Respawning Again

Well, my life completely derailed yet again, but I’m back on it.

Our legal, financial, and family issues came to a head – let’s just say we no longer own any property.  I can live with that.  For a while though, I wasn’t taking care of myself, meals were down to what we could afford – not the healthiest – and despite needing it and knowing I would feel better, I stopped running after my 10k zoo run in the fall – I just couldn’t find the motivation.

We went away at the end of October for my partner’s birthday, and left our beautiful Miley at a kennel we had used many times and trusted thoroughly.  Our trip started out wonderful, but on our second night there, the phone rang after we had gone to bed.  I saw the number – the same town our kennel was in, and I just knew.  I answered, my stomach churning.  I heard her words just as I expected.  “Steph, it’s ______.  Something terrible has happened.”  She had been walking Miley and another dog, and for some reason they got spooked or saw something – to be honest, I still don’t understand – and pulled their leashes out of her hand.  I think the other dog came back, but Miley ran straight up the laneway onto the highway, and was hit and killed instantly by a car.  The driver didn’t stop, and just like that, Miley was gone.  My sweet dog – my running buddy, my best friend, my secret-keeper, my baby girl – gone.  The owner of the kennel did everything she could for us to make it easier, but there was nothing she could really do.  Our world stopped.  We drove home two days later – I couldn’t drive the next day – and ten minutes from town, I panicked.  I told my partner we had to stop and buy new bedding.  I couldn’t go in the house and face sleeping on the bed my baby had slept on with us every night since she was a year old.  We stopped, went home, stripped the bed, and bagged all of her toys and blankets.  We tried to go back to normal, but couldn’t.  I couldn’t go for a run without my buddy.  I didn’t even want to go for a walk.  We stopped caring about what we ate – it just had to be easy.  My partner didn’t eat at all for days, and I couldn’t stop eating – and not good stuff.  We had her cremated, and her ashes sit on a shelf in our living room with her picture and her pawprint.

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It’s taken a while, but I finally feel like I can breathe again.  I will never stop missing her, just as I have never stopped missing my first heart dog, McDuff.  Miley’s loss hit hard for so many reasons – the suddenness, and the sheer helplessness factor were terrible.  We always knew bad things could happen – that she could run away, and we thought we were prepared.  We had pet insurance – if she’d made it to a vet, we could have paid for any treatment she needed, but she didn’t, so it was useless.  She was microchipped, and wore tags – my partner and I both belonged to all of the local lost dog networks – but she never even had a chance to get lost, she was gone so fast.

After weeks of not doing much of anything, and with a very expensive, already paid for, 10k race coming up, I had a decision to make.  The race was on a Sunday, and up until Saturday morning, I figured I wasn’t running.  It was to be by myself, and I hadn’t run since my last 10k – in September.  In addition, I had run this trail race in 2011, and it kicked my ass then.  On Saturday, I decided I would try to run, and maybe drop down to the 4k distance if I needed to.  Sunday morning, I drove out to the ski resort where the race was scheduled, and I sat in my car.  What was I thinking?  I couldn’t do this.  It wasn’t possible.  Then I thought about driving home and telling my partner I hadn’t done it.  I thought about logging onto Facebook and telling my human running buddy through IR4 that I hadn’t done it.  Yeah, not happening.  I posted on my Facebook that I was about to do the race but was devastated to be doing it without my Miley.  The responses started coming in, people telling me I could do it, and that Miley would be beside me the whole way.  I got out of the car, got my race kit, and got warmed up.  When they called for people to gather at the starting lines for their distances, I headed for the 10k start line.  Part of my brain was still screaming at me to be reasonable, but I didn’t listen to it.  I took off at the sound of the gun, and ran the first portion of the run straight – probably the longest, fastest no-walking start to a race I’ve done yet.  The funny part was that I was able to picture Miley running beside me the whole way – which she wouldn’t have been allowed to do if she’d still been alive.  I wish I could say I ran the whole 10k – but that would have been more of a miracle than I could have – but I did finish it.  There were 25k-ers finishing at the same time as me – but it didn’t matter.  I crossed the finish line and went in to grab my free chili and hot chocolate.  I sat down, feeling sore, and noticed a pain in my chest that had started at about the halfway point, but that I had been ignoring.  I was confused.  I had thought it might be emotion causing the pain, but somehow that didn’t make sense.  Then I heard the whistling.  Rhythmic squeaking that seemed to coincide with my own breathing.  Oh.  Uh oh.  I have had asthma since elementary school, but it usually results in rapid breathing and trouble catching my breath – in this case, it was a full-blown, breathing-through-a-drinking-straw, attack.  Thankfully, I had my inhaler with me – a miracle in itself, because I never need it, so I never have it with me.  I took it, and the asthma eased up.  After my race, I again lapsed into a habit of not running.

Almost a month after my race, my partner and I went to look at a puppy at a humane society in the next city over.  She had some behavioural issues, and was considered a special case requiring placement with experienced dog owners.  We decided to give her a chance.  We named our new 8-month-old border collie mix Bellatrix – Bella, for short.  Bella isn’t quite ready to be my running buddy yet, she’s still tough to control on a walk, let alone a run, but she is going to be amazing with a little training.

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Over the last few months, my health began to spiral out of control.  My weight going up, my blood sugar going up, chest pains, etc.  Then we had a family scare – my father, who had a heart attack in May, may have Parkinson’s Disease – like his mother and brother before him.  I seem to get everything that runs on that side of the family, and I’m terrified for my dad and for me.  I watched Parkinson’s take my grandmother’s body first, then her mind.  My uncle is doing alright, but his movements are stiff, slow, and shaky.  I needed to get serious about my own life if I wanted to be around for my own family.  I decided to follow the Nerd Fitness tradition, and respawn.  At the same time, Nerd Fitness made an announcement that they were starting a new program, and my partner and I made the decision to follow it.  We’ve already found a wonderful support group in the new program, and it’s given us hope for our lives in more aspects than just health and fitness.

Some of the goals that I’ve set for myself are to write daily – 800 words a day between my two blogs and my novel, which I started during National Novel Writing Month in 2015 and abandoned; to learn the guitar, which I’ve owned since I was in high school but never learned to play; and to get my home in order.  My partner is also writing, and learning to play the keyboard.  We’re going to try to improve every aspect of our lives, and we’re going to do it together.

We have these friends who have also gone through hell lately, and when we talk to them, they echo the same sentiment we feel – if we didn’t have each other, we would be sunk.  I couldn’t do this without my partner, we’re a team in everything.  When one of us falls, the other picks them up, and when one succeeds, we both do.  Our relationship strengthens with every joy and challenge we face together, and we know now we can get through anything one way or another.

On to a better life – me, my partner, our fur-babies, and if need be, a cardboard box.

Unplanned Planned Rest Day

I’m trying to take at least one (preferably only one) rest day per week, usually on the weekend.   This week, I was thinking it would be tomorrow,  but my body let me know this morning that it would be today.

I got up to pee this morning, and when I went to sit down, it felt like someone shot me right through the tops of both kneecaps.  Crap.  Okay.  Finish up in the bathroom,  try a few knee bends.  Nope.  Dammit.  Google says it’s a common overuse injury in cyclists, and I don’t like where it’s headed. With my goals, and my races coming up, I can’t afford a lot of rest days, but I sure as hell can’t afford to blow out my knees.

So today is a rest day, although I am on my feet at work all day, so it’s more an active rest day.  Tomorrow I will run, and cut the grass, and Monday I will go back to cycling.
I found out last night that I have a decision to make at work, too.  Right now, I am working 2 part-time jobs, and barely clearing 20 hours a week.   

One is at a pet store.  I make minimum wage there, get a shift once every few weeks, and there are no benefits – BUT I get a 15% discount on pet supplies, which is a huge help when you have as many babies as I do.

My other job is at a home improvement store.  No discount there, but it pays a little more, has benefits, bonuses, and they treat us well.  During the summer, I was working 30-40 hours a week there as a cashier.  Now I’m getting 15-20.  If I go below an average of 20 hours a week for too long, I will lose my benefits.  

Last night, I was offered a job within the home improvement store that would mean significantly more hours at a higher pay rate, no more dealing with customers, and Saturday nights guaranteed off.  All shifts would be full shifts, no more 4-5 hours at a time, and I would get free licensing on all kinds of cool equipment.  

Sounds like a no-brainer,  right?

There’s a catch, of course.

It’s night shift.  I don’t know what impact this might have on my running/cycling/swimming/racing programs.  And I live in a town where nothing is open at night, so if I want to keep my sleep schedule fairly consistent on my days off, I’ll be pretty much stuck at home.  I won’t be working with the people I’ve come to love, and when my dad comes back from sick leave (we work at the same place) we won’t see each other.  I also MIGHT lose my job at the pet store because I won’t be available during the day for cashier shifts.

HOWEVER: Starting work late in the evening means dinners at home with my partner, and most of the evening together.  It means most of the weekend together after my Saturday morning sleep.  It means I’ll be able to predict my life better.  Finally, and most importantly,  it means getting to our financial goals quicker.

And it won’t be forever.

I think I have to take it.

New Shoes, Crazy Exercise Day and Cycling Loot

I tried to make my “new” Salomon shoes work, I really did.  I stretched them multiple times in the freezer, and tried to break them in gradually, but nothing worked, and so Thursday night, my partner and I headed out to Sport Chek to get new shoes.  It’s not easy for me to find good shoes with my size 11.5 feet, and almost every pair I tried was too small (the biggest any of the brands had was an 11, which fits sometimes,  but not always).  I tried several beautiful pairs of Asics, but they were just snug enough that I knew I wouldn’t be able to run in them.  Then I tried on a pair of New Balance and oh my god.  Damn.  Okay, those are comfy.  Not as flashy or pretty as some of the others, but not ugly, either, and so comfy!   I got a pair, and we got a good pair of Asics for my partner, both of which were on sale.  Then we had enough Scene points for $50 off, and I had a coupon for 10% off the entire purchase.  All in all, a pretty good score.

I decided to start breaking in the new shoes as soon as possible, with  three 10k races coming up – so I ran 3 miles yesterday morning with them, and it was amazing!  Beautiful weather for running, although it started to get hot towards the end, so I dumped some of my water over my head to cool off.

We had guys digging up our yard Thursday and Friday, so I was trying to spend as little time at home as possible.  I got home, cooled down for a bit, then headed back out on my bike.  I did 9 miles.

I saw this in the water under a bridge. It might be one of the creepiest, saddest things I have ever seen. (Don’t worry, I looked around, I didn’t see any children in the water. Thank God.)

One of the challenges that Nerd Fitness suggests is Walking to Mordor – a journey of 1779 miles.  There have been many articles written on this task – even websites and apps dedicated to it.  In fact, my partner is currently walking to Mordor to earn going back to school (another story) – it’s win-win-win, because it’s a good way for them to work on leveling up fitness while working towards leveling up career at the same time, it forms healthy habits, and it buys some time to save the money we need.  

I want to get a SmartHalo for my bike, and decided that I would have to cycle a certain distance to earn it – rather than just saving up stones for it, which would take far too long.  I decided Mordor was too far – if it’s worth a full education for my partner, it seems a little excessive for a bike accessory – even though it’s faster to ride than to walk.  I decided to see how far the Hogwarts Express would have travelled in the Harry Potter stories.  Using this article, and then this map,

I figured out that the ride from King’s Cross Station to the estimated location of the mythical school would be a distance of 612 miles by bicycle.  Perfect.  I want to get the SmartHalo before its official release in December,  because I can save a bunch of money by preordering. I picked November 25th as a deadline, and I officially started tracking on September 1st, which means 86 days for 612 miles.  That amounts to an average of 7.11 miles per day.  Now: I have three 10k race days in there, and 2 “away” weekends, so I know there are going to be missed days.  To make up for those, I plan on averaging 10 miles a day when I do ride, and hopefully that will give me enough of a buffer to hit my goal in time.

Now I just have to figure out a goal reward for my own walk to Mordor.  Maybe I should run instead…

Lots of Changes Old Max, Lots of Changes

My cat Oreo during his most recent health crisis, titled “in which we discovered our newest cat has major kidney and bladder issues that will require months of treatment and very costly special food for the rest of his life”. Sigh. That’s a story for another day.

So in my Epic Quest post, I listed becoming a veterinarian as one of my ultimate goals.  When I listed it less than 2 weeks ago it was a pipe dream.  A remnant left that I couldn’t let go of.  

As a child, it was the life I dreamed of – well-past the point of “every little girl wants to be a vet”.  In Grade 7, I gave my final speech on James Herriot – my idol as both an aspiring author and future (so I thought) veterinarian. My teacher told me I would have done better if I’d chosen a topic that was of interest to anyone but me (like a hockey player, apparently).  Incidentally, James Herriot (real name Alfred Wight) died while I was writing my speech.  It went from being a biography to being a tribute, and I wanted more than ever to follow in his footsteps.

I was off to a good start – I loved animals of all kinds, as well as science.  I even won the science award at my grade 8 graduation.   Then I got to high school, and I became terrified of science – what if I had to dissect something? (Don’t worry, I’m past that now).  I started looking into other options.  I was going to be either a lawyer or an architect.  Law interested me, as did psychology,  and I figured the two went well together.  Architecture fascinated me.  I did an independent study course, involving building a website on ancient architecture,  photography, a sketchbook, and a scale model of my house.  

When it came time for university,  I didn’t have the math or physics grades to get into architecture.   My overall average would have been more than enough, but calculus had stumped me (despite hiring a tutor), and so I settled for psychology.   I was going to be a youth counselor,  then a psychologist or a lawyer.

After my first year of the bachelor of arts program in psychology I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do.  I found psychology fascinating, but I still wanted to be a vet.  I changed schools, switched to a bachelor of Science in psychology, and began taking biology electives. Unfortunately,  I was going through some diffcult health issues at the time, and I didn’t have the energy or focus to put into it.  I passed most of my courses, but not with the grades I needed to pursue anything further – not vet school, not teaching, not my Masters in psych – nothing.  I had shot myself in the foot, and it didn’t even matter that it wasn’t entirely my fault.

I walked away again.  Finished my degree, went to college, and got my diploma in social service work. I didn’t like where that took me either.

I went back to college for architectural technology, hoping to get into a university architecture program after that, and discovered that I just didn’t have the artistic ability. I left the program, and worked in child care for a bit.

Eventually,  I went back to school for the paralegal program, and thought maybe I had found my way into law school.  I was offered a job as a receptionist in a law firm after my fist year, and left the program to take the job.  I worked there for four years, and went nowhere.   A few jobs later, I work retail part-time, and I have a far better understanding of what giving up a dream will cost you.  

Through everything I’ve done, every other career goal I’ve had, I have still always wanted vet school – I just never thought it could happen.  Not since I messed up in university. Every time I walk into a vet’s office, it’s like a punch in the gut.  A little voice says “could have been you”, but I shake my head and ignore it.  Then when I sat down to work on my Epic Quest list, it came unbidden.  What would my life look like at Level 50?  I would be a vet.  My own practice, a successful writing career, and a house on the lake.  

Oh. 

Nothing short of that will get me to my ultimate life, and I will never be happy if I don’t try.

I told my partner,  who has always been incredibly supportive, and got an even better response than the one I had hoped for. “I was just waiting for you to make the decision.”  So we started planning.

For the next 3-4 years, we are going to save like crazy – enough at the very least to pay for my first semester at Guelph.  Then my partner will find a job there, and I will get my store to transfer me to their Guelph location, and we will move.  We’ll rent a house or apartment there, and I will go back to school.  Because I have a degree already, I can take two years of general study, get the prerequisites and the grades I need, and apply for the DVM program after those two years.

This is going to be extremely difficult.  I’m going to have to be frugal, and more than that, I’m going to have to study.  HARD (I’ve already started taking free online courses to prepare me so that I can get the grades I need when I start the classes).  But in the end, it will all be worth it.  This is what I’m supposed to do.  I’ve always known it.

Time to stop dreaming and start DOING.

Loot! (AKA Rewards)

One of the things that the Nerd Fitness Academy emphasizes is that there have to be rewards for achievements.  In video games, achievements get you prizes/tools/etc., and in life, we need motivation to keep pushing through the hard work.  It’s easy to fall into the trap, however, of rewarding healthy habits with unhealthy behaviours – junk food, etc – so it’s important to have a game plan beforehand.

I have come up with my personalized loot system to share, and I have a couple of different levels of loot.

The first level is for daily healthy habits.  I have created a jar with ribbon tape marking points along its side.  Each ribbon marks a level of approximately 50 stones, and I can earn up to 5 stones a day for meeting my goals.

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My daily goals are to eat at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables, to drink 3 litres of water, to get at least 7 hours of sleep, to work out (biking to work, running, going for a swim, a hike, whatever), and to meditate or do yoga.  Each 50-stone line on the jar represents a $15 reward.  I can either redeem those stones as soon as they hit the mark, or I can keep saving them until I reach a higher reward level.  While it will be up to me to decide at the time what I want to use my loot rewards for, I have come up with a few ideas for some of the levels.

$15 – New book (digital or paperback), World of Warcraft mount/pet, inexpensive computer game

$30 – New nerdy t-shirt 

$45 – New running outfit

$60 – New bike tires or accessory

$75 – New craft supplies

$90 – New running skirt

$105 – New running shoes

$195 – SmartHalo for my bike (this is a major loot goal for me right now, it combines so many features I want to add to my bike into one device)

I also have major achievement goals.  

  • There is a new WoW pack coming out that I would like to buy – it costs about $70 USD.  Since I didn’t start my loot quest early enough to earn it before the release date, I have set a goal of not purchasing any candy at work (one of my biggest weaknesses – stupid vending machine…) from now until it releases on August 30.
  • There are a couple of piercings I want to get. Two, in fact, which will be hidden… *ahem*…  Anyway, I can get them if I don’t miss any two workouts in a row between now and the end of September.
  • I have my heart set on a running skirt from Sparkle Skirts, but they’re expensive.  If I complete my trail run in November in less than 1:45:00, I will be ordering one.
  • I am planning on running a half-marathon next June (more on that in a future post).  When I complete that, I will be getting a tattoo on my foot, which is going to be reflective of my running. I am going to post some design ideas later as well for feedback.

Lastly, for completing all of my workouts in a week, I will be rewarding myself with a long, hot candlelit bath.  It won’t cost me anything, but it’s something I don’t often take the time to do for myself.

I’m already noticing a difference in my behaviours with these rewards.  I look longingly at the vending machine at work, then remind myself that I want the game.  I almost didn’t get up yesterday morning to run, but then reminded myself that if I miss one workout, I’m more likely to miss two, and then I won’t get my piercings at the end of September (plus I get Epic Quest points if I stick with all of my workouts for long enough, so there’s another motivator).

So many things to work for, and I’m psyched!  Bring on the loot!

My “Epic Quest”

Because Nerd Fitness is structured like a video game, there are experience points (XP) associated with quests.  While the program has a huge number of pre-set quests to choose from, one of the first activities is to encourage people to create their own “Epic Quests” – what would the best version of themselves do?  What would their ultimate goals be (No matter how crazy they seem now) and what are the steps needed to get there?  Each quest is assigned XP between 1 and 100, based on importance and difficulty. 

 I have started to add mine, this is what I have so far:

Work Quests

  • Sell a design (my partner and I are starting a side screen-printing business)     15 XP
  • Get a full time job working with animals     35 XP
  • Sell a novel     50 XP
  • Volunteer at a vet clinic     15 XP
  • Write a 50,000 word novel    30 XP

Freedom Quests

  • Pay off debts    50 XP 
  • Save up enough money to cover 2 semesters of university courses   25 XP
  • Own my own home    50 XP
  • Work from home    40 XP
  • Bring in $2500/month from blogs and websites    25 XP

Physical Quests

  • Work out/run 3x a week for 1 year     40 XP
  • Work out/run 3x a week for 6 months    20 XP
  • Work out/run 3x a week for 3 months   10 XP
  • Run a Marathon    60 XP
  • Run a Half-Marathon    40 XP
  • Run Dopey   75 XP
  • Run the Boston Marathon    75 XP

Master Quests

  • Have or adopt a child  100 XP
  • Design and build my dream home on the beach   90 XP
  • Complete an Ironman   100 XP
  • Make a living as a writer  100 XP
  • Become a veterinarian    90 XP

Adventure Quests

  • Complete a tree walking excursion    25 XP
  • See the polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba    25 XP
  • Stay in a haunted castle in Scotland    50 XP
  • Climb an ancient temple (Aztec/Mayan)     50 XP
  • Explore an Egyptian pyramid    40 XP
  • Photograph a Galapagos tortoise in its natural habitat   50 XP
  • Scuba dive the Great Blue Hole in Belize    50 XP
  • Climb Mt. Killimanjaro    75 XP
  • Swim in a natural pool at the foot of a waterfall    25 XP
  • Snorkel the Mossman River in Qld. Australia    50 XP

Legacy Quests

  • Buy old cars for my kids and help them fix them   65 XP
  • Run a Marathon with my grandchildren    85 XP
  • Have a photograph in an art gallery    65 XP
  • Completely pay for my children’s educations  70 XP
  • Write a New York Times bestselling book    100 XP

Courage Quests

  • Get my nipples pierced    5 XP
  • Do a new boudoir photo shoot  15 XP
  • Sing at an open mic night    20 XP
  • Wear a bikini on a public beach    20 XP
  • Teach a competitive swimming class    45 XP

Gratitude Quests

  • Pay off my parents’ house    55 XP
  • Participate in and raise $1000 for the Ride to Conquer Cancer    15 XP
  • Volunteer at a camp for kids with illnesses    40 XP
  • Foster a child    35 XP
  • Volunteer 1,000 hours at Foster Forest    30 XP
  • Volunteer 100 hours at Foster Forest    15 XP
  • Build a Habitat for Humanity house    30 XP
  • Donate $100,000 to animal rescues    75 XP

Mental Quests

  • Get my scuba diving certification    20 XP
  • Go to veterinary school    70 XP
  • Get my degree in biology, natural resources, or environmental studies    40 XP
  • Take a trip to France, speak only French to the native-speakers   40 XP
  • Take six months of weekly guitar lessons    15 XP

Fun Quests

  • Have a swimming pool    20 XP
  • Go to Disney    20 XP
  • Travel to Ireland    25 XP
  • Visit Platform 9 3/4    25 XP
  • Camp at Kakabeka Falls provincial park    10 XP

I’ll add to the list as I go, I know there are a lot more things that belong on it, but this is a start.  It’s a great tool for visualizing where my priorities lie and where I’m going. 

Setting My Goals

My next Nerd Fitness quest is to set my goals, and to outline how I’m going to reach them.

  • I am someone who runs marathons, and I will run at least three days a week to train for them.
  • I am a triathlete.  I will cycle or swim at least twice a week.
  • I eat healthy meals. I will eat five servings of fruits and vegetables at least five days a week.
  • I am hydrated.  I will drink three litres of water every day.
  • I am relaxed.  I will do yoga, meditate, or take a relaxing bath at least three times a week.
  • I am not addicted to sugar.  I will purchase and eat candy no more than once a week.

I am determined to reach my goals, and I have a conscious plan on how to get there this time.  I’m going to do this!