January 28, 2013

Getting ready to run again after injury

It has been four months since I last ran, a 14-1/2 minute jog on October 1 that ended in pain, just like most of the jogs I did, as cleared and/or prescribed by various therapists, in the prior three months; never before in the 17 years I have been a runner have I been unable to run for 18 weeks.

It has changed me in ways that I will only be able to think about if, and when, I am able to run again. Without knowing whether I one day will be able to become again what I am, a runner, I cannot -- dare not -- think about what that means. It is simply too terrifying to consider.

I am a runner, and cannot not be one. Even when not running, I am and will always be a runner. For my own sanity, I have had to push the runner into the background by allowing her to do other types of exercise, but she knows that I am only doing them so that she can return, hopefully stronger than ever.

My body had made clear that treatments were not the answer to whatever its problem is: it stubbornly refused Active Release Techniques, chiropractic moves, ultrasound, deep tissue - and trigger point massage, and Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) to provide anything but temporary relief and hope that was quashed in the next jog I was allowed to do.

An MRI showed nothing to explain, or solve, the pain in my heel. Neither my Achilles, plantar fascia nor a stress fracture could be blamed. One specialist thought a missing ligament might be the culprit, though this was dismissed by two other medical experts.

Tired of the medical merry-go-round, I have very much enjoyed a return to training in a new discipline, Bikram yoga, and a couple of old ones, swimming and cycling.

In the past seven weeks, I have done 28 Bikram yoga sessions. Each class has been challenging, each class has been rewarding, both physically and mentally. Each of the 26 postures in the series shows me where I am weak, tight, imbalanced; returning to class and trying again shows where I am becoming stronger, more flexible, slowly but surely syncing the left and right sides of my body.

Bikram yoga is hard work. It takes a lot of focus and mental resilience, yet it also requires the ability to let go, especially of expectations and judgement. As with many things in life, the hardest part is showing up for the 90-minute class -- I feel smashed after each one, in a good way.

It's about listening to the teacher who talks you into and through each pose; the more often you go, the better your body and mind absorb her words, taking you more accurately and deeper into the poses. It's about overcoming mental resistance to do the poses that are hardest for you, varying per person.

Each class I feel a tiny victory, a hip that moves a little better, a pose I can get into for the first time, or a little deeper, or hold a little longer. It's what motivates me to return to the 40-degree heat and work as hard as I can that day; I wholeheartedly believe that Bikram yoga is helping me to bring back that runner. 

And yet I am scared. Increasingly so as February approaches. My heel can now handle three sets of 20 one-legged ankle raises, a threshold a specialist had said would clear me to try a run once I had been able to do them for two weeks in a row painfree.

Since mid December I have been able to walk doggy Luka again daily without worrying about heel pain.

And in the past week I have done two powerwalks, one of 45 minutes, and one of 55 minutes, followed by an hour swim and a Bikram session respectively, without protest from my foot. I do them because of this article Returning to Running After a Stress Fracture or Another Major Injury by Pete Pfitzinger.

"Before you can run you must be able to walk briskly without pain. During walking, your body absorbs forces of about 2 times your bodyweight. This is a stepping stone for determining when the injured bone will be able to handle the greater impact forces of running. When you can walk briskly for an hour without pain, you should be able to try a small dose of running," Pfitzinger writes.

"The impact forces of running, however, are over twice as great as for walking, so the only way to know whether your body is ready to handle running is to run."

And that is exactly my fear; as much as I am looking forward to running again, I am terrified that it might show my body is not ready after all, despite all the promising signs.

Despite the dozens of treatments I have had in these past seven months, despite the four months of complete rest from running, despite all the good advice from the people who have helped me, despite my own hard work on strength and flexibility, despite the fact that I am glad the injury has made me a triathlete again, despite the fact that I am loving the swim squad, and Bikram yoga sessions. Despite the calf raises, despite the powerwalks. Despite the patience, despite the confidence in my recovery.

I am scared to try that first run, and I am in no rush to do so, even as February is only three days away. Even as every single runner running past my office window gets me a little angry, jealous at their ability to run, especially if their face is showing discomfort or boredom instead of happiness and gratitude.

Tonight I'll powerwalk to the pool, 5K from my house along the exact same route I have run so many times. It seems that my powerwalking pace is 9 minutes per K, perhaps I'll take the Garmin tonight to register it more accurately. I want to do a few more powerwalks, and a few more sets of 20 calf raises, before I put my body to the test in miniscule runs of a couple of minutes at a time.

I have been waiting for seven months because I had no other choice, I can be patient for a little longer.

January 24, 2013

Running in Moscow, Russia

Derek Gagne
After living in Squamish and Whistler for the past decade, two-time Ironman finisher Derek Gagne accepted a job working on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

The Senior Project Manager for Contemporary International arrived in Moscow in October 2012, just days before Ironman Canada said it had found a new home in his former backyard.

Alas, Derek consoles himself with a running regime as he believes it a perfect time to work on improving his marathon personal best time of 3:55:15. Moscow offers two marathons in the time he'll live there, and he plans to do both.

Derek spent his first two months getting used to his new environment, before heading back to Canada for the holidays. He'll return to Russia next month, this time with his wife Kirsten and their three young children; the family will be based in Moscow until October 2013, before moving to Sochi where they'll be until April 2014. They haven't yet made plans beyond that…

I was curious about his thoughts and experiences on running in Moscow, and here's what he said:

I assume you brought running gear with you. What did you bring? Anything you're missing? 
I brought two brandnew pairs of shoes, clothes for indoor running at the gym and all my outdoor fall/winter running wear. My thermal Under Armour tights are a life saver and it is key to wear several base layers when outdoors here. It's windy. I also brought 24 Double Latte Power Gels, a few tubes of Nuun, my Garmin watch, Petzl headlamp, mini foam roller and all my favourite running toques. I brought all I needed to make it from October 11 to December 19.

During a break in Canada over the December 2012/January 2013 holidays, Derek decided to upgrade his Russian running wardrobe only with "an old-school track suit." 
Even in Whistler, I just wear my normal running gear and add either the track pants or jacket or both depending on the weather. Just needed another layer but, quite frankly, I was too cheap to buy the 'proper' winter technical running gear as the window to use it is a small one. So far, what I bought is working out well for me with a toque and gloves.

Are there any running stores or some place that allows you to buy clothing, shoes, socks, nutrition for running? 
I have not really looked yet as I have not needed to but I am sure they are here. The locals have an expression here: "In Moscow you can find anything you want...as long as you are willing to pay the price." 

Funny story—I did come across one running store by luck just walking around, great shop, I was admiring the Salomon shoes with the metal spikes on the bottom. The owner of the shop did not speak great English but enough to tell me he competes in ultra races in the Alps. He said, "Ah you are from Vancouver, you have Arc'teryx...very good, I like."

Why did you decide to run there, rather than any other sport? 
As a triathlete, of course I considered the three sports to try and stay in tri shape. Cycling here is a death wish. You only see bikes in the parks. I will swim to cross train but with no races on the horizon (tri races), not much point being in the pool too much. I decided to run because for me it is a great way to stay in all-around shape, I can do it anywhere. 

I figure, if I can keep my weekly long-run fitness at two hours, I could do a half iron at any time; my swim and bike would not be as good as usual but if I keep the running, I know I will maintain the base I want and can plan to increase from two-hour long runs for a few marathons in 2013. 

How long after you arrived in Moscow did you go for your first run?
About three days, I was jet-lagged and wide awake at 6am so I decide to go out on the sidewalks of the busy streets where I was living at the time.

How had you prepared?
I did not prepare at all—that was not smart.  I went running down a busy street trying to get to a park and went the wrong way in the dark. I had my Petzl light on my head which was flashing: let me tell you, that got a lot of weird looks and some people stopped in their tracks to observe what this crazy person was doing.

What has surprised you?
The overall lack of outdoor recreation, although I knew this based on the research I had done prior to coming here. Overall, it is not a very fitness/wellness oriented culture—unlike Vancouver. For example, most people smoke, in restaurants, bars, cafes. I took my body about two weeks to adjust to the (poor) air quality. You go out on a run, even in the park, and it smells like cigarettes. 

The other thing that surprised me is how aware you have to be of the road surface you are running on. Out of nowhere there are holes in the road, pieces of rebar sticking out, overall very uneven surfaces.

Have you seen any other runners at all so far? Are there running clubs? Races? Magazines (whether Russian or any other languages—a Runner's World available anywhere)?
I am now settled into a routine where I do short runs indoors at the gym during the week cause it's dark and I do my long runs on Sat and Sun in Gorky Park. Here there are many runners, roller bladers, cyclists—and NO cars. I have not yet found any clubs but there a few websites 42km.ru which is a good resource. 

How many runs have you done by now?
I have been here just under two months and I have done at least 10 long runs in the park...not many, I know...still getting settled. I took me about  two weeks to get over the jet lag, worst I have ever had as it is exactly 12 hours ahead.

What kind of routes have you found?
Gorky Park is great. You can do pavement (road), "seawall" along the river or go into the woods and do trails with some great hill climbs. I am very happy to be living next to this park. It is a great place along the Moscow river and can be compared to the Seawall in Stanley park. Without the trees, without the even road surface, and without the ocean but, regardless, you get my point – it's nice for Moscow. 

There are great hills, trail running and the "seawall" along the river. You can easily do an out-and-back 20K run. And, there are other runners! You can tell the expats who are running because they recognize your gear (Ironman visor, Subaru shirt, Vancouver Marathon gloves) and they say hi. So, I have made it my mission to wave hello to every runner I see. Occasionally a few wave back and others just go along their way.

Do you feel comfortable running there?
Yes, absolutely, but it took a few weeks to get over the initial fear of traffic and stories of police stopping people to ask to see your passport (which I have not ever seen actually happen). I would say that other then the traffic, it just as safe as any other big international city. 

What time of the day do you usually run? 
For my long runs outside, usually around noon when it warms up and it is bright. 

What do your colleagues think about your running? Any of them running with you?
Some have said, "That is crazy—it's too cold, that's too far, that's to dangerous..." Others are gym rats so they do not get it. Many of the gyms are more of a fashion show than a gym. None of them are running with me. 

What are your running goals in Moscow, Sochi? Have those goals changed since you arrived?
For Moscow there are two marathons, one in May and one in September 2013. I would like to do both. I am still after my 3:45 (or better) PB. At this point I have no idea what Sochi will bring although I am told the traffic there is worse than Moscow because it does not have the public transit (metro) like Moscow. 

Any cool local races you're drooling over? Any you've committed to?
Not committed to anything yet. Was looking at some winter ice marathons but logistically too complicated. I would like to get in two or three good marathons in 2013. I might also plan some vacation in Europe and tie in a race...I am starting my research. 

Derek also decided to join a gym in Moscow and experienced his first spinning class. 
This week was the first one where I really started to get into the return on the price of my gym membership (organ donation required). I joined a chain called World Class after visiting four other local gyms. This is the first gym membership I have purchased: as a triathlete, I run outside, bike outside and just go to the local rec centre pool. There are no rec centres in Moscow, not that I have found. So, as long as there is no ice on the ground, I will run outside but I have gotten into the pool (25m, two lanes), weights, core exercises and yes... a spin class. 

I figured I should stay in triathlete shape for when they announce Ironman Moscow in 2013...

The gym is entertaining. The people range from your normal gym goer, to men who look like those strong men who pull a bus or jet with a rope (with the biggest beards I have ever seen), to the fashion queen in designer gym wear and D&G sun glasses (yes, sunglasses indoors).

Spin class...always wanted to try one, now is my chance to see if a keen cyclist can survive on spin classes alone. First, yes, the class is in Russian. The gym uses a program called LesMills; from what I gather they have a series of programs that gyms get certified to offer. 

Even if in Russian I thought, how hard can it be, pedal fast, pedal hard, out of sadle....just watch and copy the instructor. It turns out to be really fun and it is one hell of a workout as the class lasts 55 minutes, and it is high intensity. And, they use some key English words thrown in with the Russian like: easy, race, aero, plus (more tension). All this to say it is fun.

My last class, the instructor asked me a question to which I replied "No Russian, English" (with my broken Russian). He then said something in Russian and the entire class laughed so not sure what that was about... 

Follow Derek's life in Moscow on http://gofasterdada.blogspot.ca/
Check out his professional page at http://derekgagne.com/

January 17, 2013

Swimming: a 400m baseline time

Last night was my fifth session with the Squamish Titans' masters swim squad led by coach Roseline Mondor Grimm. We began with an easy 300-metre warmup, using whatever stroke we wanted. I opted for a mix of freestyle, breast stroke and backstroke.

Next up were four sets of the following: 50m regular swim, then 50 sprinting (freestyle) as hard as possible, following by 50 of gliding, i.e. swimming with relaxed long strokes. We had 20 seconds of rest between each 50.

Then there was the core set; the two fastest lanes had three sets of 400m -- the first was a timed 400 freestyle, followed by a minute rest, then a 400 freestyle with pullbuoy, another minute rest, and a 400 with fins.

The 'slowest' two lanes, which include me, only had to do the 400 pullbuoy and 400 fins.

I love swimming with a pullbuoy, and fins make it completely effortless. In our 25m pool, we had to count eight 50s of course, which can get a little more confusing than you'd think. It was a nice set.

As I was getting ready for the final 200 cooldown, Coach Roseline suggested I try a timed 400 freestyle as well. Erm, OK.

Thirty seconds later I was off on my first unassisted 400-metre swim in, well, forever. I focused on two things: keeping track of the laps and breathing as calmly as possible. I pushed myself and soon enough very much enjoyed the challenge. Having struggled with a running injury since late June, I have missed the pleasure and satisfaction that hard endurance efforts against the clock bring.

I had no idea of what lap times I was swimming; I can tell you my kilometre and mile pace for every race distance as a runner, but any references in the water are only held in my mind by half Ironman and full Ironman swim split times from races done in 2005 and earlier.

The final two 50s I tried to push a little harder; I could hear Coach Roseline yell encouragement each time I pushed off the side of the pool where she was timing me. The result was 7:31. Partly because I was tired from the effort, and partly because I don't recall doing any timed 400s before, I said I had no idea what that meant, as in, I had no reference point.

She said it was good because it meant I had kept it under 8 minutes, and the simple math of sub-60-second 50s occurred to me.

In a way it was harder to do the timed 400 after the other two (and the previous 750m) because I was a little tired and because I had just experienced the extra buoyancy and power of using the pullbuoy in one set and fins in the next, neither of which I could use in the timed set of course.

But it was also mentally easier because I had just felt how long it took to count eight 50s twice before, and by starting a little fatigued I had less energy to begin too fast.

I'm glad Coach Roseline encouraged me to do it. It's great to have a benchmark 400 time to work with, and aim at improving it over the next few months.

I also came across this neat comparison between 400m swim- and 1-mile run times on Let'sRun.com.

My best timed one-mile run is 5:42 (set in mid-2012), compared with 7:31 for my 400m swim, of course set yesterday. I look forward to narrowing the difference -- hopefully not just by having slowed down in my running in the layoff because of injury :-).

Tim has swum a sub-6-minute 400m (set in mid-2012 in, of all things, an 800m time trial where he covered the first 400 in 5:54 and the second in 5:59), while his fastest timed one-mile run is a 6:06, also done in mid-2012.  

How do your 400m swim and 1-mile run times stack up? Worth testing, just for fun, if you haven't already. 

A welcome gift for new squad members
And, fittingly given the timed effort, Coach Roseline last night handed all new squad members including me the Squamish Titans swim cap.

You can find more info on the Squamish Titans here; the running program begins next Tuesday, details coming soon.

January 15, 2013

Can this triathlete finally learn to swim?

I did my first triathlon on June 27, 1999, at the age of 29. The almost-Olympic-distance race was held at Guelph Lake, Ontario. There were 13 of us in the 25-29 age group. The swim was 1.5K and I made it out of the water in 36:13, swimming breast stroke as I could not do freestyle, 11th out of the 13.

(The 40K ride took me 1:25:26, good for 10th out of the 13, and I needed 53:18 to cover the 9.5K run, 9th out of 13. My total race time was 3:01.)

My third triathlon was the half Ironman in Forster-Tuncurry, the home of the Australian Ironman for two decades until 2005, on December 3, 2000. In Forster, I took 46:38 to cover the 1.9K swim, among the last out of the water in a field of 732 athletes. Tim took 35:22. (I finished the whole race in 6:04:16, while Tim took 6:01:12.)

Next up the Canberra half Ironman on December 17, 2000; I spent 45:59 in the water and was the slowest out of the 22 in my age group by almost three minutes. The only other woman in my age group who needed more than 40 minutes to complete the swim took 43:01; the fastest woman in my category swam a super-swift 24:37.

To say that the swim was a struggle for me is an understatement. 

In early 2001 I got my first coach -- Sydney-based John Hill, triathlon coach and elite age-group triathlete who by now has more than 50 Ironmans under his belt -- 95 percent of those were Sub-10, according to his website.

By then I had completed four triathlons, two Olympic distances in Canada and two half Ironmans in Australia, where I had moved for work on my 30th birthday in June 2000. Those races cemented two things for me; I liked triathlon and I could not swim, especially compared with Australian triathletes seemingly born to move through water like fish.

Hill's group of triathletes would meet for open water swims, either at Bondi Beach, or one of the other Eastern Suburbs' beaches, or Manly Dam, and I was consistently among the slowest for the four years I trained with them. Hill's group included some outstanding athletes and several went on to become professional triathletes and age-group champions. Others were 'regular' age groupers.

(His squad also produced a slew of triathlon coaches. And triathlete marriages, and babies.)

All training in the water was helpful, though no miracles followed. It seemed to be a lot of hard work with only minor improvements at best.

In the 2001 Canberra half Ironman, I swam 44:17, 26th out of the 29 in my AG and 724th out of a field of 756 athletes. By comparison, I rode 3:03, 13th in my AG and 642nd overall, and ran 1:49:55, 9th in my AG and 502nd overall, for a 5:37 finish time. 

Still, it was better than the 50:05 I had needed in the Cairns half Ironman in June 2001, though this was an ocean swim days following a shark sighting. 

At the 2002 half Ironman in Canberra, I swam 44:33, 39th out of the 40 in my division, and 772nd out of 812 athletes overall. My 3:36 bike (28th in my AG and suffering a flat on my rear wheel) and 1:46:27 run (5th in my AG) helped me finish in 6:07:46, 18th in my category.

Hill, however, stressed the importance of continuing to practice the swim, often considered of relative unimportance by triathletes since it takes up little time of any triathlon; a race is rarely won in the water, and it's human nature to be drawn to spend more time on things we are good, or at least better, at.  

But Hill argued that the sooner you get out of the water, the better the athletes you'll be riding with. While drafting is not allowed, it's helpful to ride with stronger cyclists at a draft-legal distance (varying in distance but always at least 7 metres). It was key to keep working on swim technique in an effort to improve speed, he said.

So I kept at it. Tim and I did a Total Immersion Swimming course with Australia's Shane Gould who won three gold medals, a silver and a bronze at the 1972 Olympics.

I also remember swimming in a group coached by Spot Anderson, a talented and quirky fixture on the Australian triathlon scene since the 1980s.

The last time I swam with a squad was in early 2004, when I was swimming in the 50-metre Cook + Phillip pool in Sydney, Australia, initially coached by Neil Rogers before he moved to the Bondi Icebergs pool (another location for my swim workouts and one of the most stunning pools in the world).  Neil swam for Australia at the 1972 and 1976 Olympic games.

As I worked on my swimming, it remained my weakest discipline without a doubt. Even in my fastest half Ironman -- 5:22:11 in Forster in late 2002 -- I needed 40:24 for the swim, after clocking 38:23 on the same course the previous year, my PB and only time I dipped under 40 minutes for that distance.

In my first Ironman (Forster-Tuncurry, Australia) in April 2002, I swam 1:19:27 in the salt-water lake. The following year, on the same course, though different conditions, I swam 1:17:16, and in April 2004 I got out of the water in 1:20:20 -- though this was a non-wetsuit swim because of the heat.

Next up, three months after the previous IM, I did Ironman Germany -- a distastrous swim, starting in the middle of the pack, and soon enough hyperventilating in the crowd of about 3,000 athletes, finishing in 1:18:55. Still not very fish like.

By then, Tim and I were travelling for a year. We were still coached by Hill, though obviously unable to train with the squad. His programs always listed when to swim, though not how. In September 2004, Tim and I began following the detailed swim workouts from Paul Huddle & Roch Frey's book Start to Finish: 24 Weeks to an Endurance Triathlon. We also followed the book's strength training program for six weeks.

These workouts included plenty of drills. And in March 2005, at Ironman New Zealand, all my hard work finally seemed to pay off: I swam 1:13:35 to cover the 3.8K in Lake Taupo. I was thrilled, even though still only 32nd out of the water in my age group. By comparison, a 3:57:29 run split there ranked me 7th in my division.  

Of course that was my last triathlon. While I thought it a shame to let go of those hard-won gains, I also did not feel motivated at all to swim in the next 7-1/2 years, as I focused on my running.

I got back into the pool after signing up for Ironman Whistler 2013 to help pull myself from the depressed stupor a stubborn running injury had put me in. I anticipated another Herculean struggle. It is what I associated swimming with and I prepared myself for a very hard road back to a level of swimming fitness and ability that would allow me to finish an Ironman swim of 3.8K, regardless of time. 

Easing back into the first nine sessions on my own, guided by workouts Tim wrote for me, I moved through the water better than I thought I would in the first half of November in those first few laps.

Then the local pool closed for annual maintenance and upgrades, and I didn't return until January 7 when I joined the Squamish Titans masters swim squad coached by Roseline Mondor Grimm, an NCCP swimming coach and ex-competitive swimmer who is now a Master Long-Distance swimmer.

I was worried, for sure. But, surprisingly, the first four one-hour sessions have been OK; I actually feel good in the water -- there's more gliding than fighting involved -- and the coach even tells me that I'll be speeding up as my swimming fitness improves. While that doesn't mean I'll be heading for the Olympics any time soon, it does provide a sparkle of hope that I am finally learning to swim.

To be continued ...

January 10, 2013

Writing success = showing up at the page

Some output of the past 6 months
Key advice from and for most writers is that you must show up at the page, if not daily then at the very least more often than not. That's certainly what I have done in the time since I last published a book, From my Mother, in October 2011.

This morning I finished another journal, an A4-sized 192 pages that I began on September 26 (2012). The cover is a beautiful green, following up on a similar one in bright pink that I had filled with my words between July 29 and September 25 (the bottom two in the image).

"The important thing is that keeping a journal is one way, and a well-established way, of developing your writer's muscles and of creating the material (the clay, the ingredients) for the more substantial writing that you want to do," writes Sara Maitland in The Writer's Way.

Many writers keep journals. John Steinbeck wrote his Journal of a Novel as a warmup exercise for working on East of Eden. While Journal of a Novel was not intendend for publication, Steinbeck's notes are full of superb advice.

"Just as it always does – the work started without warning. It is always that way. I must sit a certain time before it happens," Steinbeck writes.

His book inspired me in June to start a new file on my computer titled Journal of a Book. Unlike Steinbeck, I didn't have a specific story in mind, at least not specific enough to my liking, so I hoped that the notes I  kept in this folder would help me find one.

Between June 15 and July 29, about 40,000 words accumulated in that document; I turned it into into a 132-page paperback titled Journal of a Book. It's private, not for publication. I wanted something tangible to show for my writing efforts to keep in my office.

Increasingly, however, I prefer handwriting in a journal, certainly in the stage where I am still looking to translate my thoughts into words on paper, simply a way of grabbing hold of part of the intangible stream of consciousness swirling around my mind and body. It's part of the process, and cannot be skipped.

"[T]he first goal of writing, like reading, is to understand; only then can one make that understanding available to others in writing," according to VA Howard and JH Barton in Thinking on Paper: Refine, Express, and Actually Generate Ideas by Understanding the Processes of the Mind.

Writing in a journal, I always use the same instrument; it's a Waterman fountain pen given to me by a good friend when I left Brussels to transfer as a reporter with Bloomberg News to the Toronto office. The inscribed date reads 20-3-1998; it is a small miracle I have never lost this pen in my many moves since, and it is now a very prized possession indeed.

There's something about the way this pen sends the ink to the page that I love.

I now use it daily, nearly every morning; writing is about practice, and then practicing some more, moving this fountainpen across lined journal pages at the start of each my days. Getting up early on Canadian winter mornings, I have begun lighting candles instead of turning on the light in my office; the warm flickering glow across the page seems to suit both the paper and ink better.

Write, write, and write some more
Throughout 2012, in a separate diary (the red one in the picture) I kept daily notes on my running, which went from my best races to dealing with an injury as I have never experienced before. This diary with a page for each a day is a good record that I am so glad to have kept as it has been helpful in keeping track of what turned out to be my body's best and worst times ever.

From the peak of fitness, culminating in a 3:00:29 marathon in May, to its rebellion six weeks later, followed by months of resistance to various types of treatment and, only just recently, a turn for the better as I am slowly transforming my body into a Bikram-yoga-practicing triathlete. She's completely motivated by the runner who has been locked inside for the past six months, and counting.

Another notebook, about 200 pages and kept more haphazardly, I completed between my birthday in June 2011 and July 25, 2012, the majority of which I wrote in 2012.

And in the 30 days of November, I typed about 52,000 words as part of National Novel Writing Month, which would be a paperback of nearly 200 pages.

Then there are the blog posts I regularly write for this site; I published 96 of them in 2012. That would add up to another 48,000 words if they are on average 500 words each (this one alone is a little over 1,300 words).

I had hoped to complete a manuscript for another book in 2012, but it didn't happen. However, that does not mean I am not writing. Indeed I am writing more than ever as I am searching to create a different book than the ones I have done before, and the quest is taking the time it needs to take.

Hard consistent work will eventually pay off, I am certain of that.

Meanwhile, I keep showing up at my desk, first thing every morning. A mug of steaming coffee, my favourite fountain pen and, tomorrow, a fresh journal, a new page. The output is there, a book will follow.

January 02, 2013

The backyard project keeps on growing...

What began as a simple project to replace a fence that ran along the back of our backyard grew to taking down another 50-foot fence on the side of the house and an 8-foot panel on the other side, and demolishing a big shed -- the latter a tour de force Tim and I started on Saturday and finished on Sunday.

Removing the roof's shingles.
We began by emptying the shed of the stuff we had stored in it -- tons of old wood, a satellite dish, a door. We used a screw driver to take off the door, the easy part. Then we took turns standing inside while punching out the roof with an old painter's extension  pole, a solid strength workout as it was covered in a 2-inch layer of moss, and another 2-inch layer of snow.

We wore glasses to protect our eyes.

Tim loves a good demo.
We used the Stanley "Wonderbar" to pull off the trim from the outside corners we could reach, then handled the hammer to knock out the siding, again standing on the inside of the shed.

Then came the tricky part -- taking down the frame. We didn't want to risk working further on the inside of the shed while removing more parts to weaken the structure. Since the shed partly overhung the ravine, we needed to be careful that we didn't accidentally push it down the hill -- there was no risk to anyone, we just didn't want a pile of old wood in the forest below.

Almost down ...
And it would be a nightmare to have to retrieve it from there.

We also had to be careful that the remainder of the shed wouldn't sway to the side of the neighbour's; again, no risk of harming anyone, as they weren't home. We wanted it to fall to our right, into our yard, but without destroying a fence post that was only a metre beside the structure.  

So we positioned ourselves side by side, and began rocking the structure back and forth -- pulling on the roof's edge, in a diagonal line to where we wanted it to end up. As the movement gathered strength, the structure began to sag increasingly though slow enough for Tim to take a picture.

Then we pushed it back and forth, back and forth, until we believed we had enough momentum, stood clear ... and watched it crumble in the exact spot we had wanted it to. High five!

Taking down the structure had taken about three hours of hard work; it was time for some rest and a Bikram yoga session.

Happily oblivious to the next day's work.
The challenge that awaited us on Sunday was dismantling the fallen structure. We wanted to split the roof into the four parts it had been constructed in, which required more hammering, Wonderbarring, but especially sawing the supporting beam. Tim took care of the latter, as I lacked the strength to do that -- though I tried.   

Meanwhile, a friend asked for part of the wood to build a treehouse for his kids and came to take a bunch of 2x4s from the shed's sturdy frame on Sunday morning, another load on Sunday afternoon after we had finally managed to dissect the roof into four pieces. (Today he came to pick up a final stack that contained the fence boards of six 8-foot panels).

This fit a ton (and a half) of stuff.
But there was still a ton left to get rid of -- literally, and then some. Tim called the guy who replaced our roof a few years ago, and he agreed to rent us his truck. He came to check out the amount of wood we wanted him to take to the local tip and estimated we'd be able to fit it in comfortably if we loaded efficiently -- the truck holds about 1,500 kilograms.

A day off on Tuesday, New Year's Day, was the perfect time to do it.

January 1, 2013, turned out to be a beautiful sunny winter day. We began shortly before 11am, though we had carefully considered our plans the day before. First we loaded one of the four roof panels upside down in the truck; the length just fit. Then we loaded fence boards into the structure, and the debris that was a mix of shingles, moss and snow, before adding another roof panel and repeated the process, then did the same for the next two.

Hard work, and unfortunately we had to be neat about it -- we couldn't just fling debris into the truck, as it became increasingly clear it would be a tight fit. We dragged beam after beam, carefully avoiding a myriad of long and nasty nails still sticking out from them, and focused on adding one piece to the pile at a time. Somehow the pile in the yard got lower, and the one in the Ford got higher.

The shed's foundation.
As the piece de resistance we got to the foundation of the shed; here it was time to use a pick-axe, a first for me. It is amazing how precise swings from way above your head can be when you're aiming to get right between a couple of 1x3s.

Swinging that pick axe felt great.

Learning to get rid of the foundation for something that was no longer functional but that had seemed too tough to tackle provided a renewed sense of capability; I like working with my hands.

Truck stuffed - and so were we.
By 4pm we had piled as much into the truck as was possible. Most of the debris was gone; we each had hauled well over 700 kilograms of wood into the truck, and a few 100kg of stuff that went to a good (tree) home.

Demolishing all those items in the backyard that had been bothering me since we moved into the house four years ago felt like such a great way to finish 2012. The weather, while cold, had been beautiful and it was spectacular to work in the snow.

Beginning the New Year with productive teamwork to rid ourselves of the things that no longer served us was also very satisfying. At Bikram yoga last night, the teacher mentioned that 2013 is a year of the Snake, a time for shedding old skin, she said; Tim and I have made an appropriate headstart.

There is still plenty of work ahead, yet it is of a constructive and creative nature. The slate has been wiped clean to start afresh, ready to be rearranged as we'd like it to be. Happy New Year!