road Runners.

Minneapolis

I’ve been to Minneapolis twice. Once for a convention and the last time a quick overnight stay to visit the World’s Biggest Mall a.k.a. “hell on earth” according to my husband. Nothing memorable to report other than feeling safer than I did in Atlanta and I’m sure summer runs in Minnesota are cooler than Atlanta as well.

Atlanta

I ran in Atlanta nearly 25 years ago while attending a convention. I think I was the only runner in the group of 2000 attendees. It was one of the muggiest runs of my life. My friends worried for my safety and I have to confess, I did not feel particularly safe there even though I stuck to the tourist zones.

I was going to say this post was part one of a series, with subsequent posts providing more detail on running in these cities. However given my poor record of following up with promised part twos, I’ll leave it at this and invite your comments or recommendations.

Happy vacation running!

Lynn


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Packing my bag for the Boston Marathon | Part 1 – REVISED

Shortly after writing the following blog post, I learned of all the changes to what can be taken to the Athlete’s Village. Much of what runners were able to take to the Athlete’s Village is no longer allowed due to increased security as outlined HERE.

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2013 The walk from the Athlete’s Village, past the baggage trucks to the start corrals

I’m sure glad I took the photo below, last year, when I arrived in Boston for the marathon. It is my visual checklist for everything I’ll need this year. This will save me a lot of time, and I am really time-crunched at present, which explains the blogless month of February. I have a gala to organize for April 30th, coursework to finish mid-April and a marathon to train for.

To ensure that I had all bases covered for race-day gear, I created a spreadsheet for all possible permuations and combinations of weather conditions. For today, my focus is on the items that you might not have on hand. 

Ready for any weather

Ready for any weather

1) I’m feeling quite pleased for having already picked up my waiting-in-Hopkinton camp stool. As I did last year, I bought it at Canadian Tire for $7.99. You’ll see many camping chairs on sale along Boylston street. They are not just for spectators but for runners who wish to pass their time in the Athlete’s village in greater comfort. I’ve never found lying on a damp bed of newspapers for a couple of hours to be the best way to get psyched for the run.

Camp Stool
PRODUCT #76-1557-0
Reg. $7.99

2) While you are picking up a camp stool you can also pick up an emergency rain poncho.

3) The next step is to visit a Value Village Thrift Store or similar and to pick up a cheap windjacket and windpants. Being a small person, I usually find what I need in the boys or girls section. The black Champion windpants and rust coloured windjacket (lined no less) were the results of last year’s Value Village outing.

There are baggage trucks enroute to the race corrals to take some of your personal belongings to the finish line. However I never check anything that I would be sorry to lose. And, I always like to have the option of not picking up my bag and going straight back to my hotel in case there is a long line-up. I always try and stay at a hotel within walking distance of the marathon finish line. Last year, the sound of the bomb blast was the decisive factor in not picking up my bag.

Also, it is good to have clothing to wear until minutes before the race start and after you have checked your bag. This is called throwaway clothing. Volunteers come round with bags to collect the throwaway clothing. Imagine the overhead scene as everyone ditches their throwaways.

Yesterday, I ran 30K, which is my last long run before the marathon. My recent long runs have been with my go-to Saturday run group, the Wise Guys (or if we were a team, the Philosoraptors, perhaps). Named so as they are three profs and a statistician. The head wise guy is absent from this photo taken yesterday to commemorate my Boston-training-run milestone. This was taken in a famous Toronto running route, Mt. Pleasant cemetery.

Long run companions, the wise guys

Long run companions, the wise guys

I’ll be concentrating on quality miles now and getting more rest in between those faster paced tempo runs and interval workouts. If all goes well with my recovery from the long run I plan to run 3-5 X 1200 with my team, the UTTC Masters tomorrow.

As for my bag-packing goals, I’m aiming to have my bag packed at least 2-3 days before I leave for Boston if not earlier.


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Douglas J. (Shaggy) Smith, masters running impresario

How does he do it? This is a question I ask myself regularly on the heels of Ontario Masters Athletics (OMA) events for which Doug assumes duties as registrar, volunteer coordinator, webmaster, meet director, photographer and a few other tasks that only those, who have done this work, would know of. And did I mention helping us retrieve lost passwords for our membership login page? I returned to racing in 1996 at an indoor Masters Meet. Doug’s involvement predates this and he has been an ever-present “force” since.

In order to find out a little more about the always-in-motion Doug, I asked him the same questions from my previous post, taken from the article New Years Lessons and Resolutions from Canadian Runners . I also added some questions of my own.

Doug Smith in the Steeplechase, Canadian Outdoor Track Championships

Doug Smith in the Steeplechase, Canadian Outdoor Track Championships

DOUG’S ANSWERS to New Years Lessons and Resolutions from Canadian Runners

What did you learn in 2013 that you want to apply to your training in 2014?
Lack of consistent mileage was a problem I’ll try to work on in 2014.

What was a great moment that you will remember about 2013?
Running at the back of the pack in the Steeplechase at the World Championships in Brazil. So happy to be competing after cracking my tibia in the Steeple three months earlier.

What goals do you have for 2014?
Nothing special….just to keep going.Two resolutions: one running resolution and a non-running one? I never have resolutions. I always try to improve myself – in running, training, and in administration of our events.

MY QUESTIONS FOR DOUG

1980 Toronto Marathon, Doug's first

1980 Toronto Marathon, Doug’s first

When did you start running?
I ran around the block when I was a little kid, with my Dad timing me, after I saw Abebe Bikila win the Olympic Marathon in ’60. I ran in High School, but just in Phys. Ed. class. There was no track team.

Who got you started?
I started in earnest in ’78, right in the Jim Fixx running boom. We had moved into the house and I was ready to get into it. My wife got me a running log for my birthday and I’ve kept one ever since.

What was your first race?
After running in the neighbourhood for a year and a half, I decided to try the Eaton’s 10K in 1980. I ran 49:00. Then, in September, I paid the $5 entry fee and ran the Toronto Marathon with very little mileage or any idea what I was doing. The last 10K was gruesome and I finished in 4:14

Doug Smith & Paul Osland, Presiden of Canadian Masters Athletics (3rd term)

Doug Smith & Paul Osland, President of Canadian Masters Athletics (3rd term)

Who got you involved with the OMA?
I showed up for a race in Sunnybrook Park in ’88. It happened to be cancelled. I noticed these guys warming up for a Metro Fitness race and I went in that one. They told me there was a Masters cross-country race the next weekend. That was the first time I heard of the Masters.

I went to the OMA Outdoors in’91 in Oshawa. I was looking for a ride home, so I went to the AGM to look for one. They were looking for another Board member, and someone said “What about this guy?”. . . I couldn’t think of a good excuse. Two years later I was President.

How did you get into photography?
I joined the Photography Club in High School. I became the President (I see a trend here!). One of the priests set up a darkroom and I shot all the team photos and developed and printed them, I also worked for the Yearbook. I set up a darkroom when we got the house and then digital came along.

What running accomplishment are you most proud of?
Hmmm . . . I ran the CMA Championships Steeplechase in Montreal in 1990 when they announced it was a M35 Canadian Record. That kind of took me by surprise. I’ve run 23 marathons and well over 500 races and I only dropped out of two – one with a foot injury, and one when I pulled a hamstring in the World’s cross-country meet in Finland.

At my first track meet ever – the OMA Indoor Championships in 1989, I ran 4:36 in the 1500m, then 2:22 in the 800m, then rested a bit on the lunch break and then ran 18:15 in the 5000m. I never ran faster in the 800 and 1500.

What made you decide to compete in the steeplechase?
I guess I saw my first Steeple at the masters meet in ’89 and thought that it looked like fun. I wondered if being taller would be a bit of an advantage. I tried it for the first time at the Ontario Championships the next year.

It became my favourite event. You have to pace yourself so carefully – to save enough energy to get over all the barriers, as well as working harder than any other event in the last laps! I hurdled the barriers until I was about 44, then I started stepping on them. Then, when I was about 56, I started vaulting them. At 60, they were lower, and I started stepping on them again.

Five non-running biographical facts you would like to share.

  • I worked for 30 years as a tech at Bell and retired in 2004.
  • I’ve been married (to the same woman) for 42 years.
  • I’ve been President of the Ontario Masters for 20 years.
  • I played a small part in founding the University of Toronto Masters Track Club 5 years ago.


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16 weeks to the Boston Marathon

I needed the reminder that arrived via FaceBook that the countdown to Boston has begun and the B.A.A. has training programs for the beginner or intermediate and advanced level. I’ve been delaying my return to training but did make it out tonight for an indoor track workout with my team the UTTC Masters.  These two things signalled that I can say today is the day, that my marathon training kicks-off.

I’ve been running fewer miles since the cross-country season ended in mid-November but my regular cruising pace has improved. This, thanks to a marathon-less fall and a focus on shorter distance training for indoor and outdoor track and cross-country races from 4K to 8K.

I was happy with my workout of 4 x 1200 with a two-minute recovery. I got progressively faster with 4:30. 4:18, 4:15 & 4:12. I felt good about the final fast one, as I had planned to do just 3 of the repeats.

I’m planning to get my marathon mileage in by doing a lot of doubles, to and from work. This will nicely  sandwich my very sedentary job at which I roll around my office from computer to printer to filing cabinet on my chair.

A teammate and I chatted about the extraordinary cost of hotels in Boston this year. The place I booked, is now $200 higher than when I booked a couple of months ago. My son the software developer has alerted me to the fact that just the act of “viewing” hotel websites can drive the cost up.

I’m planning to devote a future blog post to all the stuff one needs (or at least I feel I need) to be ready for any type of weather for the Boston marathon. One aspect of this is the fine-art of staying comfortable in the athlete’s village for 2-3 hours while waiting for the marathon start. A key item is shown at the top centre of the photo below. The camp chair is guaranteed to make you feel like a king or queen of the athlete’s village. I took this photo last year to remind myself of all the clothing combos needed and to start looking early at Value Village for suitable “throwaway clothing”.

So there is the training and there is the gear and then there will be much contemplation of why I will be running Boston despite being on the verge of semi-retirement from the marathon.  As the day draws nearer, and the runs get longer, I expect the emotions for all those training for the big day, will deepen, and the reasons why I feel compelled to go back one more time, will become more clear.

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Gifts for your favourite runner

Picking out gear for runners is not easy as the bigger items are somewhat technical and your favourite runners might prefer to make their own choices.

Choosing useful accessories is a much easier route to go. Here are some favourite items that have stood my personal 32 year, test of time and trendiness.

Foot roller

As I write my foot is resting on my foot roller. The simple foot roller picture above above is the most durable. The type with moving parts may eventually fall apart. I took mine on our vacation in September and left it behind, I replaced it shortly after.

foot roller

Smart Wool socks & Fox River socks

Nothing worse than socks that don’t fit properly. Most of my socks have some wool in them as I’ve found it to be the best wicking material of all. Strangely, the pair of Smart Wool socks that I bought from MEC that were specifically for running were unsatisfactory. But the regular line is fabulous and I wear some of the heavier styles for running. MEC sells Fox River socks. The biggest selection of Smart Wool socks I’ve seen in Toronto is at the Australian Boot Company. But the price points are high here in Canada and the selection extremely limited. Essential Apparel ships from the U.S. for a reasonable price and I just noticed that SportChek has a buy one, get one at 50% sale at the moment.

I travel with Smart Wool socks to wear while running and while walking. How much do I love great socks? My screen seems to be filled with images of socks and more socks!

smart wool 2

The Stick

I don’t use this often but there is nothing like this self-massager for loosening up some hard to stretch areas like the IT band and the outside shins.

Buff Multi-functional Headgear

I bought this years ago in Whitehorse, YK. So handy, so versatile and nice selection of patterns too. I mainly use it as neck warmer.

Buff-339-150x150

Amphipod

Perfect solution for shorts or pants without pockets. The Amphipod has a clip to fasten to the outside or inside or your pants or anywhere actually. It’s also a great little wallet.

Amphipod

Japanese Self-massage thingy

I don’t know what this is called but I bought it at our local Japanese grocery store and it has lasted for nearly a decade, despite the rigours of back massage and more. It recently broke and I am scrambling to find a replacement. The item below is the closest thing I’ve found to my broken back massager.

bongers


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Three tips to find time to run

November was a busy one. And we are just coming upon what is sometimes referred to as the “season of busy” which can make it hard to get our runs in.

Slow cooker

Tip # One
Buy a slow cooker

For much of my adult life I have been meaning to try out slow-cooking. Driven by one of the busier months of my life, I finally got around to ordering one. To determine which one to buy I consulted this popular blog on slow-cooking. And of coures, to save time, I ordered the slow-cooker on-line. I would estimate that I saved 2-3 hours this past week thanks to my slow-cooker.

Tip # Two
Run to and/or from work

Being a daily runner, I know I WILL run so using my running time to get to work saves me at least 45 minutes. In my case it is also so much easier to hit the road knowing that running is much faster than the cross-town transit options and a $3.00 saving each way.

Tip # Three
Do chores, shopping and window shopping on the run

This really works well for small and /or lightweight items. Swiss army knives are a great gift for many people that can be easily picked up while on a run. Gift certificates to Mountain Equipment Coop are another. I do a lot of on-line ordering but sometimes you really do want to see an item, hence window shopping while running makes perfect sense. The new practise of looking at items in a store and then ordering (often at better prices) is called “showrooming”.

Trips to the bank and post-office are also good candidates for doing-while-running. Especially if you can time your visits to be at low-traffic hours. Get thee to the post office early! Running with a hip-pack or back-pack is not that bad. It certainly beats missing a run. I’ve got my eye on some hip packs including this Patagonia Hip Pack

Hip pack

I’m an admitted time-management book junkie. Hence I got a chuckle out of something a former workmate had this on posted on her bulletin board:
“Your lack of planning is not my emergency.”