Mind, Motion & Matter

Running, Essentially . . .

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Guest blogger, Chung-Yee Loo on race hardware

The longer I run, the more I discover that while we runners are similar in many ways, our approach to our sport can be as varied as our numbers. In putting the spotlight on my friend Chung-Yee, I can’t help but recall an encounter with a former team mate at a race, an age-group competitor who inevitably places first in his age-category. He complained that there seems to be less merchandise for age-group competitors and only “stupid old medals”.  Enter Chung-Yee, running adventurer extraordinaire and her lovely tale of what she does with her hard-won finisher medals. Three cheers for Chung-Yee and Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Treasures in a salad bowl and a tea biscuit tin box
Originally posted on Chung-Yee’s Facebook page

When people find out that I run, they always ask a set of similar questions:

“Have you run a marathon?” Yes.

“Have you run Boston?” No, not yet. I am too young to run Boston. At this point, I have to explain to them that with my average finishing time at 4 hours and 45 minutes, I would have to be 70 years old before I could qualify to run Boston.

“What do you do with your t-shirts and medals?”

Most t-shirts go to Goodwill or various charities. I do keep a few technical shirts which the fit, design and colour make me look good. A girl has to look good while running. I also keep shirts that have sentimental value. The ones from the New York City Marathons – the experiences there were just awesome and the memories running through all five boroughs are just as vivid now as they were a decade ago. Another is the Marine Corp Marathon’s finisher shirt and baseball cap that I was wearing on my way back to the hotel after the race, when a marine said that he is an awe of my strength. “Huh?” was the only answer that I had enough energy to express. “You are still standing straight and upright.” Awe now, how could I not respond with a smile:-)

As for the finisher medals, I keep them a salad bowl. I used to hang them on a door knob, then on “over-the-door” racks. But as I ran more races each year, I had this vision that the weight of my medals would yank off the top half of the door. The salad bowl I use now is clear and transparent with leafy motifs, and it is made from plastic so the container does not weigh much. However, it is a different story with my finisher medals … it weighs a ton. I do take the medals out of the salad bowl, especially during “mental health days”, and place them on my counter to remind myself of those accomplishments and how I persevered through whatever obstacles that could come about during epic challenges. Most of the time though, the medals stay in the salad bowl, just visible enough to inspire myself to continue to run.

Every single race I have entered, I have recorded my results on the back of the race bib and have saved those bibs in a tea biscuit tin box. This simple box, from the Hudson Bay Holiday treat collection, was given to me by a good friend Aggie who I affectionately call “Mrs. Claus” because she looks like Mrs. Claus and she volunteers as Mrs. Claus for the Children’s Aid Society. It seems fitting that this box stores a continuous record of my running career.

Aggie is in her seventh decade but she has the energy of someone more than half her age. Over the years, she has been an active volunteer for local races and I always look for her behind the registration desks or at the medical tent at the finish line (she is a registered nurse). I could always count on her words and hugs of encouragement. With support from Aggie, I hope to continue to run into my seventh decade, and hopefully by then, I could qualify to run the Boston Marathon and add that race bib to the tea biscuit tin box collection.

CLICK HERE to read Chung-Yee’s previous post on Mind, Motion & Matter called Celebrating 40 on My Own Terms.

Thou who hast given so much to me, give me one more thing – a grateful heart!

George Herbert

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Another Day, Another Run

February 2011 it turns out, will be a very social month for us, more so than the holiday season.  With an outing tonight and tomorrow, I decided to do a solo long run this morning to avoid a weekend long run.  For a moment, I considered doing my 14 miler on the treadmill, discouraged by the overcast sky but thought better of it.

Four miles into the run, I took part in an email exchange around a confusion about whether the racing, mentioned a few days ago, was happening today.  I suppose having a BlackBerry is a bit of consolation, a kind of companion when you are slogging it out in the winter with no company.  There are those days when it takes a lot of positive self-talk to get out there and train so if the promise of being able to check email every few miles makes it a bit easier, so be it.

I enjoyed the section in Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running where he describes his interview with Toshiko Seko one of Japan’s great marathon runners.  Murakami asks Seko if there are days when he doesn’t feel like running.  Seko looked at him with a you-must-be-joking expression and answers that of course, there are those days, every day in fact!  If one considers the difficulty of his training routine, it makes perfect sense.  As we say in the business, the man is a “machine”.

In truth, for those who run every day, however humble our goals, we rely on all manner of mental gymnastics to get out the door.  Discipline is a lot about becoming highly adept at finding the many reasons, why, why, why when so much of the mind and body says, no, no, no.  Anyhow, today was such a day but as usual I reminded myself of how great I feel after a long run and how much I like the results of being highly fit and running fast times.  Additionally, I remind myself of how much I dislike the results of less activity.  When I started running, I was very motivated by the benefit of stress release and used to visualize that I was leaving stress behind like a trail of soot on the road.

My route in a nutshell was west to High Park with a short loop there, then back east through the CNE grounds, past Ontario Place and over to Harbourfront, with a northwest beeline for home.

View From Ontario Place

There was a very pretty pink hue hovering on the horizon which made for a pleasant sight while running past Ontario Place. East of there is the Tip Top Tailor building.  I’ve run by the Tip Top Tailor building, now converted into lofts for decades, and often wondered about the interior. Today I’ll get the inside story, as that is where we are headed this evening.

I made a pit stop at Harbourfront Center and took a moment to enjoy a photography exhibit.  A photo by Jesse Boles which is part of an exhibit called Piles caught my eye.  The aesthetic is similar to art that I enjoyed in my younger days.  And then I hit the road again, face to face with a  very strong west wind.  This is the first year that I’ve had a vented face protector and it is a big improvement over the muffler style face warmers which can get iced up in super-cold temperatures.

Photograph by Jesse Boles

My final stop was the dry cleaners, from there jogging the final stretch home, cleaning in hand.  Finishing felt so good that I cheered out loud for myself!

As with the camping experience, food tastes better after a long run, so I eagerly dove right into breakfast by making my quickie version of Carrot Cake Oatmeal. If you haven’t tried it yet, you really must.  It is super-fine stuff.

Breakfast of Champions

Recipe: In large microwavable bowl combine 1 cup grated carrots, 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup oats (not quick cooking oats), 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, a dash of cinnamon, raisins (optional), dried cranberries (optional) and cook on high for 5 minutes. Stir. Add chopped pecans, maple syrup and milk or cream. Make sure the bowl you cook the oatmeal in is at least twice the volume of the ingredients as it will boil and bubble vigorously.


There was some leftover whipping cream in the fridge so I indulged, and used that instead of milk.  This is my third post about Carrot Cake Oatmeal, and I urge you to give it a try.  It’s a real winner and will add excitement to your breakfast table this winter.  And how virtuous one feels starting the day with a cup of grated carrot in your cereal, especially after a hardy workout!

“Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.” Benjamin Franklin

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I’ve finally gotten round to writing an ABOUT tab for this blog. Here it is.

Detroit, Ford Field Finish

The choice to return to very active life I experienced while growing up, has brought many good things into my life. This journey began with a few runs, while still a smoker, fitness classes at the YMCA which led to quitting smoking, cold turkey. With all the excess energy of being more fit and tobacco-free I began to run regularly, first a mile and then a few months later, a marathon in 4 hours and 11 minutes. Recently, I celebrated 30 years of running for fitness, friendship with my 20th marathon, surpassing the Boston qualifying standard by 33 minutes.  One of the good things was meeting my husband over 25 years ago when he introduced himself in a YMCA cafeteria after the 1985 Peterborough Half-Marathon. He remains, my favourite running partner. We have a 23 year old son, 17 nieces and nephews and 4 grandnephews and grandnieces.

Highlights of my racing career came later in life; 1st place finish in the 50-54 category at the Chicago Marathon, 3rd place (50-54) at the Boston marathon and a time of 3 hours & 10 minutes at the Detroit Marathon, run at age 50. I like to refer (or brag) of having qualified for the Boston Marathon in the Open Men’s category at age 50. This time also qualified as an Ontario 50-54 age group record for the marathon. The time I am most proud of from my younger days is having run my 4th half-marathon in 1 hour & 23 minute after less than 3 years of running and with low-mileage training due to chronic ankle injuries.

Over the years I have learned that advising people about how to train is tricky business AND that there is no formula. We are, as George Sheehan put it, “An experiment of one.” I’ve run while pregnant, run good times on low mileage, run great times on high mileage and run purely for fitness for the first 9 years of my son’s life, returning with a vengeance by logging more than 100 miles a week at times, with high-intensity workouts thrown into the mix.

Along the way, I’ve had to learn and abide by the “laws of the body”, George Sheehan again. I hope that providing some insight into how running fits into my daily routine might encourage you to commit to habits that will enhance your quality of life. I find the benefits to be as much (if not a little more) about mental well-being as physical.

There is an abundance of information available on fitness and training for the motivated and curious, and it is not my goal to spend a lot of time on the details of which others have expertly written. I would caution however that discernment is required as there are obvious paralells between “getting fit quick” and “getting rich quick”. I hope my observations about what has worked for me, while running close to 60,000 miles or more in my lifetime, might arouse your curiosity and point you in the direction of finding out what routines work for you, be it running or your heart thumping activity of choice.

As for all the non-running chit chat, I think of it as my side of a conversation, were we to share each others company while on a run — that being the most companionable of spaces.  Consider this your invitation to comment and question.

All the best!



What I Think About WHEN I Think About Running

If you have been following my blog, you’ll know that most of the time, I don’t think about running, when I am running. I’ve forwarded the proposition that the more reasons you have to run, and the more that you have to think about while running, the easier it is to stick to running.  Does it follow then that since I run A LOT, a lot of what I think about is not about running?  Possibly.

Some of those thoughts and activities that occupy me or take place on the run include listening to music and audio books, watching television, list-making, photography, shopping, meal-planning and recently, I’ve become adept at checking my Blackberry while running on a treadmill.

The Pain Gain

However faster running, involving effort, discomfort and pain requires that thoughts be focused on running and it is helpful to develop positive mental strategies to deal with these more challenging physical sensations. At the moment, faster running is about 40 minutes out of the roughly 6-7 hours a week I run. A big part of what motivates me to push past the discomfort and pain is the knowledge of the health benefits of intense running. When you exercise at an intensity over the lactate threshold your body produces Exercise-Induced Growth Hormone Response (EIGR) the effect of which is double the benefit of aerobic exercise.

While running hard, I visually imagine EIGR secretions flowing through my body and soothing my joints.  I also think of my heart, pumping vigorously sending blood in strong gushes throughout  my circulatory system, massaging and cleansing my arteries.  While these images may not be sound biology, you get the picture, it is all about the importance of positive images.

Knee Joint Facsimile

My husband has been having knee trouble for nearly two years.   As a joke, I gave him a key chain with a replica of a knee joint.  As time passes, I’m thinking that this rattling, fragile looking knee joint may not inspire confidence in recovery and only lends fuel to the argument that the knee joint is poorly designed and engineered.  Not the best mindset for visual images of healing and health.

The simple practice described in this quote by Jean Houston strikes me as wise, at the gut level. 

“Try to spend a few moments each day holding a picture of your body and your mind in a state of splendid health.”

Hmm, I think this key chain has got to go!


The final mile, a state of grace

By the time you get to mile 23 the prospect of the final .2 miles of the 26.2 mile marathon distance seems magnified.  Why 26.2 and not an even 26 miles?

It is helpful therefore when the race course has a one-mile-to-go sign at the 25.2 mile mark, as on this course.  During that final mile I think of myself as running a mile on known terrain such as two laps of Winston Churchill Park or the final mile of various routes out and back from my home to make the remaining distance seem less onerous.

The day before the marathon, a trip to the finish line to visualize race finish

I began to push harder on the homestretch and there were a lot of people along the course to cheer us on.  As familiar as I am with the event when I am a spectator I feel a world away from connecting with the unique mind-body experience of running a marathon and feel at a loss for an appropriate cheer.

There are a couple of mantras that I repeat to myself, “rhythm, relax, focus” and the other which I feel a bit embarrassed about revealing, “strong as a bull, smooth as silk”.   I particularly remember repeating this last one in the 2007 Boston marathon when I placed 3rd in my age-category.

I once read that the difference between your average fitness runner and those running for optimal performance is that the first group disassociates while racing and the second group does the complete opposite.  My experience has been that two elements that have made a difference for me are; belief in the remarkable capacity of the human body and the ability to experience your body in the moment and react accordingly for the task at hand.

For me a part of achieving this balance and fluid mental state involves what you could call prayer.  I recognize that while there are factors under my control that allow me to run and race, there is so much that is out of my control and that is a gift so I give thanks for this state of grace. So, part of being in the moment is a mind-track, if you will of bits of traditional prayer as well as the self-composed.

With around 700 meters to go, my husband spotted me but too late to get a photo.  He was trying to pick out the red singlet that I been wearing in the morning and I had stripped down to my base layer.  He shouted encouragement in very emotional and endearing terms and I increased my pace through to the finish, my 20th marathon completed, the 25th anniversary of our first date celebrated —  in the final mile.  I crossed the finish line and felt a surge of emotion —  as joy, fulfillment, satisfaction and relief converged. 


There’s a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Leonard Cohen

Finishing my 20th marathon in 3:42 at age 55

A few minutes after the finish with finisher's medal, teary-eyed, elated and exhausted


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Budding blogger

Listening to Murakami’s book has been cause for some reflection on how running became such an integral part of my daily routine.  In addition, I’m asking myself, how is it that I have somehow also acquired the “habit” of blogging.  There are clues to be found in the life I led as a 12 year, almost 13 year old.

I was given a journal Christmas of 1967 by my mother and thereupon began 20 years of keeping a journal.  The journal keeping ended when I became a mom.  Life just seemed too busy and immediate, that I did not have the desire to mull over the contents in writing.  Not that I did not reflect on my life, as in fact, that is a lot of what I do when I run.

Portrait of a blogger as a young athlete

As a child I was not in any way precocious but I was extremely active and involved in all kinds of games and sports.  I had forgotten how so.  In my journal I drew pictures to illustrate my entries including pictures of a new hockey stick, a high jump made by my dad, a baseball bat, a basket player and much more.  I noted, every single occurrence of gym class and all viewings of hockey night in Canada.

Wednesday, August 14, 1968

Because of my dad’s makeshift high jump, high jumping became a neighbourhood sport and I was the champ.  Thus, when I attended my first track meet, an inter-park affair, I placed first in my Junior age-group.  Our park, was a very small park and I was the only first place finisher.  I remember being feted quite thoroughly for this, nearly carried home on the shoulders of my teammates, or at least that is how it felt 🙂

I should mention that one of the first conversations I had with Friend 2 from yesterday’s blog involved the discovery that my favourite girlhood sport of high jump, was her most despised sport and sports in general are not her thing.  In spite of finding a certain camaraderie with sports-mates, most of my female friends generally fall into the category of being non-athletes who read a lot.  Although an active child, I did love to read and was the youngest volunteer at the local library.  I diligently worked my way through the biography section in alphabetical order and more.

I’ve kept a few of my journals, but thrown out those from age 20 to 32 as my only interest in them seemed to be worry that they might be read, so out they went.  Maybe tossing the records of the brooding days of my twenties is related to Rainer Maria Rilke’s advice in Letters to a Young Poet.

“…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903