January: 2017 Goals

In 2015, I signed up for the MEC Burlington race series.  I ran five races, all of differing distances (3.75k, 5k, 10k. 15k, and half-marathon).  Interestingly, only one race was actually in Burlington, with the rest in different parts of Hamilton and Dundas.  It was a fairly intense racing schedule, but it was inexpensive and as a result, I was in great shape by the end of it.  I ran two PR’s (10k and half-marathon) and wound up just really enjoying the races themselves.  It helped me realize that I’m perhaps not built for going as long as a Marathon just yet, but I have some ability in shorter distances such as 5k and 10k.  I managed two top-ten finishes, even.

So the thinking is to attempt a similar race schedule in 2017, but with a stronger focus.  My itinerary and goals are as follows:

  • April 29 – 12k trail (sub-60 minutes)
  • May 20 – 10k road (sub-40 minutes)
  • September 9 – 15k road
  • October 14 – 10k road (second shot at sub-40)
  • November 4 – 8k trail (third shot at sub-40)

Sub-40 in the 10k is lofty, but after deciding to try shorter distances, my 10k time has gone from a 55 minute split in a longer race, to 47 minutes in 2014 to 43 minutes in 2015.  It’s probably within reach.

As for the 15k, I’m considering running the race with baby Annika in our Bob running stroller.  If I’m going to make the 10k my primary focus, why not make the Bayfront race a little different?

I also have some other goals I hope to accomplish by the end of 2017.  I want to stay healthy, be able to lift my own bodyweight at at least one of the three lifts I’ve been working on, but that’s not a primary goal by any means.  It’d just be nice to brag about.

January Training Highlights

My goal for January was essentially to get consistent.  I tend to be very quick to abandon training plans because I get impatient with not seeing changes or improvements, so I’m planning on sticking with the following basic plan (which I managed to accomplish in January without much difficulty)

  • 1-2 weekly weightlifting sessions with dumbbells (usually squat, bench press or shoulder press, deadlift), eventually moving to barbells.
  • 2-3 weekly indoor track runs, including sprints (20-25 minutes) around once a week.
  • 1 “free time” activity, preferably an hour or more.  In January, it was ball hockey.
  • 1 or more long runs of at least an hour with the intent of doing one per week.

The long run is arguably the most important part of training, so naturally, I’m not taking them very seriously.  Part of it comes down to time management, but I also find that I’m just not very good at planning them out.

As of this posting, I have not gone for my long run in January.

Week Zero: The Gym is Stupid

I now have a proper gym membership at a proper gym.  As much as I like the indoor track, I have very little discipline for doing strength training at the track, which is what I’m neglecting most.  I mean… I know I run better when I do it, but I also hate doing it and hate how I feel when I eventually do it and then can’t move properly for several days afterwards.

But here I am, wondering whether or not I should do regular squats or split squats, or to do a proper weightlifting program like Starting Strength.  I’m hoping it’ll help that I’ll feel guilty about wasting money if I don’t actually go and lift the heavy things now that I’m paying for the privilege.  Motivation is fickle, but it’ll do until I can build some discipline.

The Boxing Day race was a bit of a wake-up call.  Yes, 78 minutes knocked about 19 minutes off my previous best, but it hurt more than it needed to, and basically every reputable piece of information says proper strength training will solve this.  Yet still, I cringe at the thought of it.

I know this will be a part of what makes 2017 better than 2016, but it’s still stupid.

This Week’s Training (Week Zero)

  • 20 minutes indoor cycling because I didn’t feel like using a treadmill.
  • Split squats, overhead press, and bench press with dumbbells.
  • Kettlebell Swings (too many reps because my kettlebell is too small.)
  • No running because it’s really cold out.

2016 into 2017

2016 was, for many, not great.  Countless celebrity deaths, political and social turmoil, and ultimately a lot of bad that threatened to outweigh the good.  For some, the darkness was too much.  For others, it balanced out.

Count me among those who found it to be a mixed bag.  Here’s a brief rundown of my 2017 year:

  • January – Business as usual, except for Alissa being 9 months pregnant (surprise!)
  • February – Annika Catherine born on the 19th at 10:10am; 7 pounds, three ounces.
  • March – Returned to work after a two-week break to adjust to our family of four.
  • April – Annika suffers a herniated ovary and has surgery at barely two months old.
  • May – While biking to work, I’m hit by a car making an illegal left turn.  The diagnosis?  A deep muscle contusion and lower back sprain.
  • Summer – Weddings!  Babies!  Paternity Leave!
  • Fall – Back to work, back to reality.
  • Winter – Christmas!

Clearly, the back end of my year was an improvement, but gosh, what a start.  And with all these new challenges, both my writing (which has been at a standstill for a few years now) and my fitness began to suffer.  Between Annika’s birth and my crash, I was off my feet for four full weeks, to say nothing of just being too tired to run on other weeks.  Save the Boxing Day 10-miler, I didn’t race for the first time since 2013.  I doubt I logged more than a kilometer per day, all said.

2017 will be different.  I’m signed up for 5 races, with some lofty goals for three of them.  And I’m hoping to use that as a chance to get this old blog up and running again, if only to provide something resembling a training log.

So welcome back, faithful reader.  I hope you don’t mind that my movie reviews have been replaced by shoe reviews, and I hope you’ll stick around.

Titles and Subtitles

By now, most of you know that my daughter Morgan Audrey Fairley was born on June 20th at 8:47am.  She was born at home with a fantastic team of four midwives coaching Alissa along, and clocked in at 7 pounds, 8 ounces.  Or 3.4 kilograms, if you’re fixated on the metric system.  How long was she?  I don’t remember.  You see, I wasn’t in the right state of mind for remembering anything.

As convenient as a quarter-to-nine birth time might seem, I found it to be the opposite.  For one thing, Alissa went into labour just as we were about to go to sleep for the night.  She had scheduled her vacation time for the week before her due date, so she had no plans the next day.  I was working and had only just started to discuss what kind of time off I’d want after the baby was born.  I started early the next day, so a good night’s sleep was pretty important.

Her labour started off fairly innocently.  Or at least, I was able to sleep through it for a little while.  Or try to.  By hour two, it was clear that sleep wasn’t happening.  One 10 hour shift lead into another.  Around 8:30, our primary midwife asked me if I was up for assisting in the delivery and catching Morgan.  Either because I was too tired to think twice or because YOLO, I agreed.  One way or another, I held my daughter within her first seconds of life.  That sort of thing can mess with your head.

I’ve assigned myself more than a few titles over the last decade.  Philosopher (that didn’t last long), intellectual (obviously self-assigned, and also quickly abandoned), activist (if you missed this stage, we’ll talk later), artist, director, writer, blogger, actor, and teacher.  Husband came a little more recently, but Father – Daddy – seems like the first one that’s a calling.  Obviously, it’s the first one that involves a tiny human who relies on me for everything but oxygen, but there’s a definite weight to this new title.

It’s put things not just on hold, but into exile.  After directing My Radio Flyer, I figured it was best to put my theatre projects on hold.  Only the ones that I really wanted to do (Yasmina Reza’s Art being on my dream project list for a long time).  Within a year, this plan was abandoned entirely.  I shifted from director to Daddy, and I didn’t want to leave Morgan for long enough to see a couple plays at the Fringe Festival.  I honestly doubt I’ll ever write or direct another play, let alone become an award-winning movie director.  I’m not even capitalizing “director” anymore.

I’m also not watching movies much anymore.  So much for my title of film critic (which, to be fair, I did actually do for a while.  Published in no less than three publications!).  I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised by this, but cataloging all the titles I’ve abandoned on the way to becoming Daddy is a little overwhelming.  Oh, and lead guitarist.  I haven’t played much in the last few months, though I’m sure Morgan will ask me to learn a few songs for her over the next few years.

There’s still subtitles, but for now, being Morgan’s Dad is enough.  After six months, it’s become a pretty natural state of being.  I’m not sure what subtitles are still to come, but they’ll almost certainly be just that: subtitles.

What to expect when she’s expecting

My plan was ambitious, but also simple.  Once a week, blog about becoming a Dad.  I gave myself no limitations in terms of length or style.  A blog entry of “nothing really happened this week, but did you guys see New Girl on Tuesday?”  would suffice.  Yet here we are, several months since my last post, with this being the first on my impending fatherhood.

My laziness and inability to set achievable goals for this site aside, why haven’t I had much to say?  Because, for the most part, everything about pregnancy from this side of the equation is almost impossibly gradual.

Aside from a handful of big events, there’s really nothing earth-shattering to deal with during the first and second trimesters. The exceptions are obvious ones, too. The day I found out and when we told everyone else. Alissa telling me wasn’t what I expected. I didn’t cry. Neither did she. We smiled, embraced, and then couldn’t stop smiling or embracing. Simple as that.

Telling everyone else? That was a bit more complicated.  I probably cracked first.  I told a coworker I felt I could trust within a few days (though it may have been hours).  Then another.  And another.  Alissa couldn’t keep it in that long, either.  Eventually, we decided on the right time to tell our families.  Two (exceedingly rare) events were upcoming where every single member of our direct families would be together in the same place at the same time.  That settled it; my family came first at a birthday party for my Mom, and hers came a little over two weeks later at a Christmas gathering.  I’m not sure I’ll forget my Mom’s stunned reaction to the ultrasound picture, or my Father’s grin that stayed in place the whole night.  Or my nephew’s impossibly bright smile when he read the news to the family.  And I missed a few reactions along the way.  By Christmas Eve, it was public knowledge.

Announcements were really the only dramatic part for me.  Really, as a Dad, there’s not much going on.  I probably should have seen that coming.  As I was reminded in Church this week, I don’t actually give birth.  I expect to do a bit of coaching.  I’ve been encouraging.  I’ve given massages, made special dinners, and been sympathetic to a host of ailments (taking blame accordingly), but nothing physical is happening to me.  I didn’t endure months of nausea, discomfort, and erratic sleep schedules.  My body’s come out relatively unscathed, really.  And emotional changes have even been incredibly slow.  I don’t get weepy when I hear “Cat’s in the Cradle”, but I’m pretty sure it’s inevitable.  I’m noticing an increase in sensitivity to various Dad-centric stories, but that’s really been all so far.

In some ways, it’s a lot like being a fiancé.  It’s mostly waiting and planning.  Planning has played a large role, but it’s a temporary season in life.  Perhaps even more than being a fiancé, since there’s a pretty standard window for pregnancies.  I can’t put off the birth because this relative can’t make it in May or that reception hall only has an opening in October.  Maybe that makes it feel even more like a transition.  All in all, the months between October and July of 2012 and 2013 have felt pretty far beyond my control.  But in the best way possible.  So I wait, anticipating nothing to be the same ever again after June 25th, 2013.

 

Do Less Alone.

Last year, I pledged to give up liking things ironically and to be more honest in most aspects of my life. It proved to be considerably easier than I expected, and was, if I’m being honest, a way to listen to Katy Perry without feeling too guilty. Pop culture resolutions are all well and good if they can expand beyond that, but the Queen Rule really didn’t.

I’m learning to like challenging myself more, so I thought of some accomplishments I could achieve:

Run a marathon? Sure!
Beat my time in the Around the Bay race? Sign me up!
Record my electro-folk solo project? Finally!, you likely exclaim.
Find my dream job? Why not?

But aside from being fitter and having more fans and money, and (perhaps) being happier, do these make me a better person even if I fail attempting them? Do they address anything that actually needs addressing?

One thing I’ve been noticing more and more lately is that I’ve come to enjoy the company of others more. That sounds strange, but I’m a very introverted person. I’ve often chosen to stay home when given the option of a social gathering, and still do so every now and then, but lately? I’m feeling that urge an awful lot less.

Maybe it’s some kind of lizard-brain response to my kid on the way. Instead of cramming as much alone time between now and June, my brain wants to get as used to constantly being around other humans as possible before I have no biological, ethical, or legal choice in the matter. But why not see how deep this rabbit hole goes?  What’s the worst that could happen?

So my resolution? Three simple words. Do Less Alone.

What does this mean for you, dear reader? Probably a few more text messages, a few more conversations over a pint/latte/waffle, and a few more invitations to be run buddies. They’re small things, sure, but there’s no escaping the fact that my life is going to change permanently very soon, and I doubt I’ll ever be more reliant on the wit and wisdom of other people.  Odds are, if you’re a parent, I have some questions for you.

So you can expect some changes to this blog, too. I’ll be shifting gears towards more entries about becoming (and being) a Dad because, quite frankly, it’s very easy to feel alone when you’re a man infanticipating. Hopefully, the frequency of posts will increase as well.

So here’s to 2013. The biggest adventure yet.

Unintentionally Athletic

Every now and then, someone comments on how I look.  Usually someone I haven’t seen in a little while.  Specifically, how there’s less of me to look at.  I guess it’s time to admit it: I’ve lost a bit of weight.

I have a hard time talking about it in too much detail for a lot of reasons.  For one thing, I still consider this whole fitness thing to be a work in progress.  But since I’m now past a year of running, and the comments haven’t seemed to stop yet, I think I should get my story straight.

If you’ve been among those who’ve asked me how much weight I’ve lost, you probably didn’t get a straight answer.  This is because when I was at my absolute heaviest, I had no idea how much I weighed.  I wasn’t getting regular check-ups with my family doctor, and I don’t think my parents have ever had a scale in the house.  So the heaviest I’ve actually recorded myself at was 218 pounds, in 2008.  Here’s a picture taken of me at around that time:

Me on Graduation Day, 2008

I’m not sure what my heaviest ever was, but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say I came close to 250 pounds at some point.  Those of you reading this who have known me longer than 10 years can probably vouch for this.

So for the sake of argument, the intentional and continued weight loss started in the summer of 2008, and my starting weight was 218 pounds.  The first big milestone was getting under 210.  Not because it was an enormous amount to lose, but because it made a big difference in my appearance.  Here’s me somewhere around that milestone, sticking it to the man on Halloween:

Only about 10 pounds less than above, but there’s obviously a bigger change between the two pictures than just a respectable haircut.  Fast-forward to around May of 2009.  I’d kept up with the gym, but by this point, the main office for the company I was working for had moved.  The new location was considerably farther away from Union Station in Toronto than the previous office.  This meant in addition to my (now somewhat dwindling) gym time, I was walking between 45 and 60 minutes to and from work.  After a few months of regular and lengthy walking, I broke the 200 pound plateau I’d been at since at least age 13.  It didn’t look or feel all that different from 210 pounds, but it presented a huge victory all the same.

I probably parked at a shade under 200 pounds for about a year, but for most of 2010, I was steadily becoming a little more fit.  Aside from the walking, I started running the Wentworth Stairs (500+ metal steps up the Niagara Escarpment) and doing the occasional four or five song jog at a track near my apartment.  It was around this time that I scheduled the first Physical of my adult life, along with bloodwork and all that good stuff.  According to my Doctor, I was 194 pounds with slightly elevated cholesterol and blood pressure.  I panicked.  I was nearly 26 years old, but those didn’t sound like 26 year-old conditions.  46, perhaps.  Nothing a bit of red wine and exercise couldn’t fix, he said.  The next day, I overdosed on the latter and gave myself a pretty nasty case of heatstroke for the weekend.

But I did start taking exercise more seriously at this point. I started experimenting a little bit more with different kinds of exercise after leaving my job in Toronto and going back to school.  I was within six months of getting married, and was determined to get my weight down to what I assumed to be a correct weight for my height: 180 pounds.

I tried rock climbing, tried to keep up with running (I usually did 4-5km a few times a week fairly late in the day), and spent a lot of time playing Wii Fit.  I’m not sure what my final weight was, but here’s what I looked like on the big day:

I’m the one on the right.

Within a few weeks of the honeymoon ending, I started running on the Rail Trail, a semi-paved trail between Hamilton and Brantford.  Alissa and I’s new home was within walking distance of it, and one night while watching a Hockey game, I decided I was going to go for a run.   As you may have noticed, it’s become a pretty big part of my life ever since.

Since May-ish of 2011, I’ve logged somewhere north of 1,000km on the rail trail, roads, and a beach in the Dominican Republic.  I ran the Road2Hope Half-Marathon in 2:05, and the legendary Around The Bay 30km road race in 3:20.  At my last medically accurate weigh-in shortly after the half-marathon, I was 182 pounds.  At Around the Bay, I looked like this:

The smile didn’t last long.  I barely finished, and hobbled across the finish line with a strained IT band at a considerably slower pace than I was hoping for (my goal was to break 3 hours).

Like I said, it’s still a work in progress.  I have a few short-term goals in mind, like running a full marathon or a mini-triathlon.  Both of those, I hope to do before I turn 30 in the summer of 2014.  At the moment, I’m running a few times per week (usually around 20k total) and biking to and from my job in Burlington; about 20km each way.  I’m not sure what I weigh right now, but this is the most recent photo of me, taken at CBC Hamilton’s James Street offices:

Progress has clearly been made.

I’m not sure what the ultimate goal will be, but I do want to keep going.  I come from a family with a lot of Octogenarians, and my Nana just turned 90, so that provides a very distant motivation.  I don’t know if that’s enough, but for now?  It’ll do just fine.  And in the meantime, I can at least get around to replacing all those Extra-Large t-shirts with Mediums.

Running!

Since I started running (well, running seriously as a hobby rather than just a thing I do when I eat too much), I’ve noticed that a number of people in my social circles have either confided that they’ve been doing it for a while, or are interested in starting.  Since I have about a year under my belt, I’ve learned a few things (some the hard way).  Here’s some thoughts..

On shoes

Shoes matter.  A lot.  However, they don’t matter in a lot of the ways you might think.  If you want an impossibly in-depth look at running shoes, Runblogger.com has countless articles and reviews about running shoes and the science behind them.

Since I lack both any scientific knowledge and have only experimented with a handful of shoes, the best advice I can come up with is this:  Go to a running store and annoy the staff until you find a pair of shoes that makes you want to run more.  Cheaper shoes don’t last as long, but they’re not a recipe for disaster beyond that if they’re up to the task of running at all.

Most folks will recommend that you replace your shoes every 500-800km, since the cushioning eventually stops, er, cushioning.  This might mean you’re good for a few months or longer, but it does mean you’re spending a lot of money on shoes in the long run (no pun intended).  One tip I’ve heard a few times is to find a pair of shoes on clearance and buy multiple pairs of whatever you like best; roughly the same price as a brand-new pair, but you’re covered for a longer time.

In general, I feel pretty comfortable saying that shoes are the only piece of running gear that’s really worth putting a good deal of money into.  The wrong shoes can hurt you (even if it’s just blisters), and the right ones can motivate you to run more.

On clothing

Truth be told, you can run in anything you like.  However, clothes designed for running tend to be better at it, and will do wonderful things like wick away moisture and ventilate your torso.  So there are benefits to wearing the right kind of clothing, but you’re probably going to be okay running in whatever feels comfortable.  For me, it became pretty clear what didn’t work very fast.

On races

They’re fun!  Lots of fun!  And you get a free running shirt, which saves you the trouble of picking one out.

One thing I would definitely recommend is looking around for reviews of whatever race you plan on competing in.  Most people will tell you that Around The Bay is a very hard course, but not as many people will know that the Road2Hope Hamilton Marathon has long downhill passages and your run might be interrupted by a train.

Another cool thing some races have is a race expo, which is basically a giant running/fitness gear sale.  So if you’re looking for a deal on some gear, it can be a pretty good way to go.  It’s also a good way to find out about other races, and to swap stories with other runners.

Pros and Cons: Podcasts in the ESL Classroom

Periodically, I will be posting some thoughts on teaching English as a Second Language in an urban setting.  This is one of those posts

One of my favourite things for the last few years has been podcasts.  They’re free, they’re entertaining, and they empower creative people in a way few other mediums do.  And as luck would have it, plenty of radio stations have been using the medium as a way to distribute their programming.  Now I can listen to Vinyl Cafe whenever I want!

So I know podcasts are a fantastic resource for keeping me entertained.  How are they as a resource in the ESL classroom?

Pro: Any topic you want, there’s probably a podcast for that

Podcasting requires little more than an internet connection and a computer capable of recording audio files, so it stands to reason that anyone sufficiently passionate about something can release a podcast.  Hooray!  Knowledge for everyone!  Except…

Con: Any topic you want, there’s probably a podcast for that

That low bar of “internet access and a microphone” also means it’s difficult to determine which are actually useful, well-done and worth actually using in the classroom.  Sure, you can make some safe assumptions, like CBC and NPR podcasts having (if nothing else) standard English usage and clear diction, but barring a great deal of research, there’s still a lot of vetting to do.

Pro: They’re downloadable audio files, not physical media or live broadcast

This is probably the most significant pro in my mind.  Gone are the days of hearing something on the radio that is lost to eternity unless you were taping it.  Scratched CD’s and worn out cassette tapes are a thing of the past.  As long as you have an iPod and some speakers, you’re good to go.  Right?

Con: They’re downloadable files.

As easy to use as iTunes and an iPod can be, they’re still not without their issues.  I’ve had a few times where an iPhone sync just didn’t take.  No matter if you’re willing to use your iPhone on the fly and download over 3G, but a smartphone with a healthy data plan is a new and fairly costly resource for any teacher.  A new textbook per month would cost less, and those never get corrupted or not work properly.  There’s obviously a lot of ways around this, but not all are simple or straightforward.  This con depends a lot on the patience of the teacher.

Pro: They can become a classroom activity unto themselves

Remember that bar of a microphone and internet access?  That remarkably low qualification to be a podcaster?  If you’re reading this, you qualify.  If all parties are willing, your class can have their own podcast.  Maybe as a long-term independent writing and speaking assignment, maybe as simply a means of sharing classroom techniques with the world, maybe something else entirely, but this is a possibility worth exploring.

Consider the possibility of a year-end project consisting of a class of 12 immigrants telling the story of how they came to Canada or discussing their story of settlement and integration.  These kinds of projects have always been possible, but creating one for an enormous audience is relatively new.

All in all, having used podcasts in the classroom, I’m convinced that they’re a worthwhile resource.  Not the resource, but a resource that, with a few hours of vetting, can be a reliable and convenient classroom resource for listening activities.  And as an activity itself, it opens up a lot of new possibilities.

The Queen Rule

It’s not that I don’t like irony.  In fact, my favourite t-shirt proclaims the exact opposite (although it’s my favourite because it’s remarkably comfortable after all these years).  And I defy you to name a more satisfying literary device than Dramatic Irony.  You can’t.  And you can still be as ironic as you wish.  I, however, am formally retiring from irony in 2012.

In an effort to have a more sincere and authentic 2012, I’ll no longer be devoting any more energy to liking things ironically.  Or “despite it’s flaws”.  Or “for the genre”.  If I like something, it will be unqualified.  Is this because life’s too short for joy to be constrained?  Because labels devalue what we hold dear?  No.  It’s because I like Queen, always have, and never with a trace of irony.  And because I’ve spent too much time living by my own made up rules.

Queen being, of course, the band that wrote a rock anthem with the complexity of classical music, and wrote it about riding bikes.  They also wrote the theme song to the remarkably silly Flash Gordon movie from 1980.  And the bombastic theme song to The Highlander (because there could be only one).  In general, Queen’s appeal has a lot to do with how earnestly and ambitiously they crafted songs with objectively ridiculous lyrics and subjects.

So logically, if I can love Queen without irony and without qualification, what can’t I love without irony?  Savage Garden’s I Want You?  Lady Gaga?  Meat Loaf?  That Justin Bieber song I secretly hum all the time?  They’re all on the table.  So is the Spider-Man cartoon from the 90’s and any and every Chris Farley movie.

Maybe life isn’t too short, and it’s actually too long.  Maybe I’ll live past 100 years and be able to devote an entire decade to re-writing Dickens in Klingon.  But I’m coming to realize that sincerity is in short supply, and as long as I’m on this planet, it’s not a bad idea to try and add a little more.

So that’s my 2012 resolution in a nutshell: live by the Queen Rule.

Tales from the middle of the pack