Tuesday, April 26, 2011

my lead pack

What a day.

I ran along a winding country road on Saturday, my first day in shorts and a t-shirt, no gloves, no toque, no arm warmers. Looking past the expansive green farmers' fields, bright red barns, the odd stationary horse or cow, there were impressive mountain ranges covered in snow and at the same time the sun was warm on my back.  Despite all this, I was still feeling pretty sorry for myself, having caught a nasty virus which appeared to be reaching it's peak of annoyance.  Running was, however, making me feel a little better (this is relative to feeling like hell).  I felt I had at least accomplished one productive thing that day.

I was somewhat stuck in the rut of feeling sorry for myself, that is, until I hit a certain bend in the road and all of a sudden had a total shift in perspective.  All of a sudden I had a rush of new thoughts that seemed so familiar.  And then I realized I had been in this exact spot before.  And when was that time?  I realized I was running down the road I ran in my first marathon.  My first real race for that matter.

All of a sudden all the pieces fit into place.  I remembered looking ahead, across the field, seeing other runners ahead of me, running down the long, slow incline they ran up Headquarters Rd.  Remembering the man I just passed and chattily tried to talk to - he didn't talk back (a theme that would be enforced the faster I got, the more I realize men don't like talking to you).  The Country Roads Comox Valley marathon in 2004 - now defunct.  I don't remember a single negative thought about the whole race, although it was almost 7 years ago.  But all of a sudden I remembered what it was like to be in the race, running along that road, to my amazement, running a 'marathon'.

I don't remember much of my training back then, except that I seemed to run a lot, and once a week I would run a 'long run', longer than the run I ran a week before it.  Most memorably during that training I remember running 21 kilometres, and being the most proud I had ever been in my running career.  I didn't have a training plan, I certainly didn't have a coach, but I definitely had some help, and more than enough encouragement along the way.

Therefore, this short story is directed toward my 'lead pack'.  The group of people most influential to my running career, and everything that comes along with it.

Two of the most influential people in my running career, Chris Round and John Elson, are not surprisingly, also runners.  Both were teachers at my high school, and both were involved the local running community, so I no doubt drifted towards them for advice, and good thing I did - because I really had no idea what I was doing.   Lucky for me, running is simple.  Ha.

When I was visiting them both some point early that summer, I announced that I was going to run the marathon.  I do quite clearly remember John saying, "That's ambitious!" in a very kind, yet motivating way.  Chris just kept feeding me every time I visited - another important lesson I learned - how to eat (lots!).   I think they questioned me a little and asked perhaps if I wanted to do a shorter race first just to get that under my belt?  Not really, I said.  Clearly this displayed my lack of understanding of anything to do with running.  So, I learned from this lesson when I chose to do a 1/2 Ironman before a full Ironman, as my first triathlon.  Who says you can't teach old dogs?

The first piece of advice?  "Do you drink any water on your run?".  I said, "No".  And they gave me a spare hydration pack of theirs (I have it....somewhere, and I should return it!).  That was a miracle.  Often I ran up to 2 hours without any water (and certainly nothing like a gel or sugar of any sort).  If I had to stop and tie my shoelaces, when I stood up, I got dizzy.  At times I saw little coloured spots towards the end of my runs, but it really didn't distress me.  Having fluids was a godsend.  I don't know if I had gels or not at this point - maybe I did....I know I did for the race.  At least one, maybe two :)

Conveniently Chris and John lived about 15 km from my house, so I am willing to bet that running to their house (where they often loaded up my bottle with gatorade and gave me an extra glass to drink while I was there) was my longest run ever completed before the marathon, there and back, about 30km.  They were such good sports for putting up with my pestering them every couple of weeks or so during that summer.  I really didn't have any doubts that I wouldn't be able to finish, nor did I get that impression from then - I just had no idea how long it would take me  (it took me 3:35:35 - not bad - and then I had to ask somebody the question, "What does a 'Boston Qualifier' mean?)

A lot of time has passed between then and now, and I feel so lucky to have these two supporters in my corner.  I have now run enough miles that I'm getting closer and closer to some of John's race times - something he probably hates, but something that I hold in quite high regard!   Also, I won't lie, something I would like to try to beat (who didn't expect that?). I sense, although Chris is the least likely person to brag about her accomplishments as a runner, that she ran at the top of her class amongst her peers - something I strive to do regardless of pacing or race times.  These people have been true mentors to me in every way and if I chopped up my medals at the end of the race, they'd be getting pretty big chunks of them.

To be honest, I'm not even sure why I picked the marathon.  I had always run for fitness and had success and happiness as a competitive soccer player in high school and university.  I wrote before that the marathon was my first 'real' race.  I had in fact done a race before, in high school, the girls' soccer team was combed for girls with fitness that could complete a cross country race.  I don't think we were told how long this race was, but were strongly suggested to attend (we would then get more points for our high school 'team').  And, we got to miss a day of school.  Sold!

This is where, I think, running & racing could have gone solidly downhill for me.  You are lined up to compete with girls who (gasp!) have trained for this, and doubly against you, know what they're doing.  Looking back now, I am sure they even had spikes, we had running shoes (although some of us might have run in our cleats?).  So although I really couldn't have called this a 'race' for me, it was more of a task for completion, I actually liked it (I also remember sucking wind BIG time - I was a fast starter - and we all know how that ends....)

I think I actually attended 2, if not 3 races in high school, but I can't remember.  I don't know where I finished but it wasn't first or last.  Another reason this task of running (which is usually used for some type of punishment in most other sports) turned out to be something fun, is that we had one heck of a positive guy leading our pack.

Many runners on the Island will know and remember Karl Klein.  Here was a guy that was more than accepting of us 'non-runners' into what seemed like such an elite group, not totally dissimilar to the antelope at the zoo - graceful and fast - we soccer girls were more like the rhinos of the group - sturdy killers.  He told us we'd do great, and told us to have fun.  There wasn't a lot more instruction than that- he didn't make it complicated.

It would be a few years later until I truly appreciated Karl for all his positivity and kind words, as I raced beside him in a handful of local Island races.  He was often the only person I knew at races, a venue quite unfamiliar and at times a bit uncomfortable, to me.  But if Karl was there, he was chipper and all smiles, and put my fears at ease.  He helped me like road racing.  I feel very lucky to have had him as one of my most influential runners in my life.

On consistency and hard work, I also now realize I had the opportunity to learn from a young teacher in my school, Lisa Cooke.  She was my volleyball coach and somehow was able to put up with my totally over the top energy levels (and most likely mood swings - we're talking high school here...).   I looked up to her and envied the size of her calf muscles.  She was healthy, strong, and tough -  and a great role model for me.   Lisa lent invaluable support to everything else that came after learning how to run and going to the races.  And yes, she is, like the other three, a runner.  We've run together at times, she cheered me on at local races often when she too was running, and to this day she is still wonderfully supportive of my efforts.  I don't take it for granted!

Now thinking back, I'm really lucky to have had these people in my corner since high school.  Whether I see them now or not, the lessons I've learned from these people are always with me every time I line up behind the tape for a race.  I've met many wonderful people since, I've had different coaches and mentors that have taught me all sorts of things, but these people are the four people who have been with me the longest.  I think I've always known this, but as life goes along and you get involved in the present, sometimes the past fades a bit.  As I was running along that road, with the memories of runner's silhouettes across the field, all of this came flooding back into my mind.  And as I was busy stuck in the moment of feeling badly for myself, sneezing so violently that I hoped I didn't twist my ankle while running, I was suddenly redirected to something much more important.

Running is often measured and put down in the record books as times, wins, losses, events.  When we narrow down on a target race it's boiled down to the essentials - this is your pace, these are your shoes, that is the course.  I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity, and the time, to reflect a little deeper and remember the people who have really taught me the essentials, and you can bet that those will be coming to the race with me next Sunday, May 1st.

There are a lot of people running a race on May 1st.  I hope they have the chance to remember what got them there, when they toe the line.

Good luck and run with heart.

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