Saturday, December 12, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Humble Beginnings

I've been running most of my life even in elementary school I could remember running in x-country races against my friends. I never really thought of myself as a good runner I was always the kid that crossed the line looking like he was really suffering the entire time. However there was something about that suffering that I liked. I think it was the fact that it was like stepping into the ring and facing an opponent knowing that you are going to hurt your body and willing accepting the pain that's coming. Taking yourself to a place not too many people can go. I'm still running and taking myself to that place but it's been a long, tough road to get to where I am now.

A big shift in my attitude came when I met Amber, all of my success in the last three years I owe to her. She is my inspiration and source of strength when I am feeling down. I like to think we support each other in all that we do and I'm very happy to have Amber and Harley in my life. I tell Amber that if I had never met her I would be drunk in a ditch some where. Probably not true, but we met each other at the right time in our lives and I know she has helped me reach beyond what I believed was my potential.

Training for the Vegas Marathon I was a little unsure of how I was going to do. I had not run a marathon since Boston in 2008 (a year and a half ago). My training runs were going well, I felt strong for most of them and never had a sense that I was completely shattered afterwards. The toughest run was a 32km long run the day after a 3km (all out) x-country race on the Nordic Centre trails. I was hurting from the very start until the final 130th minute. I told Amber it was the best "mental training day" I could have hoped for, during a race there is always a point where you just want to stop or at least slow down. During that run I was preparing myself mentally as much as physically to run in that zone where you are comfortable being uncomfortable.

The day finally arrived after 13 weeks of hard training and I was optimistic about having the race of my life but I was still a little uncharacteristically nervous. Thanks to Amber for keeping me calm and giving me the space I needed to be in my own head race morning. When we're both racing I'm usually the calm one but that day I needed her to be there for me and she definitely was.

I started in the first corral with the elites, a bunch of Kenyans and Ethiopians who were about 40-50lbs lighter than I was. I looked around and felt completely out of place, I was a hulk in the midst of a bunch of feather-weights. The race started out very, very fast. A group of about 50 men and women were running a blistering pace. I tried not to get caught up in race strategy too early and stayed with a pace that I felt I could handle but still was pushing my ability. Eventually I found a group of about 10-12 guys that were running a tough but good pace. It was a little windy on the way out so I stayed in the group for as long as I could but it seemed like the pace was getting stronger or I was getting weaker so before the 7 mile mark I let them go. By the time I hit the 10 mile mark I was hurting but still in that zone of being comfortably uncomfortable. I met my goal of getting there under an hour.

When I broke off on the marathon route and left the 1/2 marathoners to battle it out I was confident I could get to the 20 mile mark in under 2 hours. The point from mile 7 to mile 19 is a long, slow, very gradual climb and I was happy not to have the downhill pounding on my legs but at mile 19 I had an incredible side stitch that felt like a knife being plunged into my diaphragm. This is where the mental training has to kick in or your race is over, I took a moment to collect myself and just kept moving. At the turn around at 19 miles I understood why I was hurting so badly, it was a long-slow downhill all the way back to the strip. I let my legs go and the stitch went away.

I hit the 20th mile in 1:58.58 and was confident I could shuffle the final 6 miles in under 40 minutes. Mile 23 is when my legs started cramping up, my quads were seizing and I had some strange alternating weakness in each leg. I could tell things were getting tough because I was really hurting but I ended up catching two guys in the final two miles, one of whom was walking. That's one of the tough things about the marathon, it doesn't matter how in shape you are it will kill you before the end, usually in the final 3 miles for me. This time though I was mentally ready and just kept my legs shuffling until the end. I finished with a new PR of 2:36.45 and was the top Canadian and 1st in my age group!

From my humble beginnings on the elementary school field suffering like a fighter in a 15 rounder to my race on Sunday I earned that finish. Thanks to Amber and H-dog for the training and inspiration, I'll always feel on top of the world with you in my life.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Finding Zen

I just finished the book Amber lent me, "Born to Run" and if you've ever wanted an excellent read and an opportunity to discover why you run then read this book. It's not something that would appeal to non-runners or even recreational runners but for most triathletes and marathoners it speaks volumes. I've never really thought about the fact that I feel fantastic after I go for a run but prior to, I can barely conjure up the motivation to get off the couch, let alone put on the cold weather gear and go running in the cold, icy trails. Thank God I have Harley who keeps whining until I relent and get my butt out the door. Before Amber and I got him I ran a lot less but I still had the same enjoyment and feeling of peace after a run.

I'm sure you've had the feeling of having an incredibly stressful and tiring day at work. You can't imagine going out to run but you do anyway and all the problems, worries, stress, seem to melt away with each mile. If you haven't had that feeling then you're not running long or hard enough! I'm not saying that you need to suffer to run but there is something about putting your body in a state of physical stress that quiets your mind and allows you to do all the other things in your life with ease.

This is where I find Zen... some people find it in different activities but for me it's an activity that dates back to the first human, distance running. In fact the only reason that Homo Sapiens outlasted Neanderthals was because they practiced "persistence hunting" they ran down their pray until it was too exhausted to continue and collapsed. Neanderthals had to come in close contact with a ferocious beast fighting for it's life. If you got a broken bone or infected wound you were as good as dead, but if you could run a marathon dinner was waiting for you. Running also created a "community" you needed to play your part and live in peace with those around you, there were no police, no courts, no lawyers so if you didn't get along with others in the tribe it could be life-threatening. Running as a tribe allowed everyone to release energy in a productive an healthy way and operate for the good of everyone.

I have less than 5 days until the Vegas marathon but now I'm looking at this race with an entirely new perspective. I'm not concerned about time goals any more and I'm going to try to celebrate the fact that I can run and that I find peace in running. I'll still go and run to the best of my ability but now I realize that a lot of modern society running is focused on achieving time goals and place results. That's not what running is about for me, it's about achieving that state of Zen and creating a community who loves to do that ancient lost art- running for the love of it.