It's no secret from the less-than-frequent nature of my posts since arriving in Calgary that my running has been...less than frequent. Unlike when I moved to Halifax and I joined a running group immediately to get to know the city, with this move I've instead focused on getting involved a wide range of activities - anywhere from hiking in the province's many provincial parks with my husband, to cycling around our small town, not to mention getting back in touch with my dance background by taking up a few dance-related classes at GoodLife.
But in the last few weeks I'll admit I've started to feel some interest in getting back into my running routine. Perhaps it's hearing about everyone's fall race plans, perhaps it's just that I've finally had enough time away from running to make me miss it (because absence makes the heart grow fonder) or perhaps it's that as I look ahead to my plans for my 40th birthday (which includes running a marathon to mark this milestone) I realized that if I want to accomplish that goal, I need to start training now. Plus, the weather has just been so gorgeous - how could I not want to head outside and run around and enjoy the fall colours and autumn smells?
Whatever the case, over the last few weeks I've been building a few runs back into my schedule - 3k here, 5k there, 4k another time...They haven't been easy - in fact I'm constantly amazed at just how different running is from any other sport and how it requires you to keep at it if you want to succeed, no matter how many other sports or activities you engage in. But they've definitely gotten my brain thinking about running again, which it hadn't done in some time.
So on Saturday, I headed out for a 3k run. And it was decidedly not easy. My legs felt tired by the end of it, but rather than feel dismayed I took this as a sign that I need to get back at 'er and get those distances in. The following day, I found myself researching a winter half marathon in Calgary and a spring marathon, and calculating the time I would need to get myself back into fighting shape.
Tonight after work, although I had no plans to go for a run - I was actually changing out of my home office attire (flannel pants and a sweater) into clothes to go grocery shopping for dinne, when all of a sudden I was struck by an urge to pull out my running shorts and t-shirt instead, no matter how hungry I found myself.
So on went the running clothes and shoes, and I headed out the door for a 6k run, Garmin on wrist and iPod in hand. As with Saturday, I found my calves and shins cramping and my pace slow for most of the run. But something inside me knew that I could do it, if I tried - no matter the little demons in my head telling me that I'd been away from it for too long and couldn't do it, or the pain in my legs. For some reason - maybe it was the golden autumn sunshine beaming down on me - those voices seemed to get quieter and quieter as the run went on.
Before long, I was turning right at a corner instead of heading straight to the finish that would mark 6k, so that I could tack on an extra kilometre on my run. My legs felt less pained, and I managed to pick my tempo up just a smidgeon. All of a sudden, 8kms seemed doable, although I decided to play it safe and stick at 7.
Not only was I thrilled with the result, despite my slower than usual pace from a few months ago, I found this run incredibly insightful. It was one of the more meaningful runs I've had in some time, with the latter half of the run being full of lessons - some new, some that I'd just forgotten:
1. You only fail if you don't try: sure, I could have gone grocery shopping instead of running tonight. But the very fact that I opted to lace up my sneakers instead was a win in itself, no matter what the result.
2. Just because it hurts doesn't mean it's difficult: this is a lesson I've learned over the years through my yoga practice - the ability to separate physical sensation from mental effort. Sure, it hurt tonight, but I also knew that it probably hurt because I hadn't done it in a while. In fact when I did a mental check of my body, although my legs felt strained, they still had strength in them, and my breathing felt relaxed and easy. That mind-body awareness isn't always possible, but when you're able to separate the physical from the mental, it makes things a whole lot easier.
3. It gets easier with time: that means both on the run itself, and over the course of weeks and months of training. I have learned over the years that if you give a run enough time, your muscles loosen up and the pain starts to dissolve. It's just a matter of persevering until you hit that sweet spot in a run and things feel easier. Same with training: over time, any distance becomes more manageable. But you have to put the effort in to get there.
4. It's about the journey: some runs just aren't going to be your fastest. Sometimes, it's just about getting out there and getting the distance in, and forgetting that the virtual partner on your Garmin is beating you. If you're struggling with pace on a run, it'll feel that much more enjoyable if you can just ignore your partner's little whirring legs.
5. The power of more: a few years ago I read Marnie McBean's book by the same title, about how athletes are driven by the idea of "just a little more." If you tell yourself you're only going to run 3k, as I did on Saturday, then chances are that you'll only run 3k. But if you set your sights a little farther, for a little bit more, then chances are that you'll accomplish more. Tonight was a great example of the power of more.
6. It's about runs where it all makes sense: not every run's going to be easy. In fact there may be weeks or even months where you wonder why the heck you do it, and you want to quit. And sometimes, it's ok to step away from running for awhile and take a break to enjoy other pastimes. But every so often, you have a run like today - where you either learn a ton about yourself or you just feel like a gazelle with wings on (that wasn't me, although I've had those days) - and you finish the run with a blast of endorphins knowing that this is why you run. And it's those somewhat elusive runs that keep me coming back to running, time and again.
7. I run because I'm able to: it's something that so many runners say and that I try to remind myself often. The simple fact that we are healthy and able enough to get out there and run, no matter what our pace our distance, is a gift in itself that I often forget to cherish. But on runs like today, I remember how fortunate I am to be healthy, active and fit. And that fills me with gratitude.
That doesn't mean that I won't have days and times when I feel like stepping away from running for awhile. I'm sure it will happen again - I'm just not a consummate runner like some are, and I enjoy other activities far too much to give them up. I also enjoy having times when I'm not entirely consumed by running and all that is running-related. But I know that it will always have a place in my life, in some form or other, because I've been fortunate to have runs like today's, where I understand what it's all about.
Happy trails, running friends!