Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Alone together

Around the Bay 2015

Running is a solo sport no matter how many people are on your team or in your crew or group. People will argue this idea but at it's most basic form, running consists of putting one foot in front of the other and no one on your team can do that for you.

Ultimately, it is up to us as individuals to intrinsically motivate ourselves to go, to continue and to not quit. That is up to each of us and will never be someone else's decision.

The team/crew/group becomes important when you need reminders or extrinsic motivation to get out there and stay out there until your goal is reached. The support of fellow runners is important but it is still a solitary decision to run and to keep running.

Pace and Mind

We run alone together is the best way I can put it. We train together, on our own and we race together, on our own.

I am proud to be a Pace and Mind runner although living outside of Toronto and not training with the team in person removes me from most of the interpersonal benefits of being a part of a team, so I am used to being on my own. If I am not intrinsically motivated to do my training, there aren't any team members around here who are going to extrinsically motivate me. When it gets tough for me it is all on me. I don't have a live coach telling me I can do it, I have to be that to myself, which either I am or I am not. Aside from a training plan that tells me what to do and when to do it, I rely on myself, which in the end is how it is for all runners. Whether you have a coach and team in person to draw upon or not, it is a personal decision to get it done.

This winter's training didn't go well. Between a couple minor injuries, the cold and miserable footing and the loneliness I missed more training than I actually completed. My speed slipped away and took my confidence with it. Any of my speed workouts that I actually attempted were on the treadmill and for the most part I gave up on. Not even the coach in my head could keep me rolling. The even sadder part was that I didn't really care. I had lost the inner spark that ignites the internal dialogue that keeps us moving forward. Whatever hardcore philosophy I had developed over the previous summer and fall, went as soft as butter this winter.

Heading into the Chilly Half Marathon this spring, I ran with no pace goals or finish goal, that is how poor my training went this winter.
This past weekend at Around the Bay, I told my coach not to even waste his time making me a plan. He is a busy guy and I knew I didn't have the confidence to execute anything he might come up with. Instead I decided to run with my friend Jenna and see if I could execute her race plan. I had no notion that it would be easy but I was looking forward to actually running with someone for a long run, for the first time in, I don't know how long. Jenna runs with Tribe Fitness in Toronto. This group of athletes are doing amazing things, conquering their goals. When Jenna mentioned she had secured us a pacer to help us stay on top of our race plan, I was relieved. I hate pace watching. It is necessary but it always makes me anxious to watch my pace slip and my goals go out the window long before I finish a race. It is very discouraging to realize early on that your race is shot, so to have someone else be in charge of that is dreamy. From my vantage point, my Pace and Mind teammates are all a lot speedier than I am so there is never an opportunity at a race to look to any of them for pacing help or support on the course. I was excited to have Jason Pomerantz host our race experience, who also trains with Tribe Fitness.
Jason, Me and Jenna before the start

I hadn't run farther than 25 km since October at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, so 30km was going to hurt but I figured, at a reasonable pace I could do it. Our goal was to finish in 3 hours or less and the math from our pace plan saw us finishing at 2:56:00, which gave us a cushion when we got to the rolling hill section.
Jay lead us through a very comfortable first third of the course to which we had time to chat and laugh and socialize. The middle 10 km saw us pick up the pace by 30 seconds per km which was still
Early on, feeling good
good. We chatted and laughed less but there was no distress. The worst part of this section was a bridge we ran over that had a waffle style metal grid on the bottom of it where you could see below you. I nearly had a panic attack! For real. I thought I might die right then. My mind said  'don't look down", so what did I do...uh huh, I looked down. Nausea rose, I got lightheaded and felt weepy. Jay recognized my panic and offered support but then I looked down again. After that I said I gotta get off of here and sprinted to the pavement...where there was a photographer waiting. Right on cue I smiled and waved despite my ensuing meltdown. I recovered as we carried on about our running business.

The rolling hills weren't as bad to run as I thought they were going to be from the accounts I had heard from other runners. Clearly I was still fit enough to run the hills. This is related to the fact that there are nasty hills all around my house. There isn't any route I run that doesn't boast three or four increases in elevation that make you curse out loud and cry for mercy. I did not traverse the hilly section unscathed though. At around 25-26km I ran out of energy. The kind of energy deficit that people talk about where you feel like you can't go on. I had no pain. My heart and lungs were keeping up. I just had no 'go' left in me and Jay was announcing that it was time for another pace increase. It was at this point I slowed and started to lose Jenna and Jay. Of course, I didn't let them know because I didn't want to bust their pace. Quietly I slowed and told myself I just needed to recover a bit. It didn't take long for them to notice I had dropped off and they started to wait for me. I waved them on and said I was coming. That was a lie.

Jay came to my rescue as we sent Jenna onward. He immediately asked me if I wanted a gel and I said 'No. I think I will puke.'. He gave me some pace info and encouraged me onward and at this point I was walking. I found some intrinsic motivation, not to stay on pace but just to get going so I could finish and put the suffering to rest. It was around this time that I saw a sight that made an emotional and mental difference...faces I knew. Nathan, who is our Pace and Mind back bone and a few others from our team and from other crews in Toronto. My smile was big when I saw him even though I wanted to say 'Nate save me'. Nathan said "You are doing great" and the Reaper said "No you aren't". As I continued with Jay at my side I saw other faces I knew like Bill from Night Terrors Run Crew and fellow Canada Running Series Community Leader. He had me aimed up for a photo, so on cue, I smiled and waved even though I was dying. I really was happy to see such supportive friendly faces, so it wasn't really a fake smile.
Smiling on cue at 27-28 km

Shortly after the burst of happy I had from seeing friends, I stopped running. Jay discreetly was checking the watch but I knew as a good pacer he was still keeping the time in mind without pressuring me to a meltdown. He handed me a gel and said just take half. I knew I needed something even at the risk of throwing it all back up on his shoes so I did what he said.
I put my iPod on really loud and got my head around the fact that I needed to put 3 more kilometers under my feet. The gel that Jay gave me had 100 mg of caffeine in amount that is not found in any other gels sold in Canada. All I can say is away we went! I clutched that gel and and sucked on it for the next 2 kilometers. I all but turned it inside out to lick it clean. Jay had been peppering me with encouragement that I could only read by his body language because the Volbeat and Metallica were blowing my ears in an effort to help me find the last bit of hardcore beast in me.

We rounded a bend and Jay pointed and I knew by the look on his face that he was showing me the way to the finish. A smile so big broke my miserable scowling face wide open. I took the music out of my ears because the sound of the last kilometer of any race is enough music to my ears and inspiration for my legs. Jay announced 400 meters to go and started to warn me about the steep downhill grade once we entered the arena. At this point with the distance to the finish closing and being a for sure thing I was content to cruise. However Jay had the watch and I didn't know it but he was still watching the time and hadn't given up on the goal Jenna and I were shooting for. Jay grab me by the hand and locked my arm up tight in his, pulling me I thought I might trip on my legs. As I was starting to panic about the very real potential that my legs might get tangled up under me and I might actually wipe out and cause a news breaking pile up 100 meters from the finish, I saw my life long friend Laurie holding the greatest race sign ever! It said 'Run Faster Right Meow!".
Pace and Mind and Tribe

Entering the stadium was everything everyone said it would be. I was scared to death I might have to run a lap inside in front of the crowd before crossing the finish but was so happy to see that wasn't the case.
I finished with Jay and stopped my Garmin, which I didn't even consult because it had been slightly off the entire race. My time didn't matter to me. I was finished. I was alive. I hadn't caused a pile up and I was pretty proud of those things in themselves.
Rounding into the stadium tunnel

Jay and I heard that Jenna finished just ahead of us and that made me proud of her. I took a group picture with members of the Tribe, just like I was one of them. I ran with my Pace and Mind singlet on but on this day, it was the Tribe that embraced me. I ran with Jay and Jenna, members of an awesome group of Toronto runners. On this day and like any other day it doesn't matter where you are from or whose colors you wear, we all run alone together to chase our goals.

Thank you Jenna and thank you Jay!
By the way Jay got me across that finish line in 3:00:59.
I love this running life!


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