This was a very, very exciting weekend for me. It all started Friday when I went to pick up my race kit for the 2013 Canada Army Run here in Ottawa. All day I saw people carrying the kits, it was incredible to see how many people in Ottawa were doing this great race. Especially since the race has more than tripled in size since its inaugural run in 2008, from 7000 to 22000 split between the 5K and half-marathon events. What’s better is what this event represents – honouring the currently and past serving soldiers. Everything about this run is army – at the sports expo/kit pick-up there were military tanks and trucks; the start was signaled by a canon; the shirts have camo on them; the medals, which are handed out by soldiers, are dog tags; and along the way cadets cheered the runners and walkers. Fifteen minutes before the regular start there was a special start – wheelchair and para-athletes lead the charge so to speak. It was truly an honour to be a part of this event.
So Friday meant two things – race kit pick-up, where I got to meet John Stanton; and carb-loading, which came in the delicious form of penne alla vodka (don’t worry I tell you how to do it here). Saturday, it was rainy and miserable. And I was praying to every God out there that it stopped raining before 8AM the next day. But the rainy miserable weather, and you know, fall in general, gave me a great excuse to break out the slow-cooker and use up the rest of the apples from last weekend. This meant pork tenderloin with apples and smashed potatoes, and apple crumble pie. Let me tell you – it was fantastic. A totally food-gasmic start to the most exciting day of my year.
Everything about race weekend gets me excited. I even got a small joy out of the long lines of port-a-potties that were already set up Friday morning. Saturday afternoon, I was like a kid in the Build-a-Bear Workshop, where we went to get Hightop some army fatigues in honour of race day (Hightop is a race day tradition my mom and I started at the Niagara Falls Women’s Half). Sunday morning I was wiggling with excitement. Even as I attempted to make my smoothie with a food processor since I discovered Friday night my blender was broken, I was excited. Bouncing even. Remember that Porky Pig comparison? Yeah that’s exactly what my morning was like. After a few shameless selfies en route, I made my way into the corrals.
Fortunately within the corral it was A LOT warmer, since it was freezing this morning. There are few feelings that compare to the feeling of waiting in the starting corrals on race day. The awe that comes from seeing nothing but runners as far as you can see. And the fact that despite variations in lifestyle, fitness level, career, age, whatever have you, this massive group of people forms a community, we are all in it together, even if we don’t know each other. Out for a run a few weeks ago, I kid you not, a runner on the other side of a 4 lane road waved to me.
Yes that’s a runner thing.
So is going out in the pouring rain/sleet/snow/cold because “It’s distance day. I can’t skip distance day.” Also on the crazy list? The fact that Wednesdays I run up and down the same hill multiple times. What can I say. You can’t skip hills day.
I am new to this “runner” thing. Before this weekend I had done three half marathons. Toronto Goodlife, Ottawa Race Weekend, and most recently, the Niagara Falls Women’s Half-Marathon. Each had its ups and downs. Mostly ups. Pun intended. But I walked them. Key word there? BUT.
21.1 Kilometers is a long way to go. Unless you’re driving. Then you have no real reason to brag unless you’re 16 and learning to drive (I once balked at my dad telling me to go faster than 10km/h in an EMPTY parking lot). And I constantly downplay it. Fact is that I walk as fast as some people run. And I do it for almost 3 hours. And I love it.
When I finished Ottawa Race Weekend, I finished next to last in my age/gender category. This was a wake-up call of sorts for me. I started telling myself I should be a runner. How was I so slow for my age?
I let that take away from the fact that I had just done something incredible.
The concept of RUNNING a half-marathon seemed beyond my reach. I put runners on a pedestal and watched them in awe.
What finally triggered me to get out and run? Last September I went and cheered my brother while he ran the Army Run. Afterwards, I saw his dog-tag medal and decided I needed one. So yeah I chose my first running goal based on the medal. I generally do them for the swag bag anyways so this wasn’t a stretch.
All winter I struggled. It was too cold for a run (I got a gym membership and cancelled it after a week). The roads were too slippery (I bought traction grips for my shoes and ended up returning them). I had class (I brought my running gear so I could go between classes but then reasoned that my boyfriend wouldn’t watch my stuff or I didn’t want to go to class sweaty). In my defense it was a horrible winter.
Translation: I let life get in the way.
After the Niagara Falls Women’s I had to kick it into high gear to train for the Army Run, technically I was already a week behind the schedule. My first distance run sucked. It was pouring rain. I literally came back dripping with water pooling in my sleeves. The second Sunday run was better, but I struggled to push myself to the 9 kilometer mark. Third week, I decided to take my brother’s advice, and you know, actually follow through on a plan (albeit this plan was hatched 10 months earlier), and I went to the Running Room.
I fretted, what if they were rude? Or cliquey? What if it turned out I wasn’t able to keep up with them? What if? Just kept repeating over and over and over again in my head. Always followed by some disappointing or self-depreciating assumption.
But I ignored those thoughts – reassured myself that if they turned out to be mean, rude, or whatever other problem arose, I could always never go again.
What happened? I went with a slower group, unsure of myself, and they turned out to be great! They were all several years older than me, and thus we were at different life stages but that didn’t matter – we were joined by the love of running. The group was slower than I really wanted to go, so the next week I decided to go with the faster group. And I never looked back.
Every Sunday I faithfully woke at 6:15AM, made a smoothie and a breakfast pita. And while there was usually this tiny part of me that begged to just sleep in. Or at least begged for the coffee I always skipped Sundays in the interest of staying properly hydrated pre-run. I don’t regret a thing. I met some of the most amazing people I have ever known in my life. The most supportive people you could hope for, none perhaps more supportive than Doug. Race day, I was struggling, and despite the fact that I told him I was going to have to walk a lot, and repeatedly begging him to go on without me, he stuck by my side. That is, everything that the Running Room represents for me – people who truly care about one another, and want to help encourage each other. They NEVER leave anyone behind. EVER. It’s the golden rule of Run Club. And they never make you feel bad about it either.
On Race Day I had a lot of time on my hands to think, a very small part of me thought of all the things I had to do afterwards, but mostly I thought of the experience of becoming a runner and what that meant to me and why I did it and will continue to do it.
It really is incredible to me how far I’ve come since the few scattered and slow runs in May. In four months I went from barely able to run between street lights, to able to run 5K comfortably, to running a half-marathon. I did what I thought was impossible.
The first few runs I really wondered what screw came loose in my head that made me WANT to do this, and think I COULD do it. “This” being run a half marathon/run 5 days, and “it” being not dying in the process. Now, I am addicted. Running is a part of who I am. I came to hate rest days because I wanted to run.
About three weeks ago I damaged the Soleus muscle (calf) and had to take a full week off, and while I started running again the day before, I had to skip the last distance day before Race Day. This was the run I had most been looking forward to – it was a race route replicate. But having a still tender ankle and having taken off 5 days I figured if I wanted to be able to run on Race Day, I had to skip it. And sleeping in felt weird. I was grouchy beyond grouchy the whole week, and despite spending the week limping around, I wanted to run.
A lot of people don’t get why runners run if it ends in injury. Why I want to run even if I can barely walk. Why do I run though?
Because I am tired without my runs. And grouchy.
Because I love the feeling of pushing my body to the limits
Because I love being so in tune with every muscle, every beat of my heart, every breath I take.
Because it makes me feel good about myself. It makes me feel strong and proud.
Because I want to be around for a long time – I want a long and happy life.
Because when I run I come alive.
Because running gives me time to think and break away from whatever stresses are waiting for me back at home.
Because running has taught me the difference between CAN’T and DON’T WANT TO – I know I can do anything, I just have to push.
And most importantly – Because I am addicted to dry fit.
Ok, that last one I was only sort of kidding. But seriously, I spend more on dry fit than I ever would on normal clothing. I think nothing of a $200 pair of running shoes, and a $30 dry fit top feels like a steal. Take me to the mall though and I will pretty much refuse to buy any pair of shoes more expensive than $40 and if a t-shirt costs more than $15 I deem it overpriced. I can’t help it.
The run did not go as planned. Not by a long shot. By kilometer 9 I had encountered “The Blerch” (check out The Oatmeal’s comic for an explanation of The Blerch). So kilometers 9 to 13 I struggled with my inner wimp’s desire to give up. For those of you wondering – no at kilometer 13 I did not suddenly conquer the Blerch, instead I hit a pot hole, twisting my knee, so the last 8 kilometers really were a head game. A battle royale between my will to continue and the desire to give up and wave down a medic. But I pushed on because I knew my family was waiting for me at the finish line. I didn’t drag them all the way downtown just so I could wheel up on a golf cart with a DNC (Did not complete). So I pushed on. Even if it meant running half a kilometer, walking half a kilometer.
I finished about 10 minutes slower than my goal time, and came out of the finishers area excited, but complaining about how I didn’t finish in goal time. My brother, the only other runner in my family, laughed and said “See! You get it now! You finish a race and are instantly thinking of what you are going to do better in the next one! You can’t even just be happy you finished this one!” And he’s tragically right. Which is doubly sad because when I was a walker I idolized the runners, and thought that I SHOULD be running, then I ran, and said I SHOULD have run faster. So basically, I appear to be some sort of self-depreciating nut bar who can’t just be proud of her accomplishments. I swear I was overjoyed at the finish line though. It really was a surreal feeling crossing the finish line and I am still proud of all my past achievements. I just can’t wait for the next one. I don’t look down on myself, I look forward to the me I could me. The me I know I can be.
This year really seems to have become about breaking down the I-could-never’s and the I-did’s. I never thought I could write a blog, and here we are. I never thought I could run a half-marathon and here I am, with an IT band injury and a dog tag medal. I should probably remember these things when I start my grad school applications and think “I can’t” or “I won’t make it” fact is – I’ve conquered some pretty crazy stuff in my life, I have accomplished so much that I never thought I would. And thus with dog tag in hand, it’s time to find a new crazy goal.
Maybe I should aim higher? Like climbing Mount Everest?