An ultramarathon. I’m not ready to try one… but I once said I’d never do a full marathon either.
I’m starting to feel a bit guilty, but sometimes you gotta practice what you preach. I’ve been on the injured list. And this calf thing, whatever it was –strain, tear, pull– has taken longer than expected to heal up. As of today, a week after the injury and ten days since I’ve been out running, I feel pretty good. I’d call it 99%. I’d call it not hurting unless I think about it and twist my way into certain pose to make it hurt. I’m going to try a short run tomorrow after one more night of rest, but I’m starting to grow restless.
On the radio this past week there has been some ongoing banter about participating in sports in the (local) winter. They were discussing the value of –specifically– cycling in winter, but for the parts that I heard there was a lot that could be translated into advice on running in winter, too… well, apart from the bits about studded tires. It did get me thinking: despite its late arrival this year, the snow is presumably coming. It’s already pretty cold out, and its only a matter of time before getting outdoors in the deep chill becomes more a chore than a joy. That said (and in light of what they were discussing on the radio) I really do think it has as much to do with our perception of the cold than the actual feel of it. After all, we’re all hardy Canadians. We get this weather six months of the year, and if we really didn’t like it we’ve move away, right? So, here’s what I’ve decided: I’m going to put on an attitude shift this winter along with all my warm woolen running gear, and I’m going to try and think about (and of course write about) winter running is the sunniest light I can muster. That’s gotta be worth a few (psychological) degrees of extra warmth, right?
At some point, much earlier this year, before randomness, injury, and life interfered (as it always tends to do somehow) I made a Faustian-esque bargain with the running gods that I would attempt to complete twelve half marathons, one per month, over the duration of 2015… in exchange for Ultimate Running Knowledge.
Or, maybe I just thought it would be an interesting idea… I’m not exactly sure how that all came about.
Anyhow, it may seem premature to be throwing in the towel and declaring my loss in this wager quite yet, there being two full months of the year left, but I’m going to tack up a virtual notice right here that after this past weekend’s completion of my sixth half marathon of the year, I think I’m officially done with halves for 2015.
Finding local races in November and December were going to be tricky, anyhow, and having run what I’d call my “slowest but most satisfying” race of the year on Saturday, I’m leaving this goal half fulfilled.
In 2015, in fact, I’ve run twelve races to date, but only six of them halves:
- Resolution Run 5k
- Disney Star Wars Half Marathon
- Edmonton Hypothermic Half Marathon
- Red Deer Hypothermic Half Marathon
- Edmonton Police Half Marathon
- Calgary Half Marathon
- Banff-Jasper Relay, Leg 6 (18.3k)
- Edmonton Canada Day 15k Race
- Color Me Rad 5k
- Melissa’s Road Race 10k
- Edmonton Fall Classic 10 Miler
- Kathy’s Run Half Marathon
…and have one more 5k on the docket for early December to make it a lucky thirteen on the year. That last 5k will tally my race distance for the year at a hair over 200 klicks. And all this while dealing with a side-lining calf-and-back soft-tissue injury that left me barely able to stand up straight in mid-July, let alone run.
But I pushed on… for whatever that effort is worth: Little to you, but immeasurable to me. Some of that recovery has been very much a solo effort, but there has also been a long list of patient and encouraging running partners who have nudged me along, pushed me to keep up one day and on another, to resume that vague quasi-leadership role I always seem to reluctantly fill. They know who they are and I doubt they want to be called out too publicly for that, but without any and all of them, I’d have probably resumed a couch-potato lifestyle over the summer and I definitely would not have been standing in the chill October air on Saturday morning waiting for the start of yet another half marathon.
It was not fast.
But sometimes races are about competing with others, and sometimes they are purely about competing with some vague and ineffable demon who is holding you back with self-doubt and the haunting knowledge that with any and every step that damnable pain could lurch back through your muscles and send your flailing into a month or two of random spasm and unending discomfort.
Not fast is not necessarily bad.
The air was chilly, and the hundred or so runners launched into a winding and somewhat convoluted route that toured some of the best trails in the south half of the city’s river valley. Fresh asphalt, pocked stretches of old re-purposed road, gravel paths through the trees deep with autumn leaves, four crossings of the river, a collection of rolling shale trails, a construction zone through a busy park, and finally a sprint across the dewy grass and through the finish gate.
Jenn, dealing with a similar leg-cramping issue as I over the summer, had registered in the race just a week prior to the date, and was even more reluctant than I about our hope for success. “Two-twenty,” I had joked to our small gaggle of run clubbers who were participating, and she shot me a dubious look before I could correct my jest: “I’ll just be happy to finish on my own two feet.” I had tracked along at her pace until about seventeen klicks in, but her injury was nagging again by that point and we’d lost ten or fifteen minutes to breaks so she could stretch out her nearly-cramping toes. I was reluctant to leave her behind, but there is a balance between being a supportive running partner, and dragging someone up to a pace where they risk further injury… and I was dabbling in the latter. So, we parted ways and, the clock already past two hours, I sprinted the last four klicks, feeling good, but feeling the total distance too, finishing with a clock time right around the two-twenty I had joked about.
Someone slung a purple participant medal around my neck. Claire dragged me to the food tent to get her a cupcake. Photos were snapped. Backs were slapped. And we watched the last few stragglers, including my abandoned training partner, roll in with near-tears of satisfied pain on their faces.
I went home. Hydrated. Ate. Relaxed, and I may have even dozed a little on the couch in the warmth of an autumn sunbeam while the dog slept nearby and the television babbled away in front of me: all roads eventually lead to the couch, it seems.
Did I gain Ultimate Running Knowledge in my quest to race this year? Probably not. I took on a stupidly ambitious goal, but a goal that inspired me to push myself harder than I would have otherwise dared, and a goal that (or so I’ve gleaned from various conversations) has inspired a few others to push themselves too, to run faster races, more races, marathons in faraway places or distances at spectacular paces. In that way it was not a failure: just a very high bar that turned out to be a little too hard to leap, what with a bum leg and all.
While the running gods may have won their bet this year, it’s not over: our game has a few more rounds and a few more inspired goals before I finally someday, far off in the future, hang up my shoes and settle back into the couch. Until then… I’ve got some thinking to do about next year.
I optimistically remarked to Jenn as we rounded the corner and began our second five mile lap, half way through the ten mile race, that the promise of severe winds and unseasonable cold weather didn’t seem to be panning out.
Five minutes later we were fighting gusts that (as forecast) were probably in the neighborhood of one hundred klicks per hour and oh right… also, the rain was pelting our faces from virtually every direction, seeming to be coming at us horizontally most of the time.
I rarely run with my eyes closed, but I found myself dodging fallen tree bits through squinting eyes and the shield of my gloved fingers. In the end, not having done anything which I would say resembled adequate training, we slogged through the elemental barrage on a pre-Thanksgiving morning, and gave thanks that we were able to cross the finish line after sixteen cold klicks and hang a deserved participation medal around our necks.
As an aside, I will say that my experience with this particular race route has done little to endear me to the location. I’ve raced multiple times on this street and each time I seem to get slogged with a bit of runners regret. After all, Ada Boulevard was the home stretch of my first marathon and we all know how well that went. This lovely street overlooking the river was also where I ran my second half marathon of 2015, the Edmonton Hypothermic Half which greeted us with road conditions more appropriate to Canada’s second favorite winter sport, curling. Some day, Beverly, I will have a race through you that is memorable for reasons that are not associated with pain!
In the end it was a cute little race, despite the cold greeting. Well organized (read: a shelter from the brutal wind) and a distance just long enough to feel like you earned your Thanksgiving dinners. And another big shiny medal to hang on my wall back home.
Now, about that half marathon in two weeks…
I must be feeling a little bit recovered. After pretty much sprinting the Terry Fox Run yesterday with an SLR camera strapped to my back — I took 800 photos (for a cause) over the duration — was tired but no calf pain! Huzzah! So, in my optimism, signed up for two more races this morning… The 10 miler fall classic on thanksgiving weekend and the Kathy’s Run…. dramatic pause… half marathon just two weekends later. Better put some mileage on soon.
Magpies are considered one of the most intelligent animals in the world, with complex cognition and strong, clever memories. Consider that next time you catch one picking through your trash.
All throughout the year, I see our Corvid neighbors watching, along the paths and from the treetops as I run the asphalt and plod through the winding trails, accumulating distance. So, in a strange way, as I meticulously track my training progress with gadgets, strings of numbers, spreadsheets, and data shared technologically over the social medias, there is a softer and more abstract agent at work from an alternative perspective. A perspective alluded to, but rarely mentioned here. Nature, peering at me through her glassy bird eyes, seems to know something about my efforts that is much more ineffable and little more unbound from the strict boundaries of logic. If I let it, it would pull me back to center, but I admit: I don’t always let it.
Failing to understand whereupon that balance pivots is holding me back.
Or, it feels that way.
I’ve been meaning for a very long time to find a way to write about the softer side of running. It’s so easy to get caught up in the logical aspects, to hang purpose upon fitness and function upon goals and progress, that I all-too-often spew numbers as a replacement for meaning. Etched in the yang of that sometimes-too-logical yin is a kind of gut feeling or a philosophical flow that fits into the squishy places of all our training. We run not merely to reach somewhere, but to feel the path under our feet.
To put it anecdotally: the other day we were about to leave on a run and while we stood there in the entrance of our meeting point, delaying our departure while trying (and failing) to agree upon a route, a distance and a pace, Jenn frowned and asked the obvious question: “Why can’t we just run?”
No one objected to that, so that’s what we did.
And it was nice.
My bias in this informal collection of writing, here on this blog at least, has been pivoting in the direction of technology. After all, I am a technology guy. I revel in tech. I work in tech. I play with tech. I communicate with tech. And when I get called in to do a guest lecture for someone’s running clinic, invariably I get called in to talk about tech.
Thus, and perhaps for for no other reason than my own personal mental and physical balance, to find that pivot back to the center of my training purpose and running passion, I have been needing, yearning, craving to write something –anything– from the other side. The far side of technology. The heart rather than the head of this effort. And because I think it captures the spirit of this thing, whatever that thing is and what is going to take me many years of chaotic writing to explain more specifically, that other side is something I’m calling my Conversations with Magpies.
Because they’re smart. And they’re watching…
A comic strip about the lighter side of running.
It’s true what they say: there is a kind of state of zen to be found in a good, clean run through familiar trails.
Logging significantly more klicks than I did in August. Man, did I ever phone it in last month.
Goals are funny things. If you are like me and you track your running goals down to the fractional klick, you can look at the progress as a set of numbers. If you are really like me and you make a multi-coloured spreadsheet with timelines and ledgers relating to compounded and accumulated distances, you can see with glorious pride when you are rocking your goals and are, say, nearly a hundred klicks ahead of where you need to be on the year. You can all see when, after dealing with a sidelining injury, you fall behind and are in distance debt: meaning you need to get in some klicks to catch up on the annual tally. I’ve been seeing the latter for about a week now. Must. Recover. Soon!