Sunday, December 4, 2011

becoming a runner

Just because I have not posted does not mean that I have not been running....I have been pretty good over the last few weeks.  I fact, since I last update my blog I think I may have actually made the transition into being a runner.  It happened over a week or two.  

During my group run on November 17 I was pushed pretty hard.  I left the gym a but early and ran to the interval start point with Richard - one of the people who I can almost keep up with!  He kept me going at a pretty speedy pace (well speedier than I normally go).  I was winded during the intervals...but apparently that is the point of them.  I had a moment of excitement on my second interval loop  - when I turned the corner I could see Johann (RTP CEO & Founder, 4-time Gold medallist and my former boss) coming and I was determined not to have him pass me and he didn't!  Soccer started that evening - a 9pm game after a 630am run makes for a really long day.

Then came the fitness testing - the whole idea of this made me really was the unknown.  It started with a meeting with Dr. Dave - he assessed my body movements and various aches and pains.  Next was the dreaded VO2 max test.  If you have never undergone one of these tests it involves wearing a heard rate monitor (around your chest) and a face max that measures your oxygen intake.  You warm up on the treadmill and then run at a pace that has been agreed upon....and then they begin to increase the incline, and then they increase it some more, more and even more until they collect all of the data that they need.  Unfortunately for me they had difficulties calibrating the machine and then with the treadmill so the 15 minute test took closer to 30.  Good news is that it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  The final portion was strength and core testing.  I am waiting for the overall report but I know I did all right!

I didn't manage to run on the weekend but kicked off the week with a 630am spin class.  This made me realize how tight my hip flexors are.  Tuesday morning Julia and I had a good  longer run (7.5km total).  I realized that I was running.....and not so much shuffling.  It was cold though so I did a fair bit of whining.  To keep me moving at a good pace Julia ran ahead of me and I just had to keep up.  Once we reached the final stretch she had me lead the way home - we made pretty good time.  That evening we had our first running club social!  It was nice because our visitors from Benin were able to be part of it.  Group Coach Megan announced that we would all run the Half at the Toronto Marathon on May 6, 2012!!

Our group run on November 24 had the highest attendance we have seen yet!  I didn't leave the gym quite early enough and the group quickly caught up and then passed me.  Johann did confirm that they run at a blistering pace so I shouldn't feel too bad that I have a hard time keeping up.  The intervals were a bit longer in this run and due to my slower pace at times I had less rest.  It was a good work out and I had a nice run returning to the gym with Nora.  We made it back in time for a final pep talk.  My colleague Steph, who is in the running group but hadn't been out for a while, commented on how my running has improved so much!  The 6pm soccer game kicked my ass...but I do find that I am fitter on the field.

On Saturday in an effort to make up for my missed run the prior weekend I headed to the treadmill at the gym.  I was quickly reminded that I HATE the makes everything hurt.  I managed 2.5km and then had to switch to another machine.  Looks like I will have to prepare myself for a lot of outdoor winter running over the next four months.

Last Sunday I ran with my friend Kathy.  Having someone to chat with made the 6km we ran together fly by.  I had just over another 2km to cover on my own after dropping her off.  8.11km completed in less that 47 minutes!  It was a good workout before Thankgiving (American Thanksgiving) Dinner at my parents.

This past Tuesday I realized that I am in this for the long-haul.  At 630am I was waiting fro Julia in my lobby looking out at the rain pouring down.  Out we went and the dark, miserable weather.  It was almost refreshing...that is until a car drove by me and soaked me!  But I guess it is the days like that that will prepare me for the big days.

At Thursday's group run I surpassed 10km for the first time ever!  It might not sound like a lot, and I still have a really long way to go, but it was a milestone for me.  Today I ran in the rain again with Kathy.  Its good to have a running buddy!

In non-running news I am really excited to have booked a 2.5 week vacation in March!  I will be heading to Nepal and will trek the Annapurna Range.  (I hope the altitude trekking will make up for the missed running as we will be in the midst of 14-weeks of training for the Half.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

running gear

So it turns out that it isn't quite as exciting to write about my running when I am not in an exotic location.  In fact, while I am beginning to like the running a bit more, it doesn't compare to the joy I felt when someone cheered me on in the park in Mali!

As part of my investing time into running I have also invested in 'gear'.  I have been known to have a bit of a shopping habit so this hasn't been much of a strain for me.  I started with 3/4 length running tights, a shirt, socks and a sweater.  Then it was new previous ones were pre-Uganda (July 2009).  I got asics, which is a new brand for me, and I have to say I felt a difference when I changed into them.  The next purchase has been more winter wear - a long sleeve running shirt, a jacket and a head band.  (I am now looking at running gear as an investment for my next adventure - trekking in Nepal....I will need good layers!)  And I found my old digital watch so I can check that off my list.

And the running:
November 3 - a group run....I ran a shorter distance but for the first time made it back to the start point in time for a closing chat!  Around 7.5km.
November 8 - first run in the new shoes!  Running on my own in the morning.  5.4km
November 10 - a group run.  I was really nervous when I saw the route for the day.  The circuit start point keeps getting further from the gym.  I headed out a couple minutes early and was able to start the circuit with the group.  On my second loop I picked up the pace and passed my running partner (or the man I am generally grouped with)!  9km!!
November 13 - solo run again.  Boring.  Though I did learn how to use map my run so I could plot out the 7km that I needed to cover.  7.4km.  I think it took me around 55 minutes.
November 15 - running with Julia.  We did our 5.4km loop.  My left leg felt dead while we jogged but I found when I picked up pace my stride changes and everything feels better.  new fastest time for the loop in 32 minutes!

I did spend close to two hours at physio this evening trying to identify my various aches and pains.  I probably shouldn't have given it up when I first started physio for a nerve issue in June.  No worries though - Jessica doesn't think I am completely insane for planning on running the marathon.  Hopefully my fitness assessment on Friday doesn't indicate otherwise!

Another group run tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

back in Toronto

For some reason the trip home seemed longer than the trip to Mali....I wonder why that is. I got some sleep and I watched some cheesy movies.  I landed in Toronto to the great surprise that my dad was picking me up at the airport - a great welcome home!

Exhausted I tried to catch up on emails and arrange a run with my coach - we agreed to run Tuesday night.  A night run is definitely a great way to try to get over the jet lag!!  We did just over 5km and it felt pretty good - I got faster and faster over the final few blocks (and when I say fast it likely means that maybe I ran instead of jogged).  My legs didn't feel like led here but my various aches and pains definitely kicked in.  Lots and lots of stretching is needed!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

leaving Mali

What an incredible week this has been - I have seen so much in such a very short period of time and it is a lot to take in.  I am pretty sure that this blog about running is going to get a lot less interesting next week!

Friday morning I went out for a run - I ran a bit further than I had previously and am pretty sure that I was faster.  I will be getting myself a watch soon so I can figure the speed out!  I think I smiled for most of my run which I guess means that I am beginning to enjoy it.  A definite highlight for me was when someone applauded me for running - if i can always have that sort of encouragement over the next year I am sure I will make it!

After grabbing a small croissant it was off to work we went.  We headed to the Sports Centre for what I thought would be a press conference.  It turned out is was a conference on leadership in sport (that had media at it).  This was an important event to help increase awareness about Right To Play and Sport for Development in Mali.

I had been worried I might be expected to contribute in French (as my colleague Jules did at a similar event last year) but luckily I was just in the audience.  It was HOT in the room and I must admit that by the end of it I was suffering from a bit of a sugar low - I think that my run, after not drinking much water for a few days and not eating much breakfast, did me in!  A coke and a cliff bar gave me some much needed energy on the drive to meet with the Mali Youth Parliament.

Our time with the Youth group was incredible.  I was so moved by the poise, strength and articulation of the young group.  I believe they will be the change makers in the country.  Adam asked them each to tell us their dream for Mali and the responses were more powerful than I can possibly describe.  To sum it up they all hope for a time when rights for all children are recognized and that they all have the opportunity to finish school and be able to earn income.  They see a bright future.  On one had these youth were such a contrast to the group we met with Ouroun (that are part of a Youth Initiative) but on the other they have the same dreams - to improve lives.  I hope that that two groups will be connected as that could be life changing for them all.  Clara made an excellent point in speaking to the Youth Parliament - she said her medals were the 'tools' she needed to  make change and spread the message of Right To Play but that the parliament was the 'tools' for these youth and it is what they choose to do with those tools that will make a difference in the future.

It has been a week of extremes - we went from meeting the Youth Parliamentarians to visiting a detention centre for youth.  I don't really know what I expected when I arrived but for some reason I was really surprised to see that they were locked into rooms - it was a detention centre after all.  We waited for a while and then the young men came out to play.  They got such joy out of the games  - the same games we have played all week, the same games I play in Toronto - it was pretty incredible.  We had a fairly competitive game of basket ball with a small hard ball (perhaps I was playing hand ball?). You might not be surprised to hear I managed to get a ball in the head - luckily it was Adam that did it and not one of the boys as they would have felt pretty bad.

The visit was a great way to cap off a week of non-stop activity and it was amazing to see the smiles and spirit that the games brought the young men.

We had a break at the hotel and then headed out to one last celebration with the team.  In the style of every Right To Play event that I have been to the evening involved dancing - and everyone had to dance.  There was a traditional Malian band and dancers that were pretty incredible.  I have to note that up to this evening I had never seen a North American be able to keep up with African dancers - they really just put us to shame and make us look like amateurs.  Things changed early in the evening when out of no where Adam went head to head with one of the hired African dancers - it was a truly remarkable sight and I don't think I was the only one that was surprised.  After a bite to eat the band began to call people up - to dance in the middle of the circle - I was the first one called up and am pretty sure I was the colour of a tomoato - partly due to the heat but mostly to my discomfort with my pathetic dance skills.

That being said it was a wonderful celebration to end such an amazing week.  The team here in Mali are so full of passion - passion for the children, the work, laughter and each other.  It was amazing to be surrounded by them this week.  And I know how hard they all worked to make it a successful visit for the group that I brought over.  Thank you, thank you and thank you again.

Left with some free time before leaving Mali we set out for an adventure.  At the conference Adam had learned of a village that had started a Kayak club so the group set off to see what it was all about.  When we arrived the group was so thrilled and honoured to have the World Champion join them - I am not sure that I can grasp what it meant for them.  We planned to just stay for a while - leave Adam to work with the group - and then head for some sight seeing in a village near by but it turned out that there was an opportunity for us all to participate.  Having never kayaked before I was up for the challenge!  I set off in a boat (more of a canoe than a kayak) with two men from the club and quickly realized how difficult it was to paddle upstream!  As soon as the pair I was with saw the Champion we had to paddle 'vite, vite, vite' to catch up - I was sweating buckets!  I quickly developed a blister on my thumb but then got a quick lesson from Adam on how to paddle a bit better and more comfortably.

Adam heading out 

Adam taking Moise for a spin in a boat
Moise had never seen a kayak - let alone be in one

traditional boat on the Niger River

various boats along the Niger

Trying to catch up
(I am at the front of the boat in the back!)

My first kayak injury

After a meeting with the mayor our group spilt and I headed to Sibi while others returned to Bamako.  I wasn't sure what we would see in Sibi but we were told it was something to see.  It was a rock formation that was an arch.  I guess that many people rock climb there but we just walked around.  

It was also market day so we were treated to all kinds of sights and sounds as we wandered through the town.

Our final day in Bamako was a very quiet one.  I didn't make it out for a run but did have a good walk in the park and an opportunity to check out a photo exhibit that I saw being put up as I ran during the week.  We all reconvened at 2pm to go on a shopping mission....which started with changing money, then lunch (one of the best meals we have had here - thank you Daff!), a visit to Daff's home to meet his wonderful family and the  to the market.  I quickly discovered that I suffer from market fatigue....the bargaining was just more than I was up for.  This is probably a good thing considering all of the curios and jewelry I have from previous trips.

What a week - I do look forward to heading home but will carry the experience home with me and look forward to returning.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Three Days that seem like it could be be twelve

I have three days of activities to catch up on but it feels like it has been close to two weeks of experiences.

Tuesday October 25
It was a long day and so much was accomplished.  We started the day by visiting the Banconi Community Centre - this is a place that I had heard of from my colleague, Jules, who visited Mali last year.  In this community the children literally moved mountains to have the opportunity to play!  

Children playing a game that involved HIV and AIDS trivia

It was as incredible as I had hoped.  The community school activities were high quality but what was special was sharing with them the posters for the Move Mountains fundraising campaign that is being launched in schools. (see video here).

The Director of the Community Centre

From Banconi we headed to the office for a meeting with partners.  It was good to hear from all of the groups hat Right To Play Mali is working with.  The biggest challenge stated was that we are not in enough places - there is a strong belief and desire for the programs to grow.
In the afternoon we went to a training of new volunteers on out program on HIV and AIDS.  The group was very participatory.  It was just like any ther training that I have seen with flip chart paper coverin the walls and energizes throughout!

Future Right To Play coaches

Then we went to visit a centre for very young mothers.  It is an organization that we have partnered with to increase awareness in villages and communities outside of Bamako.  For the most part we work to build confidence and leadership in the girls so they don't run away to Bamako and put themselves into vulnerable situations.
We were back at the hotel shortly after 6 with time for a group drink before freshening up and heading for dinner.

Wednesday October 26
As noted in a previous blog I did manage to get up early and run!  I was pretty proud of myself and had time to nap en route to Kelaya.  It was about a two hour ride and then we arrived to meet the mayor.  
We then drove to Ouroun to meet the youth.  There we were greeted by a sight that I know my words cannot do justice - all of the children in the school were lined up, girls on one side and boys on the other.  The tunnel of children went on forever and they chanted Right To Play, Right To Play.  I am sure I am not the only one in the group that had tears in my eyes.  

We then had a brief meeting with parents and community leaders before meeting the youth.  They were very honest and open with us about the challenges they face and the opportunity that the Youth Initiative gives them.  One young man explained that he could never write even a single letter before this!  We returned to the parents and they too expressed the importance of the program.  

Clara speaking to the youth

In the afternoon we had the opportunity to be part of a global dignity play day.  We participated in games and then watched a football match - not a normal one - but one when the men did not have full use of their legs so played with their hands.  A truly incredible sight.

A celebration!

Thursday October 27
No opportunity to run this morning!  We spent he night in Bougoni and met for an early breakfast before heading to the office to meet with the team.  (I saw and email from my running club and I am pretty sure today's group run involved the hill on PoplarPlains - I need some more time to work myself up to that!). After the meeting we headed to one of he villages for a morning of health information.  We were greeted again by hundreds if children who stayed for a game and then headed back to school.  

Greeted by the "love clap"

Right To Play Mali PM Amadou surrounded by children

The women in the village were being taught lessons about proper nutrition for small children.  While this was taking place we went for a tour of the village water sources.  Life there is so different than anything you cold imagine.  The village has 5 water pumps but regularly two to three don't work so they have to get water from the wells.  Right To Play works in the community using games about proper water sanitation and he importance of boiling the water before using it.

When we returned to the activities a group of mothers played a game - this was something that I was so pleased to see.  They played a malaria game and in he RCA discussion after the game there were mosquito nest for three people that answered questions correctly.  They do his often as a way to get nets int the community.  There was also a registration for vaccinations that will be taking place tomorrow and then the women got some food for their small children before leaving.

We were all hungry and headed back to the office for lunch with the Bougoni Mayor....a very funny man who started off our meal by explaining that he was Muslim and could have man wives!  After a great meal Adam and Clara both spoke to the office - they are both so incredible in their presenting and provided so much inspiration for the staff by sharing their stories.
At three it was off to another school for an afternoon of play. 

warming up with a bit of knee tag

It was sooo hot our but amazing to play.  I spent part of the visit trying to get good video footage of Adam and Clara playing (which I hope I did) and then I find a group to join.  Most of the children I played with were four to six years of age.  I had started by just sitting with the but decided that playing would be more fun.  With the help of the project coordinator we played mosquito tag - and I was the mosquito!  This game teaches children to recognize the symptoms of malaria, the importance of seeking treatment and how to prevent it.  All of the children were eager to answer questions.

Then we played don't trust your eyes....which I was adapted so we could all sit if the ground as I was too tall to be part of the line standing up.

It was truly a remarkable two days in the villages and the work of Right To Play seems to be so strong.
We are now back in Bamako with one official day of programming  remaining....but still lots more time for running!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

running in Bamako

Today it was not easy to get myself out of bed - I was up too early, as I often am if I know I have to do something, and debated whether I should just sleep or get up.  I did get up and by 630 was out of the hotel lobby.  My running is pretty bad and I wonder what the people in Bamako think of the white girl running....or more accurately jogging by them.  As mush as they stare at me I too look around to try to take in everything.  It is quite something to see a city come to life.  There are already so many people out and about but not nearly as many as there will be in a few hours.
The run made me realize an important thing about this upcoming year of running - I need to but a watch!  I like to know if I am improving or not of if I am going to slow.  The highlight of the run was along the backstretch of the park when I was passed and then tried to keep up with another runner - it kept me moving!
The run also gave me time to reflect on all that was experienced yesterday - it was like we had two or three days packed into one.  Today we head out of Bamako to the town of Bougoni.  

First run in Bamako

It is amazing that it is only Tuesday night - so much has happened since I re-started this blog on Saturday and I feel like I am a world away from my condo in downtown Toronto.

We flew from Toronto to Brussels - a flight that had more babies on it than should ever be in one place (other than a mommies and me class)!  We are still joking about the orchestra if cries.  After a couple of hours of 'getting to know each other' time at the airport we boarded the flight to Bamako.  (The group consists of Adam van Koeverden (@vankayak,, Clara Hughes (, one of Right To Play's corporate partners that I work with and a photographer.)  Discussions ranged from the practices of mining companies to the the type of coffee we all enjoyed.  The flight to Bamako was a rest time.

Upon arrival we were greeted by the warm weather - it was HOT!  After quickly making it through customs we waited for our bags.  I should clarify as it was only the women (Clara, the photographer and myself) who waited - in typical gender fashion them men only had carry-on.  We received 4 of the 5 bags - unfortunately Clara was missing a bag -the one with her clothes and running shoes!  That being said everyone was in great spirits as we were greeted by the Mali Team!

We travelled in two Right To Play cars to the hotel.  I was struck by how familiar yet how different the streets were.  Familiar because like any other sub-saharan country I have visited there are more people on the street, and more things being sold than you could ever imagine.  The streets are alive.  Different because I found that there is more colour here - the men and women where vibrant prints....a bit similar to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania but there is more.  Also different because the roads we travelled on were so well maintained.  (This seems to be in large part due to the funding from Gaddafi.)  We quickly dropped our belongings and headed out for a walk.  We were shown a great route to the National Park - a suggested location for running.  On our way back from the hotel we had an opportunity to watch a football match. An interesting experience - only men were watching and women were selling snacks.  Apparently they don't like football that much.

After dinner and some emails I was out cold.  I planned to run on Monday morning but without setting an alarm I slept just about until it was time to go.  The day started with a visit to the Mali office to meet the staff.  It was fabulous to see Moise again - he visited Canada earlier this year!  While I quickly realized how inadequate my french was I also realized how welcoming and understanding the team from Mali was.  In three and a half years I have always been struck by how incredible the Right To Play staff in the field are.  We had an opportunity to introduce ourselves and explain why we are here in Mali and what we hope to achieve.  It was incredible to listed to Clara and Adam - they have a remarkable sense of responsibility for and knowledge of the programs that they represent.  Both express themselves so well and were able to inspire and motivate the team.  We were warned it would be a busy week with lots of "office, office, office and play, play, play".  

Late in the day we visited a school with a refurbished basketball court that girls were playing on and that a big crowd came to watch.

From what I gather the school had upwards of 3000 students generally 100+ to a classroom.  It was amazing how many came to watch. 

From the school we headed to a community centre for another girls basketball match.  The girls were great players and very competitive - we were happy we were not out there with them.

The day wound down back at the hotel  - first with a group beer and then later off to dinner with some of the Mali staff.  

Leaving dinner I committed myself to getting up and going for a run - I knew if I didn't my running coach, Julia, would have my head!  (And being surrounded by two of Canada's most famous Olympians and having told them I will be running the marathon really means that I have to keep this up!)

My alarm went off at 615 and I dragged myself out of bed, got my contacts in and into my new running capris and off I went.  I reached the park just as it opened....or so I thought.  It was 630 and they told me not until 7 but I was convincing in my very poor french.  I probably ran for about 35 - 40 minutes this morning and overall did not feel great - it was hot and my legs felt like lead - that being said I did have moments when I thought to myself....I could come to love this.  I got lost in the park and came across the museum that has some outdoor exhibits.  Overall - very glad that I made it out.

Today was a busy day....but I will have to save it for another entry as its late and I hope to run again tomorrow morning.  I do need to add that I am inspired by some many things that I have heard and seen over the past two days.  I have always looked to the challenge of running a marathon and when the opportunity arose to do it through work I jumped on it - the reason I will train for the marathon is not only to get myself into shape is to raise money for Right To Play and to support these programs that I am fortunate enough to visit.  I will try to remember the experience I have had in Africa as I train through the bitter cold of winter and aim to gain more distance (and hopefully one day pick up some speed!)