Sunday, July 30, 2006

Tummy gurgles... mind churns

I feel much better today. Thanks to everyone who left comments on yesterday's post, as well as to those who e-mailed privately and called.

I was on line just briefly yesterday to Google "food poisoning" and find out how to treat it. The post was almost an afterthought.

As I was doing my best to stay hydrated and not wallow too much, I got to thinking about how lucky I am. I was alone at home (room-mate’s still away)… and yet… not alone. My e-mail box was full and I got more phone calls than on a normal weekend, asking how I was and offering help. (I daresay that I found out that I have a fair number of “ blog lurkers” who rarely, if ever, leave comments.)

You know I feel crappy when I can’t get out the door to do my workout… though I did manage to leave the house later in the afternoon just briefly yesterday to do take care of a couple things…. and I was glad to get back home! (Probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but it’s not like I’m good at relaxing… even when I am sick!)

The best part of this literally nauseating weekend, was the dizzying reminder that I have a lot to be thankful for… so many people around who care… and show it.

Then I got to thinking about the irony of it all… guts wretching… feeling lousy… and yet, utterly grateful, knowing that if I needed more than time, patience and to stay hydrated (and to be near a bathroom, of course) that there would be help would be there. Correction: generous and caring people willing to offer and give their help would be there.

Learning to ask for (or accept) that help is an entirely different matter, of course. But then again, it also occurred to me that if you’re in rough enough shape, pride is more likely to be set aside.

Anyway… some of my mental ramblings of the past 36 hours. Thanks again… I am lucky to have you... (You know who you are!)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Humbling failures... and encouraging words

I’ve been taking hatha yoga this summer… and loving it. It is the perfect activity for me, as it requires you to focus and let go at the same time… relax and be strong at the same time… and best of all, integrate mind and body into the practice.

As with life, there seem to be good days and bad days in yoga.
Yesterday, was one of those days when you have a choice: get angry or get humble… or possibly both.

The teacher mixes things up a lot and we never quite know what to expect from one class to the next… nothing too crazy and maybe there is a system or a curriculum or something, but if there is, I haven’t been able to figure it out. Surrendering to that is part of the journey, I guess…

Here’s a quick snapshot from yesterday’s class:

We are in Downward Facing Dog position and Michael, our teacher, says, “Now we’re going to lower ourselves down onto our elbows and keep the hips up. Plank position.”

I struggle, but manage to get there.

Then he says, “OK… so… we’re just going to hang out here for a while.”

Hang out?

In plank position?

I can think of various positions I’d like to hang out in… and I guarantee you that none of them involve plank.

Maybe a position on a warm, sunny beach… holding a parasol drink… served by a dark-haired cabana boy. Oh yes… that would be nice…

I hear a far off voice say, “Breathe… Bringing the mind into the body…”

My mind was perfectly happy where it was, thank you very much… on the beach… with my cabana boy…

And I collapse into the mat.

I struggle to get back into plank, but it’s no good… My upper body refuses to cooperate and eventually the angelic sadist of a teacher wanders over and gently asks, “How are you doing?”

How humiliating.

I know he means well. And he’s only asking because usually I don’t struggle quite so much… collapsing repeatedly with big, ungraceful thuds on the mat.

I mutter, “I’m all right…” Not wanting to admit that I’m exhausted. Trying to remember that part of the practice of yoga involves letting go of judgment... Breathing...

After class I do what comes naturally. I analyze.

Hhhmmm…. Here’s a thought: maybe spending an hour and a half in the gym for cardio and weights isn’t what my body likes before yoga class.

It somehow has been conditioned to think that when I push the exit turn styles of the fitness centre, it is done its physical training for the day. Then I scurry off to yoga class where I expect it to “hang out” in plank position for a while. And my body stubbornly refuses to cooperate with me. Imagine that! (At least we know the body belongs to me... being stubborn and all...)

Maybe next week I'll change things up a bit… Maybe I’ll even take that day off from weight training completely… We’ll see…

On a happier note, my chiropractor has been full of positive reinforcement for me this week. He’s said, “You’re doing better than 90% of the people I see with a similar condition. Keep doing what you’re doing! This is great!”

The treatment area is open and there are two people there at any given time. Sometimes I'm oblivious to what's going on at the other table and other times, I catch snippets here and there. I've been there enough times to know that he's diplomatic and positive, but a very straight shooter, as well. If you need "a talking to", you get it. So... I know he's not just spewing hot air when he gives positive comments... which makes them all the more effective, of course.

Today he made me laugh when he said, “You’re like a major renovation project… and we’re ahead of schedule!”

I never really thought of my health in those terms before, but it does seem to fit rather well. Little does he know that there was quite a bit of “renovation” that happened before I ever stepped into his office in May of this year. Nevertheless, his words are powerful encouragement that help to keep me positive and motivated... despite my failure to be a human plank and my inability to keep my mind focussed in yoga class.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The wheels (at least those in my head) are turning

I'm considering buying a bike.

This is major becuase I really suck at riding street bikes. I tried to learn a few years ago. My friend A. will remember the disaster that was, as she tried to teach me in the park. She only laughed at me a little... Once she even included a mandatory post-lesson tequila shot... We both needed it by then. Long story short: I can do it, but it ain't pretty.

Maybe all the hours I have spent on the stationary bike this past year at the gym will help? Then again, maybe not... I listen to my iPod and I'm sure I have way too much lateral movement in my ribs (you know... groovin' to the tunes) to transfer it to a real bike. I'd probably go flying... or lurching... or just have people in the street titter and stare...

Hhhmmm... I am already talking myself out of this, so I'd best move on...

Anyway, thinking about getting a bike because:

  • The gym is fine, but I have seriously missed some outdoor activity this year. Biking I can do, even with the injury situation.
  • I'd like to find ways to incorporate more (or maybe just different?) activity into my day.
  • It's just time to try something new... or in this case... try it again.

One of the things that holds me back is that I have no idea what to look for when buying a bike! None - nada - rien - nul - zippo!

What I do know is:

  • I don't want anything expensive. Wipeouts are expected. Why drop huge amounts of cash on a "crash test dummy", so to speak?
  • My legs (like the rest of me) are short. We're talking a 28" inseam here. OK, you can stop laughing now! I have found that bikes I have tried in the past are just too big - even with the seat all the way down. Where to find one short / small enough? Moreover, how the heck do you fit a bike anyway (without going to one of those expensive speciality stores where you could easily drop a year's worth of tuition on one)?

I am just letting this idea roll around in my head at the moment. Not sure what to do... Any advice or comments are welcomed...

Monday, July 24, 2006

Anyone else ever done this?

Yesterday I had a cooking frenzy, with a view to having an entire week’s worth of “no brainer”, good “clean” food (balanced, nutritious, low fat proteins and lots of veggies), that I could just heat up and enjoy.

So, I fired up the BBQ and made steaks, lean meat balls, and tandoori chicken. All modesty aside, I make a mean tandoori chicken… and on the BBQ is definitely the best way!

I made a nice potato and spinach curry, with yogurt sauce, too. (Don’t ask for the recipe… There isn’t one!) And I made sure there were lots of fresh veggies in the crisper to steam up and have as sides. Yesterday I made steamed broccoli and asparagus and had that with some tandoori and veg curry for dinner. In fact, I made enough for two portions and then packed the second portion into a Tupperware container and threw it in the fridge for lunch today.

During my workout, lunch crossed my mind…. Mmm… curry and tandoori are (IMHO) always better on the second day. By the time I was done stretching my tummy was gurgling… It was getting close to lunch and I was hungry.

I hoofed it back to the building where I work and before I even bothered to drop my bag off at the office, I stopped by the fridge and got out my lunch… Only to discover… I brought the wrong Tupperware container! Argh!!

Although it crossed my mind to eat the 3 whole chicken breasts that were in there, ultimately I decided that wouldn’t be a good idea… Not balanced… too much protein (even after a workout!) and besides, if I ate them all today, I wouldn’t get to enjoy tandoori for the rest of the week…

Sigh… Checked my wallet. Yup… enough money for lunch. I headed back to the student centre, hoping to find something healthy.

Today’s lunch is still in the fridge and I’m sure it’ll be fine as tomorrow’s lunch. I should just put a big sticker on it that says, “Hey bleary-eyed not-so-morning person! Pick me! I’m your real lunch!”

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Soaking in solitude

It's hard to describe what I am feeling at the moment, but I think "contentment" would come pretty close.

Before I go any further in this post, let me say that I do believe that I have the World's Best Housemate. Leah is just enough like me that we agree on how the house should be kept (clean, but not obsessively so) and we have many shared interests. (We are both language teachers for example.) She's great!

Having said that, I find myself alone in the house now, while she is on holidays and rather than it feeling empty (like it has before when I've been the only one there), I realize that this is a good opportunity to re-charge my batteries and enjoy the solitude.

If you've ever done the Myers-Briggs psychological profile, you know that according to their definition, "introverts" get energized by time alone and "extroverts" get energized when they are with others. I have done the test two or three times at different points in my career and I almost always come out in exactly the same spot on the "introvert - extrovert" scale: almost in the middle, but just very slightly on the extrovert side. Sometimes I need to be around people, and sometimes I need not to be.

I realize that I have "been around people" constantly -- in some which way or another (work, school, home) for months now. Of course, I take "Sarah time" and I have found that I generally enjoy my time in the gym as exactly that. On a good day, I can even turn my cardio into a meditation and just forget about anything that's on my mind. (Any wonder why I like running?!)

Today, after having some "Sarah time" at home, I had my "last supper" (though it was lunch) with my friend, Cindy. She works on a cruise ship and although her leave was supposed to be until August, she was called back early and head out on a plane to Miami tomorrow. She had time today to visit, so we did one of our favorite things - got take-0ut salads from Wendy's, and ate them at home while having a good chat. This wouldn't be everyone's idea of a good time, but it is kind of our "signature" thing to do together, so it was appropriate that we do it today, as we say good-bye again. (Saying "hasta luego" is also something that we have grown accustomed to doing. We know we'll connect up again whenever her travels bring her back to Calgary... but who knows when that'll be?)

A few other people have left or come back this summer, so it seems like my life has been a cycle of hellos, good-byes and key-exchanges these past few months.

Yes, it also appears to by "my year" to look after people's houses, cats, plants and those other things that need to be tended to when someone is away. This is something I do gladly, knowing it is a sign of trust between friends or colleagues and also it is my chance to "pay forward" (and in some cases, pay back) the same favour that others have done for me so many times in the past.

So... These first few days of solitude at home have been peppered with welcome visits with friends, stopping by others' houses to check in on the plants, animals and so forth and has been blessed with quiet rest... me sitting on my deck with a big beverage, shades on ... reading.

The latest book was lent to me by my massage therapist, Runner's World's Complete Guide to Running for Women. I have quietly devoured more than half of it in the past 24 hours, sitting outside, and finding myself like a human solar panel... blissfully soaking in the long hours of sunlight as I slowly become energized.

And to balance all that off... (a healthy!) dinner out tonight with another friend, after my workout.

Could summer get any better?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Back in Blog-land!

Sorry to have been away from the blog for so long! Between our gorgeous weather and my crazy schedule lately, sitting in front of the computer just hasn’t happened much lately, apart from school and work life.

So… a quick update… Work is picking up again – in a good way! We have more projects on the go and things are moving in the right direction. We’ve had a few staffing changes, too, which always has an impact when the department is small.

School work also seems to be getting busier. I was working with a prof on a research project on bilingualism I have a pile of qualitative research surveys on my desk to review and do some data entry on. Ugh! I loathe data entry (but then again, who doesn’t?) However, it is part of being a grad student.

I did a presentation in the faculty this week on marketing of language programs. It was the first time I’d done a presentation in a while and I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I know lots of people are afraid of public speaking, but I actually find it kind of relaxing – especially when I know the topic well and can speak with passion about it.

And I’ve met with my thesis supervisor and we’ve drawn up a preliminary timetable for me to get through the rest of my program. I like timetables… They keep me focused! I like to know where I am going and when I can realistically expect to get there. Of course, it may change… In fact, I should probably expect it to change, but nevertheless… I like to have a plan!

Part of that plan involves having a thesis committee put together by the end of September. I’ve scoped out and met with two profs who have agreed to be on the committee. IMHO, they’re both brilliant scholars (in other words, I have a lot of respect for them) and super nice people.

And the cherry on the sundae is that they both get along with my supervisor. This is crucial. It is important for your committee members to get along, since you don’t want to fail your thesis due to internal political battles between others that has nothing to do with your work.

So, I think I need to find one, possibly two others, and we will have a thesis committee that can be formalized in the fall. Over the next three or four years, these people will be my guides and mentors as I move through the various phases of the program.

I am still in Phase One – taking classes. I have signed up for my last obligatory course in the fall – statistics. Ugh! I have to take it, so there’s not much choice in the matter. I am hoping it won’t be as horrible as my fears make it out to be. Here’s hoping, anyway.

On the fitness front, I am still working through the plantar fasciitis and the doc tells me it’ll be at least another two weeks, so in the meantime, I’m still in the gym six days a week. Not my idea of a fun way to spend a summer (I’d rather be outside running, walking, hiking… just about anything!) But I did it last summer and the world will not end if I do it for another summer. I’m not going to wimp out now!

I am getting thoroughly sick of my iPod playlists in the gym, so suggestions of medium to fast-paced songs with a strong beat are warmly welcomed!!

So, there’s a quick update for you. I’ll be back to commenting on blogs soon… Promise!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Marathon volunteer experience (long post!)

What a fantastic experience! Before I tell you about it, just let me say that I think anyone who gets it in their head to go out and run a marathon would benefit from volunteering at one first. Here’s why:

Friday – Stuffing it!

I spent
three hours on Friday stuffing race packages. There had been teams there the day before, too and ours was the last shift. We were working on the half-marathon packages.

There were 6-10 of us there at any given time, stuffing bags and replenishing supplies. For the most part, it was quiet work and seemed to vary from being methodical and almost rhythmical to borderline exasperating (“Are we there yet?!"), punctuated by moments of chit chat and questions such as, “Any more flyers for the Maui marathon?”

I’m not sure how many thousand packages there were to stuff in total… at least 6000, I would guess, between the full and half marathons, the 10K race and the kids’ race.

Let me just say that I have a newfound appreciation for any event package I pick up!

I also got to meet Dawn and Karen from the blog-o-sphere. Very cool.

Sunday – Course marshalling

OK, so this was the main event. I learned so much!

I arrived at my designated station at 7:00 a.m. For those of you who know the course, I was positioned at the intersection of Bowness Rd. and Veteran’s Way; or… at the 19 km mark on the way out and the 38 km mark on the way back. I met Gordon, my partner marshal, at that point and we had a good chat as we waited for a glimpse of the leaders. There were other marshals a few hundred metres in either direction… close enough to see, but not close enough to chat with.

I enjoyed watching the runners, observing different people’s form, stride and general appearance. (Interpret that however you want!) Some people hunched over and looked lopsided. Others looked strong and relaxed. A few didn’t seem to be running at all, but rather, gliding.

Some people looked ahead intently, focused on the path. Others chatted and laughed with fellow runners. A few chatted on cell phones. One mom’s son came by on his bike and said, “Way to go, Mom! I believe in you!” I thought that was very special.

The job of course marshalling seemed to involve two tasks: safety first and cheerleading second. There was plenty of time to do both, so that’s what we did. I was both surprised and impressed at how many runners took time to say, “Thank you for volunteering!” I wasn’t sure that it would have occurred to me to be so thoughtful had I been in their shoes.

As the last runners and walkers were passing by, the leaders were coming back on the other side of the road. We migrated to the centre of the road and marshaled on both sides.

Our shift officially ended at 9:30 a.m. I had originally thought that I’d be there all day, and I was having a good time, so I decided to stay, saying good-bye to Gord, who I think was headed for the finish line to meet up with friends.

What a difference to see the runners at 38 km, as opposed to 19 km! Some were strong and relaxed, but many were visibly tired. A few people showed up with lawn chairs and started cheering. (On the way out, the course was quieter than I had expected.)

Then, there were two incidents at the 38 km point that for me, shaped my experience in a unique way.

Incident one – The collapse

I made a point to speak to as many runners as I could, encouraging them with words like, “Looking good!” “Stay strong! You’re on your way home.” and so forth.

One runner pointed to a guy in front of him and said, “This guy is all over the place. You’d better help him.”

The guy was already past me, so I turned and looked at him and indeed, he was staggering, almost knocking into other runners. I ran after him and said, “You O.K.?”

The response was garbled... incoherent. He veered towards me, almost knocking into me.

I realized this was serious.

“We gotta get you some help.” I said. More garbling.

The runner who had pointed him out to me said, “Let’s get him off the road.”

We each took one of his arms and started helping him to the curb. I started to reach for my phone to call for help, when I realized that the runner who was helping me had effectively given up his race for this guy. I looked at him and said, “I’ve got him. Go!”

He said something, but I can’t remember quite what. I said, “You’re here to run. Go! We’ll get him help.”

And from nowhere, help arrived. The runner took off, leaving the collapsed man draped over me. By then, he was just dead weight… not even moving. I looked up and said to the volunteer cyclist who had showed up, “Help me, please! I can’t hold him.” The man was easily at least a foot taller than me, and although he was as skinny as a rail, I couldn’t manage his entire weight and I almost fell myself.

The cyclist took the place of the runner who was back on the road and we got him over to the curb. The biker radioed for help, as we laid the collapsed man on the curbside grass. I took out my water bottle and poured some over the man’s head, and gave him a few dribbles in the mouth.

The guy was completely incoherent and his eyes kept rolling back into his head. He didn’t know his name and couldn’t speak. We said, “Stay with us! Help is on the way.” I tried to get him to tell us his name, but he was too out of it. The irony was that the guy made a few feeble attempts to get back up and keep going, but there was no way.

Within a few minutes, more volunteer medics showed up. I didn’t realize until then that they were actually ski patrol doing summer duty. I thought that was pretty cool. A race official van showed up and they got him into the van, but not before he vomited as the medical volunteers were breaking open cold packs like crazy.

By then, the guy knew his name, but not where he was. The thought he was still in Bowness Park, which was a few kilometres back. Ski patrol said later he got abusive and combative when he realized he was in the van, but he was in no shape to be anywhere else. An ambulance came and took him to the nearby Foothills Hospital.

I am the type of person who is generally OK in a crisis. I don’t freak out and seem to keep my head about me. Having said that, my own lack of first aid training left me feeling ashamed. I think I’d like to remedy this at some point in the near future. (Funny how having a guy collapse in your arms can make you feel that way, eh?)

I went back to marshalling, with a heightened awareness of the well-being of the runners in their last two miles of the race.

I was happy to see Karen again. She was looking happy and strong. I jogged with her for a few metres and cheered her on, glad for the chance to focus on being positive. She didn’t need much cheering though! She was thrilled to know that she was going to finish her first marathon.

Episode two – Giving up

A while after I saw Karen, the pack started to thin out. There were more people walking and more runners who looked strained and in pain. I kept my eye out, not wanting a repeat of the collapse.

One runner, a young guy about 21 or 22 years old, just… gave up. He went and sat in the shade on the grass at the side of the road. I went over and sat down next time, being careful not to touch him.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“I’ve been better,” he said.

“Oh? What’s up?” I asked, cautious, but glad at least, that he could have a coherent conversation.

He looked at me as if to say, “Stupid cow. It’s a marathon. Duh!” But he didn’t. He just shrugged his shoulders and said, “I’m tired and sore.”

“Do you need medical attention?” I asked.


Clearly, he was angry. His responses were more like daggers than words. I knew he wasn’t angry at me and I didn’t take it personally. I did want to figure out where he was at and what he needed most.

“First marathon?”


“How long you been running?”

“Couple years.”

“Do you train alone or with a group.”


“Done any other races?”

“Yeah. A few 10K’s.”

“That’s a big jump, from a 10K to a marathon.”


I realized that my suspicion was correct. His spirit was broken. He had expectations that he had not met and just wanted it all to be over. I let him sit there quietly for a few seconds and then he said, “My lower back hurts. I’m just sore.”

I said, “I understand. I would really like to have a number on my chest today, but I’m injured. It just wouldn’t make sense… not if I want to run at any point in the near future.”

His attitude changed a bit… He wasn’t quite so angry.

I said, “Your whole body is going to seize up if you keep sitting here. You gotta keep moving.”

“I know,” he said, pushing himself off the ground.

He started walking and I called after him, “You’ve only got about 4 K left. You can do this. You’re gonna be OK. Just keep moving.” By then it was clear that what he needed most was inside him and he just had to find it.

About a half an hour after that, an official race van drove by and collected the yellow and orange safety vest I was wearing, as there were only a few people left on the course and they were accompanied by the volunteer ski patrol medics on bicycles.

I knew there was a post-race party at one of the bars downtown, but by then I wanted to re-charge my batteries, so I just headed home. Overall, it was a fantastic experience and I learned a lot. Most of all, it hammered home that training is everything. I have said to my trainer, “I want to run. But I’ll do it strong or not at all.” Now I am more convinced than ever that “doing it strong” is the only way to go.

And if I don’t feel strong enough to run, I’d volunteer again in a heartbeat...

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Feelin' groovy

Remember that song? I don't remember all the lyrics (and I suspect that is a good thing), but the feelin' groovy part definitely describes life as of late.

As many of you know, my director at work went on a six-month sabbatical to Australia. He's back now and yesterday was his first day in at the office. Suddenly, the entire universe (well, maybe just my professional universe, as it were) feels like it has shifted back into its natural happy peacefulness.

We chatted. We worked. We joked. We re-capped. We planned. And that was all in less than an hour or so when we met.

Sarah is one happy camper now. Yaaay!

In other news, I started a new training program today. Two words: bitchin' hard! It is seriously challenging and has also helped me to identify some muscle imbalances that I was not aware of before. I have a feeling that I am going to be very, very sore tomorrow.

Hopefully, the yoga class tonight will help get me stretched out.

And the plantar fasciitis is slowly starting to subside. I noticed this morning when I woke up that my heel did NOT hurt. I iced it anyway... just in case.

And this weekend, I volunteer at the Calgary marathon! Can't wait for that!

So, as the song goes...
"Life, I love you,

All is groo-oo-vay."

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Getting adjusted

Last week was a week of things not being as bad as I expected... and little adjustments that made a big difference.

Took the car to the mechanic on Monday, since it needed an oil change and the brakes were squealing like nobody's business. Groan... I thought, "Yeah, that'll be good for about $800, I'm sure..."

Turned out, they just needed adjusting. Got the oil change and a new fan belt and all seems to be in order. Yaay!

On Tuesday, I had a chiropractic appointment and for the first time since I started going, I got adjustments in all three areas of my back: lumbar, thoracic and cervical. Incredible! I won't harp on it... But I feel like a new woman!

The next day at the dentist an X-ray showed that my aching tooth was actually healthy. No cracked filling. No abscess. She used some kind of dyed paper and had me bite down on it, discovering that the tooth in pain was considerably higher than the others, so it was getting stressed every time I bit down or closed my teeth together. She said, “Teeth can shift with time.”

I winked at her and said, “Oh, you mean with age, right?”

She chuckled graciously and gently said, “Well, we can just say ‘time’.”

She did a bit of an “occlusal adjustment” (shaved a couple of millimeters off with her drill) and the tooth now seems to be OK. Still a bit sensitive to cold, but I can chew on that side of my mouth again and there’s no pain. Yaaay!

Sorry to have freaked you all out with the “no needles” thing in my last post. I chose to stop having dental anesthetic needles when I was sixteen. Several fillings, crowns, and one root canal later, I’m still here.

The dentist said during our appointment that if I was in a significant amount of pain and since the tooth appeared healthy, that she really wouldn’t recommend having the procedure without freezing. Asked if I’d ever seen the movie “Marathon man”? I said no. She told me to go rent it, then I’d understand.