This past weekend I ran the Vancouver First Half Marathon, a race that has become both tradition but equally a certain rite of passage on some levels. Running has been a part of my life for over 15 years now and during that time it has seen me cover a variety of 10Km fun runs, half marathons and full marathons. Over time however, its taken its toll and my knee’s remind me everytime I pass the 15-17km mark that they are on borrowed time.
As I work through the diverse training I am investing in for this expedition, its moments much like this past sunday that remind me how much of the game of exertion is mental vs physical. I no longer run for time or for achievement, but rather to simply finish, to test myself, to build my mental stamina and simply because…I can.
I stood at the start line in a stiff cold breeze with 2000+ others all waiting for the start gun to sound. My mind was abuzz with many a thought. Its times like that where you inventory life, its trials, tribulations…the highs, lows…the good, bad and indifferent. I wondered how this short 21km journey would emulate life but over a period of two hours vs a lifetime. I thought a lot about where I’ve been, where I’m going and fair to say a lot about my son.
With earbuds in place and my ipod set, I put one foot in front of the other and stepped across the start line to the sounds of many a foot pounding the pavement and getting shouldered as the elite vied for position and sprinted to get ahead of the mass crowd. Despite the sounds of the crowds cheering everyone on, I lost myself to the lyrics of Train’s ‘Mermaid’. As I approached the 10 minute mark I began to think about my intervals, where by you run 10 minutes, walk 1 minute and repeat through to completion. I had been trained this way over the years which preserves the body a little more during the course of a race. If I wasn’t doing it for time, and wasn’t keen on the stop/go nature of intervals then what to do? How do I use this race to benefit my ultimate goal of seeing my rowing expedition through to fruition? After all, there is a nature of having to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. To quote Ed Viesturs “If you don’t mind, then it doesn’t matter”; so with that, I opted to simply run straight through without stopping, save for a pause to grab a cup of water from the outstretched hand of a volunteer at one of the few water stations along the route.
There is a said vulnerability one can feel when pushing themselves to certain physical limits. For me, this sort of thing quickly turns mental and its no longer about conditioning or cardio. Yes the knee’s scream or the calves burn, but its almost a process of sorts. There is a purging effect where by you feel a sense of absolution about life and the person you were to start the race is no longer who you are as you finish. Its a journey remember, a short story if you will, and like most things there is a beginning and an end.
After my first marathon in 2004 nobody could quite grasp why I didn’t want it to end; why I actually slowed up down the final stretch hoping to delay the inevitable; that somehow the finish line would move itself further away. Why after 4 hours of certain suffering I would want to keep going. Sunday’s race and those before it and the many to come after it are always a reminder. There exists a said solitude when you have yourself and only yourself to rely on, to lean on when physical elements try the body and mind and you are coach, athlete and spectator all in one. Its equal parts motivating, inspiring, trying and difficult.
If you ever want to experience an ounce of what I describe, you need only position yourself at the start of a long distance race and then at the end. Watch the faces, the legs and sounds of the average runner coming across the finish line, spent and having completely invested themselves in rising above all that their body’s felt was impossible. You will see the eyes of success and defeat, but each was its own journey. I recently read a post online that spoke of this from a different perspective ‘An artist will sing a song to a crowd of 30,000 people, and they in turn will sing it back for 30,000 different reasons’.