So, another half marathon clinic has come and gone. Tonight marked the last official night, and sadly… no one showed up. The winter and the cold and the ice and the holiday break, all these things contributed to some lost momentum that was probably impossible to recover from. I kept on plodding away, but I can see how anyone with a less-well defined goal could lose their motivation. I did what I could to keep them interested, but it’s tough to compete against a warm blanket and walking without slipping and falling down when all you have to offer is minus thirty windchills and incessant snow. Alas, spring is on the horizon, a couple more races are in my sights, and a break from the obligation of leading and inspiring others is (unfortunately, but admittedly) well overdue.
I’ve neither stopped running nor stopped writing, but my lack of words on the subject on this blog has more than a little to do with the weight of a wee bit of running burnout. Leading a clinic over winter, I’ve come to realize, is a tricky proposition: it may go really well… or it may utterly flop. Flopping is probably due to the absolute focus one needs to lead others through the insanity of epic-cold running, lest on the other side of the seasonable chill they haven’t kept up and abandon the effort for fear of never-ever-ever catching up. That wouldn’t have been the case, but the monumental effort of nerves required for even us who are cold-adapted to lace up and conquer the half-marathon winter training schedule can be daunting and a burgeoning bump between weeks one and sixteen.
A rare opportunity for a 4 klick run on a Monday night… but man, was it ever icy out there!
I’d cover the nearby creek valley in a temporary glass dome, heat it, and lead a winter running club through the snow-free trails.
#100happydays #dailyhappy (4/100) …a nineteen klick winter run, in the cold, but the furthest I’ve run since the marathon. So… feels great!
… and trying to run a bit more frequently, and further too. Since running the Dopey Challenge and taking a few weeks of greatly-needed and well-deserved rest at some much-reduced distances, I’ve needed to –while not quite starting from scratch– build up to those kinds of distances again. It’s been over two months since the race, and combined with the fact I’m now instructing a clinic and my distances are fairly set by that program, I’ve needed to squeeze in extra klicks here and there. I ran a little over ten yesterday, and have another ten in about half an hour. Twenty in as many hours: that’s actually making me feel far less couch-bound than I’ve been feeling lately. Slowly, slowly, slowly rebuilding.
It’s a tough feeling to explain if you’re not out there running, but you just kinda know –feel it– when you’ve had a good run. Following both marathons I’ve run I’ve gone into a bit of a physical and mental slump. Runs either feel tough and you know they were so-so… or they feel ok, and then the data tells you otherwise when you look at your stats afterwards. Those slumps last about a month or more. I’ve had a bunch of so-so runs in the last couple weeks, but nothing spectacular. But then I went out for a 9 klick run tonight in the cold and ice… and it was awesome. I felt like I was gliding, flying, soaring… like I could just kick off the dust and go. And the stats don’t lie, either: Nine klicks at my personal record race pace. That’s a feel good run.
Struggling to find the right gear to get through winter running is one of the most frustrating parts of the cold weather and snow.
After all, you could ‘pull-a-Leon’ (as the saying around my running group might go if people said that sort of thing) and wear shorts in every possible condition, despite how red and cold your legs got.
The problem with the snow starts down low: this being a sport where you are moving relatively fast, relying on things like traction and friction between your feet and the road, the addition of ice and loosely packed snow to the mix can be disastrous. We slip and trip and slide and loose grip, sometimes all at once.
The wind is your enemy: in one direction it is barely a factor, but if you run too far in one direction you either need to die in a snowbank, have someone pick you up, or run back to where you started. The first two are not ideal, so running with the wind at your back one way means sucking it down your gasping pie-hole in the other. Wind on bare skin (or on inadequately covered skin for that matter) sucks, especially when that wind is cold.
I always wear a hat. In summer it helps soak up the sweat. In winter it has the additional benefit of keeping your brains from freezing. The hat is probably a no-brainer, but what I find a lot of people forget about is the face. One of my hats is actually a balaclava, wrapping down under my chin and exposing little more than my eyes and nose… and oh, is that awesome.
Despite the mountains of rational evidence to the contrary there are still a lot of folks out there holding to the claim that come December 21, 2012 the ire of the universe will refocus upon the planet Earth and cast us all into an end-of-the-world scenario of some kind. If those folks are right then I’ve got less than one week left to get some hard-earned advice out to my readers before this blog goes offline… It’s time for another Week of Lists!
So, perhaps I’m a little bit biased. But there’s a reason that not only is there a running shirt that reads “Training for the Zombie Apocalypse” but also that many runners chuckle knowingly when they see it. Whether the end of the world comes in the form of roving hoards of undead, an alien invasion or simply a catastrophic pressing of the self-destruct button (the one on society’s “Washing Care & Instructions” label) runners definitely have the leg up when it comes to surviving — and helping those around them survive, too — when doom ultimately descends upon us.
If you haven’t already started running, next week’s impending deadline may be a little late to pick it up as a hobby. That said, readers should know it’s not too late to latch yourself onto a nearby fitness fiend and secure your place in Society Two-point-oh. Why?
1 :: Runners Know All the Best Off-Road Trails
When The End finally does rear it’s ugly head, you can bet your last Twinkie that every random person in your neighbourhood is going to follow their root animal instincts and drive their car into the inevitable traffic jams that will clog every major road in and out of your city. No one is going anywhere, and there is no where to go. But if movies have taught us anything, it’s that going somewhere — and getting there fast — always makes for a more interesting story than sitting around. Navigating those cluttered roads is going to be tough… which is why you’ll want at least one runner in your survival party. Having spent many years of training seeking out quiet, traffic-free back trails to run through, your average runner knows how to get to all the important places and still barely set a foot on a road way.
2 :: Supply Runs Can Be Real Sprints
Of course, you’re not going to last long without food, water, medicine (or ammunition, apparently) and as you hunker down for your long-haul of waiting out whatever threat has destroyed humanity, your best bet still lays in your ability to restock and resupply your hide-out. Chances are — be the threat autonomous robots or just other desperate people — getting those supplies is going to mean being first and being fast. A few months or years into any doom-and-gloom scenario is going to have everyone in peak shape, for sure, but it’s those first crucial few weeks when you’re running pal is going to be your life line to getting survival gear back to base.
3 :: Feet Are The Most Reliable Forms of Transport
By now you’ve probably realized that as the End of the World descends upon us what is going to be in shortest supply is the same things we take for granted in the modern world: gas and electricity being the big, often invisible sources of energy that get us from A to B without much thought from your average person. But when that Mad Max scenario emerges and they’re all duking it out in the Walmart parking lot for the last canister of gasoline, you can rest easy and watch from the sidelines knowing your running pal has you covered… so long as that Walmart doesn’t run out of size ten and half sneakers for a few more years. Feet, even after all the juice has dried up, are still going be getting us from A to B: reliably and efficiently.
4 :: Access to (Nuclear) Winter Running Gear
What else can I say… but that your average runner from any Northern clime is going to have invaluable knowledge about how to stay both warm and mobile. While everyone else is being hunted by bands of roving slavers, caught because they couldn’t move fast enough in that bulky parka and oversized snow boots, your crew will be speeding through the cover of nuclear winterized forests in your sleek fabrics, properly layered for warmth and optimal chafe-reduction.
5 :: Your Offspring Will Need To Be Fast
Last, but not least… think of the children. Your children. Any re-forming of society in the future is going to need the strong, healthy genes that your running pal is going to keep in circulation in the human gene pool. Sure, it’s not on top of your agenda in the days, weeks or months following the end of the world, but eventually you’re going to settle into a routine and seriously start thinking about repopulating the planet. Do society a favour. Your runner is a proven survivor, capable of moving fast and staying alive in the world of tomorrow: don’t you want that for your kids too?
This post is part of my Seven Days of Apocalypse Week of Lists countdown to (almost certainly not) the end of the world. Share and enjoy.
A Random Find? I was poking through some old (Google Docs) documents and found this essay on running I’d written back in 2009 for a project I’d started and never completed. It’s not polished, but it’s complete, and I thought rather than hide it away in some dusty digital archive, I may as well hang it out for folks to read. It might be interesting for someone.
Interface: a point at which independent systems or diverse groups interact. Let’s begin.
The ambient air temperature is a frigid minus twenty degrees Celsius and the mismatched collection of runners gathered at the storefront are exhaling in deep bursts of frosty breaths that must first pass through the knit face-masks now caked with white ice crystals. A few are pacing broad circles in the parking lot, hands on hips as they catch their breath. A couple more are propped against the decorative mini-mall pillars performing leg muscle stretches. Other than the awkward stares from bustling shoppers rushing into the nearby grocery store, these are the invisible runners, those dedicated novices who have crossed the threshold of their own motivation so that in the deepest chill of a Canadian winter they can warm themselves in nothing more than the satisfaction of learning to run a steady ten kilometer road race. Newbies. In November, when the weather had only just turned frosty and the snow was still crisp and white with potential, this seemed like a good idea. But now, mid-February, having only seconds ago returned from a forty-five minute obstacle race through the ice and road drifts, the purpose behind this particular exercise seems less clear.
Myself, I pull the clip-on ice spikes from my feet and participate in the motions of bare-minimum stretches. I’m not thinking of anything more satisfying than finding a balance between the rumbling, out-of-breath, fire burning in my core and the numbing chill creeping back into my toes and fingers after just a minute or two of standing still. I’m not thinking of much beyond an excuse to climb into my car, crank the heater, and drive home. Ten kilometers is anything but impressive compared to the literal marathons run by millions around the world. But still, having spent nearly three-quarters of an hour navigating the icy sidewalks, awkwardly fallen drifts of snow, and traffic distracted by the challenges of winter driving, ten kilometers seems a fair and impressive accomplishment for someone for who exercise was previously counted in trips to the coffee machine. I am a novice runner, inexperienced and worn by such a short distance, but I’ll wear my small accomplishment with pride, even if the frozen night air diminishes it significantly.
Running, I decide when the high has finally left me, is a means of interface with the city. Human meets asphalt. Every day I climb into my car and commute to work. Every day I pull the collar over my dog’s neck as she drags me to the park for a walk. Every day I talk to countless people in a personal and professional capacity. But never do I feel as connected to the city as I do on those last five hundred meters of a run, my feet clapping on the concrete of the final stretch of sidewalk, my fellow clinic participants pacing the distance in steady stride beside me as we survive – yes, survive – another exhausting journey through the neighborhood. Running, I decide, is my connection to something real, even if that reality is nothing more than sturdy shoes, chilly streets, and the chaotic traffic.
The purpose of this essay project is to begin to define the elements of society that merge the artistic with the practical, the human with the machine. The purpose of this particular issue is to better understand running. Nearly a year and a half ago I partook in a self-designed experiment of pushing my own body against the elements and that journey (so far) has offered the first glimpses at a subculture pushing equally hard to understand why something so consuming and so painful keeps its loosely defined membership in such healthy standing. We run despite the hurt, and it seems to me after all this time there is a larger explanation than simple health, fitness, and endurance – all of which are lofty and admirable goals, but then humans have never been strong long-term planners. My writing approaches this from six perspectives: words, images, code, performance, culture, and media.
Words examines the cross-pollination of literature within our chosen context. When I think of the intersection of literature and running, it is difficult not to consider the associated industry of motivational literature and books of technique that surely adorn the bookshelves of anyone owns a pair of dedicated running shoes. The interface between runner and the act of running is an intangible motivation that seems to require a constant nurturing and endless encouragement, particularly in the early stages of training, and those stories are rife with anecdote and obstacle.
Images is the essence of capturing moments in time, photography, memory, or impressions. The moments we capture are very often captured with purpose and meaning.
Code is our own interface with the technology of our chosen context, the collection of data and numbers, and the flow of information. As I quickly discovered among even my small sampling of running classmates, the desire to track and quantify one’s progress often leads to even the most technologically inept, those folks who barely understand email, to strap complex and expensive gadgets to their body – pedometers, heart rate monitors, and global positioning wristwatches – presumably in an insatiable data-lust that drives them forward.
Performance is how we display ourselves to society, the act, the play, and the ultimate impression of our chosen context upon the world around us. In this case we explore the run as a stage, the runner as the actor, and the impression we leave on our audience as we participate in this subculture.
Culture is the interaction of those who participate in our chosen context. Runners run, and despite the inherent solitary nature of the run itself, it is a sport that is performed in large company, both directly and indirectly.
Media is portrayal of our chosen context by outsiders, a lens pointed at the concept by onlookers trying to understand.
Six months later, the blistering heat baking the dry air of the land-locked city, that same group is stripped to the bare essentials, clutching bottles of jostling water as they wend through the bare asphalt streets. Despite half a year of building the stamina to run multiples of kilometers, nothing has prepared them for the unbearable warmth of hot weather fitness. Again, running hurts. And again, the run continues.
It’s Monday. And it’s snowing.
Four, including myself, showed up for this evening’s run clinic wherein we trotted with declining reluctance through the soft breeze and falling snow in the evening darkness. The sidewalks were covered in a thin blanket of fresh white powder, unswept and new, yet untarnished by weeks of city air.
One of the girls confided, as we walked the last couple hundred meters back to the store, that this had been her first run in snow. First. And, she said, it hadn’t been as bad as she had anticipated.
(That almost seems like a metaphor for something… hmm…)
I suppose there is an unhurried feeling that comes of it. The cars rushing by on the nearby street seem so recklessly fast, rushing with the poor visibility of a December snowfall, the roads still slick from the roller coaster temperatures. But we just trotted along, four pairs of feet crunching through the new snow. No rush. Just us, going where we were bound to end up. Nowhere to go but full circle, outside for the sake of being outside.
Call me crazy, but I enjoyed it. And enjoying it might not be optional: winter has just begun.