February 04, 2012

A runner's third degree

A gorgeous Friday had me run in shorts for the second day in a row. Admittedly, Thursday had also been a day in shorts because my tights and capris were in the laundry room, though the sun was nice enough then too. Yesterday was the first real hint of spring.

It was just beautiful. Teens were walking around in T-shirts and people were out walking their dogs and riding their bikes. I was tired, what's new, but am learning that daily runs are best absorbed without too many expectations about how difficult they might feel. On today's menu was 21K, which I started with a caffeine gel shortly after noon.

I brought another caf gel but chose to risk being a little thirsty by the end of the session over carrying a bottle of water. I opted for a route that allowed me to run mostly on soft trails. First I took the trail in Valleycliffe that runs along the Stawamus river from the end of our street toward the Sea to Sky Highway, before following the trail from the Adventure Centre to Brennan Park.

As has been the case recently, the tiredness I felt before (and, as it turned out, after) the training dropped away once I started running and I easily adopted the rhythm I run most of my weekly kilometres at (this week, for example, I am doing 24K, 21K and a 29K sessions in this pace range, for a total of 74K from the 126K, or 59 percent of the weekly volume.)

After about 6K I ran into the owner of our doggy daycare, who is also a superb dog trainer. Her son was racing a tiny bike as she followed on hers, with a soccerball tied on the back of it. She stopped me, apologizing for interrupting my run, and asked if Luka, our dog, would be interested in a photoshoot as some company was looking for some "mutts".

Keeping one eye on the kid, who was impatiently waiting and yelling 200 metres further down the trail, she quickly tried to explain what was involved. I didn't think of stopping my watch, so I am not sure how long we chatted; at least 2, but less than 5, minutes I believe.

After picking up my pace again, I soon followed the road underneath the highway and took the dyke trail that meanders along the Squamish River, passing the West Coast Railway Heritage Park. Here I came across a man and a woman with about four dogs, of which three ignored me but one was keen to say hello. As I stopped to pet the blonde four-legged cutie, the woman asked me, I forget in which order:

Do you live here? (Yes, how about you?)
I live in North Van but come here with my dog as I love to walk these trails. (Yes, it's gorgeous here.)
Do you belong to a fitness club? (No, I am a marathon runner.)
Do you run every day? (Yes.)
Oh, does your back bother you? And joints? (No but I do get tight so you have to take care of it with Epsom Salt baths and massages.)
And, as I had put my earphones back in and was back running about 50 metres ahead, she yelled after me: Are you happy? (Yes!)

She seemed nice and this conversation had taken place in the briefest of moments as she shot questions at me, while I petted her very enthusiastic dog who was trying to kiss me. As I smiled about the interrogation while half closing my eyes as I ran towards the February sun, I was pretty sure I would see her again after turning around after another kilometre to run the same way back.

And indeed. As her dog greeted me even happier this time, and as I quickly stopped Mr Garmin this time, she asked whether I drank alcohol, ate protein - meat?! I asked if she ran, Oh no, she said, I am too big up here, pointing to her chest, but she loved walking. Her statement, I felt, was wrapped in a subtle question.

I told her I believed that anyone can run if they feel like doing so. Walking is the way to start, and then slowly add brief stretches of running. I stressed the importance of easing into running gradually, telling her about my 62-year-old friend who had recently begun running but who, I found, was nearly sprinting for 30 seconds rather than jogging. Easy does it.

Even after menopause? At my age? Absolutely. I told her about the running coach I interviewed for Running Shoes Are a Girl's Best Friend, and how people who struggle to run a 400-metre lap around a track are stunned to find they can run 4K after a six-week Learn to Run clinic. I didn't carry business cards, nor did I mention the title of the book, as it was a brief conversation.

As we went our separate ways, I later thought I could have pointed her to her local library in North Vancouver. Oh well. I didn't want to sell her on my books but on the fact that if she's interested in running, it's never too late to start.

In fact, I just spotted this new book and talk on February 9: Octogenarian BJ McHugh, who started running in her 50s, has entered more than 300 races and has set more than 30 world records for her age. She continues to enter half and full marathons to this day, and can often be seen running in her current hometown of North Vancouver, BC.

As a passionate runner, I don't want to preach my religion. But if you're interested, I want you to know that you can (always check with your GP first, of course). I'm part of a project of a local university student who, among other things, asked us to to share Life Wisdom, answering the question: If there was one thing that you could teach either to a small child or all of society, what would it be?

I would ask you to move on your own account, and to do so regularly; walk or run. Our bodies are made for walking and running. If we don't use it, we lose a part of who we are. We lose access to who we are. Using our body allows us to tap into a vast amount of knowledge and experience that is stored there.

By using our body, we learn to marvel at its capability. We feel gratitude for being. We sense the deep mystery of nature that is ours to discover as we unfold our own by using the body we were given.

Moving, through walking or running, shakes loose an awareness that we only find when we use our muscles, joints and bones, as we feel the heart pump the blood around our veins, more forcefully and with full dedication as we propel ourselves forward at a pace of our own choosing.

There is a vast expanse of ability few of us ever use to its full potential, the way our ancestors did and knew they were supposed to do. Most of us have no idea what our bodies would allow us to do if we used them more often, and more regularly. By using them, simply, not in a competitive way unless we want to, we find out. And we become curious to see what more is there.    

And yesterday, I read this quote by Desi Davila, who last month secured her spot on the 2012 USA Olympic team to race the marathon at the Games in London, on LetsRun.com, an entry from her journal in December 2006:

"Rarely are we ever satisfied with our performances. Even after our best races we might be content for a moment, but it is in our nature to constantly over-analyze and re-evaluate, finding seconds on the course, flaws in our race plans, what ifs… should haves… and could haves. Are we ever satisfied? There is a competitive mentality that keeps us coming back for more, day after day, race after race, and year after year…

"Odds are I’ll never wear an Olympic medal around my neck, but maybe…just maybe, I will. With that in mind I’ll take off down the road and put in the days work. If we don’t try we’ll never know. At least I can find out how good I can be. I can have an answer at the end of the days, and have a hell of a good time with the process."

I will never go to the Olympics (as an athlete; I have been as an accredited reporter for the Olympic News Service), nor do I expect break to any world records. But, aside from the joy I get from running, I am deeply motivated to find out what I am capable of.

I ended up covering the 21K in 1:46:43, which included my chat to the dog trainer and the first encounter with the woman mentioned above, an average pace of 5:05 per K at an average heart rate of 134bpm.

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