Sunday, January 10, 2016

At 39, Getting Personal about my Goals, Family, and the Rio Games

January 9, 1977.Today I am 39, which means I am in my 40th year. Yep, the big 4-0 is just around the corner.
Several years ago, when applying for a shoe and apparel sponsorship after my marathon times continued to become significantly faster, I set 2016 as my big goal year. I did the math, calculating how much faster I thought I could get after my debut marathon of 3:28 in 2002, including the addition of baby breaks and potential injuries. I estimated that by 2016, the kids would be in school full time and it would be a perfect time to train and compete, performing at my ultimate best. It also meant I would be 39, likely older than all of my competitors.  
And here I am! I have the Olympic standard for the marathon but am not counting any eggs before they hatch. I must be healthy, prove my fitness, and maintain one of the three fastest times to be named to the team for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There are some speedy Canadian women attempting the standard and I will have to run another marathon if my 2:29:38 is beat.
If I am named by Athletics Canada to the 2016 Olympic Games team, I will definitely be different than most of the other athletes, with the odds against me.
AgeI thought it would be neat to do some research about athletes' ages.
At the 2014 Winter Olympics, the youngest Canadian athlete was 16 year old figure skater Gabrielle Daleman, while curler Jennifer Jones was the oldest at 39.At the 2012 Summer Olympics, the youngest participant in the athletics competition was 15-year-old Cristina Llovera (100 m) while the oldest was 46-year-old Oleksandr Dryhol (hammer throw).At the 2008 Summer Olympics, the women's marathon winner was Constantina Dita of Romania in a time of 2:26:44. At 38 years of age, she became the oldest Olympic marathon champion in history. Previously the oldest man to win an Olympic marathon was aged 37 and the oldest woman was aged 30. And Constantina is a mom.When I competed at the 2013 World Championships, I was the oldest on the Athletics team, and nearly twice the age of the youngest member, pole vaulter Shawn Barber.At the 2015 IAAF World Championships, Athletics Canada's oldest athletes, male and female, were 33.
I've always believed that it's not how old you are but how long you have been at something, which can make you feel old. After playing hockey for 20+ years, I was ready to retire. But when I won the National Championships at the 2010 Ottawa Marathon, I remember saying in an interview ( that I felt like I was just getting started, looking forward to returning to marathoning after a well-deserved break. I had run 4 marathons in 13 months, and we were planning for another baby. Leah was born 10 months later and I ran my first marathon 13 months after she was born, 2 weeks after she finished breastfeeding. I took 7 minutes off my previous personal best and kept setting the bar higher, toward my 2016 goal.So do I feel older now, 5 1/2 years later? Somewhat. I definitely know that I have to pay much more attention to my preventative maintenance routine to keep training and racing at an elite level. But I believe the experience and wisdom I have gained with age has far benefited me than anything else. I know I can't have it all anymore and have recently been able to better choose how I will expend my time and energy while juggling so many balls in the air, which brings me to the next topic.    ParentingI did some google searching to get a better feel for some Canadian athletes who are also parents. I was going to be interviewed for this article, had I chosen to run the marathon at the 2015 Pan Am Games: . It is quite impressive.
A few women in various events include: Rachel Seaman, racewalkerHilary Stellingwerff, middle-distance runnerJessica Zelinka, heptathlete Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, hurdler Their stories, and those of many other parents, are incredible. Of course there are some amazing dads out there - Eric Gillis, Alex Genest, and Dylan Wykes to name a few, who do an incredible job of juggling families while professional athletes but fortunately (or unfortunately, depending how you look at it!) for them becoming a parent did not involve significant weight gain, excruciating labour and delivery (far more painful than any of the 11 marathons I've completed, or bones I've broken!), breastfeeding, and hours of training to return to one's pre-pregnancy body. When I was pregnant with our first child in 2005, I got some disapproving looks and unsolicited opinions about running. Having a supportive husband and midwife was a blessing as I continued to do what I always did and loved. When 6 months pregnant with our first and third, I ran a half marathon and even played a fun game of hockey (respectively). It was a blast! Over the years I've been interviewed by various people about being active while pregnant and breastfeeding and I'm glad to have been a help, including assisting Francine Darroch in her PhD research. Many women have simply been comfortable "listening to their bodies" but some updated guidelines and recommendations would certainly be more reassuring for others.
Ageing is one thing but parenting is another. Being an athlete requires a certain element of selfishness. And when you are a parent and an athlete, you can't be selfish. A parent/athlete can never guarantee an uninterrupted day where everything goes as planned with workouts, naps, meals, and sleeping - to name only a few of the demands in a typical day.
Lastly, the final factor that will make me different than most of the other athletes is the seriousness of my near career-ending femur fracture that required emergency surgery for the placement of a plate and three screws. I remember telling my husband once that if that if I ever needed hardware, my career would surely be over.
Back to google I went to find a few athletes who are also competing with hardware. I already knew of Reid Coolsaet's collar bone injury after a trail biking accident, which required hardware insertion. In fact, he's shown me the pictures. Not pretty. But his progress since has proven to be unharmed, most recently running a personal best time of 2:10:29 at the 2015 Berlin Marathon, making him the 2nd fastest Canadian Marathoner in history, a title that we now both share.
Other athletes with significant injuries include Kyle Shewfelt (gymnast who broke both his tibias), Silken Laumann (rower who had her leg crushed, requiring multiple surgeries) and Alexandre Despatie (diver who sustained a serious head injury and broken foot).
So, put them all together and who do we have? Not many. But there is at least one that I came up with, and I'm sure there are others. Karen Cockburn. She is one of a few who has managed to tackle the odds by earning a bronze medal in trampolining at the 2015 Pan Am Games at the age of 35 after having a child and breaking her ankle, which required hardware. I was thrilled to read that she is training to compete in her fifth Olympics and glad to have someone to look up to who isn't so different than me!

So what is next for me in my pursuit to be my best in 2016, despite the odds that are against me? I ran a few rust busters in December - the Tannenbaum 10 km and Boxing Day 10 miler, which went relatively well. On January 17  I will compete in the half marathon in Houston. Earning a spot on the World Half Marathon Championship team would be incredible but that would mean running a low 72 minute half marathon.
I will have two other attempts at it when I run the Vancouver First Half in February and the Chilly Half in March but it is a secondary goal for 2016. The Around the Bay 30 km race is a likely chance and a perfect fit before commencing specific marathon training for Rio.
My body is healthy and my fitness is steadily improving, which is exactly where I want to be right now. An old girl can't ask for much more than that!
Source for above information: Wikipedia.

First race on my Road to Rio, the Tannenbaum 10 km. Photo credit: Beaches Runners. 

Enjoying a meal at the beach while on vacation in Cuba with Jonathan's family. Running and swimming on the road and  in the ocean in the morning, with a late afternoon session at the gym while not having to cook, clean, do laundry or fetch groceries made for a perfect training week!

Selfie with Coach Rick Mannen, shortly we started the Boxing Day 10 miler. 

Hoping for another Team Canada picture like this one, before the 2013 World Champs. Photo credit: Athletics Canada.

Highlight of 2015 - achieving the Olympic Standard, 11.5 months after my femur injury. Photo credit: Rotterdam Marathon.