Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Running Home, Not Alone

In the past I have written about my preference for being a solo runner. I have shared how following my own schedule and not allowing my running to be bound by a group running itinerary has worked for me. I am disorganized; fly by night and without pattern to my lifestyle. The only schedule in my life is my work schedule and that is not even consistent from one week to the next, so the thought of waiting for the clock to say a certain time to run has never appealed to me. Running on my own timetable and fitting my runs in between family and work without having to plan for a running timetable is less stressful for me.

When I go to bed at night, I set my alarm clock with the intention to get my run in early but if I wake up and I don't feel rested and eager to go, then I skip it and do it later in the day. I march (or run) to the beat of my own drum. I find this type of scheduling or lack of, serves me well. It allows me to test my body at different times of the day in different conditions and encourages me to run when I feel best. It also alleviates the burden of being somewhere on time to go for a run. I feel out my day, eye up the things that have to happen at specific times and I slot in my run somewhere among those obligations. 

I have also written about the value I place upon relationships, connections and experiences, yet being the only member of my own running group leaves me without a sense of belonging (it also leaves me without a bulk discount on team shirts). This is one of the holes in my solo runner philosophy. I thrive on being involved with people, yet I don't run in a group. To this point, the need for connection to other runners has been filled through online interactions predominantly as a Canada Running Series Digital Champion. The tides are changing though, as they say.

I have entered into a new coaching relationship with Canadian elite runner and 2012 Canadian Marathon Champion Rejean Chiasson. Rejean and I first connected about two years ago through the commonality of addiction recovery and running. He has been supportive of me and my running, so it piqued my interest when he was rolling out his plan to launch his coaching empire Pace and Mind. I started thinking that using a more local coach might have benefits. My previous coach was in the U.S., therefore, we never had an opportunity to meet in person, which is not entirely unusual considering how the Internet has no worldwide borders or boundaries. Rejean is based in Toronto and I began thinking that it might be a good idea to work with someone that I could see in person from time to time.

 I envisioned this partnership as primarily an online coaching set up with the chance to connect at races. My vision and expectation of this new arrangement has already been transformed. I haven't just gained a coach; I have become a member of a group of runners. I am no longer a soloist. Along with Rejean giving a damn about my running, I now belong to a group of like-minded men and women who care about my goals and achievements. This became undeniably clear this past Friday at the Longest Day Ekiden Relay, hosted by Toronto's Black Lungs.

The relay was a cumulative distance of 42.2km, divided into different distances that were run over six my best, whatever that was would be good enough.
Coach Rejean giving instructions
runners per team. Pace and Mind had two teams entered and had two other members that ran on a different team. This was the first time I met the others and I instantly felt like I belonged. That feeling of being in the right place spread as I prepared to be tagged for my leg of the race. The support and encouragement that rang out was inspiring. I run, but I am not a fast runner. I train to become better. I recognize that my performance is more about guts than talent, but my teammates made me feel as though what I was doing mattered and that

The start area buzzed with electricity and to avoid becoming antsy or anxious from that energy, I focused on staying in the moment. I reminded myself to look about and really see the people around me. There were so many runners that I recognized from social media that I wanted to meet in real life, but I felt like a fan girl, too awe struck to speak and therefor couldn't muster the courage to walk up and say hello; instead, there were nods and slight waves of recognition to signal acknowledgment among us. I did speak to a few people that I follow on twitter and instagram, but for the most part I kept quiet. I listened to Rejean's instructions for the race and repeatedly told myself that it didn't matter if I was slow as long as I ran as good as I could. I wanted to show the P&M runners that I was there to work hard.

I was the second last runner to leave the start area and I launched away as I was tagged. I was headed to the 5km turn around faster than I would normally have run. In the first 800 meters, I had stitches on both sides and was struggling to suck in oxygen but I didn't back off. I thought of that Steve Prefontaine quote, "the best pace is a suicide pace and today is a good day to die". My pace would not be considered a suicide pace to most of the runners there, but I thought I was going to die and it was by choice, so it was indeed a suicide pace to me. I do this thing when I run hard. When my brain says "whoa there, this is a bit fast", I check in with myself to see what's going on because when I push out of my comfort zone it gets busy and loud in my head. I quiet the chaos by checking myself from the shoulders down. Am I slouching? Straighten up. Am I breathing erratically? Slow it down. Make it rhythmic. Am I sinking into my hips? Tighten the core. Don't rest on the hips. Are my legs tired? Keep them rolling. The faster they go, the sooner I'm done. By the time my check in is done, I settle down and just run. It still hurts, but at least I am more relaxed about the discomfort. If things get chaotic again, I repeat the 'check in'.

As I ran toward my turn around point, I met others from the group running their way to the finish. Rejean gave me words of support through a pained grimace and so did every other member of Pace and Mind. I also saw other familiar faces that I have come to know through social media. It felt right. With 1.5km left to go I felt myself slowing. I heard the familiar "whoa there" in my head. I did my check in and I told myself that I would be disappointed with myself if I didn't give everything. I put in both earpieces and focused on the angry tempo of old 1983 Metallica. I fixed my gaze and reeled in two runners. Before I knew it the road markers were counting down the last hundreds of meters. I could see and hear the finish line. What I saw were Pace and Mind singlets and what I heard was my name being cheered. I have never heard my name yelled at a race as an adult. I have never had anyone waiting there for me, giving a damn about my arrival.*

Almost done
I regret that the moment I finished, I could not revel in the congratulatory buzz. I walked right by it all looking for a safe spot to vomit. It was the same feeling I got when I would drink too many tequila shots. Eventually one of the shots wouldn't sit right and would threaten to come right back up but if I could just be left alone for a minute, not talk and not be touched, I could will the nasty urge to vomit away. Apparently this technique works post suicide pace run, too. I did not unload my guts into a nearby bush while others looked on. Although even if I had, I suspect no one would have flinched.

Everyone ran with everything they had and even though that looks differently for all of us, each person's contribution was worthy. I have found a home that I didn't even realize I was looking for. I will continue to run most of my runs by myself because of geography, but I know that there is a crew of runners that will welcome me and my abilities when I can join them. I see many connections and experiences in my future because of the Pace and Mind runners.
Pace and Mind June 2014

*Note: My husband Mike is always at the finish waiting for me, but the crowds at big races are often too big to hear him cheering my name and of course he gives a damn about my finish, but not in the same way your team mates do :)