Tuesday, 16 July 2013

#106 Hey Jude

I recently came upon this piece of writing I had done several months ago which at the time was written for a submission in the Longboat newsletter (but never published). I read it today and felt it was worth posting here as it does some justice as to the reasons why I run (which I am particularly fascinated with after waking up at 6am to 30 degree humidity and then running 11k of tempo pace). I've copied it below unedited but also added a final section. I hope you enjoy it.

What motivates me…

Like many people, I started running as a means to lose some extra weight and get in better "shape." The first time I recall running (for the strict purpose of running), I attempted to do a country loop around my home in Ingersoll (about 5k in total) and made it about half way before I was bent over on hands and knees desperately breathing air into my throbbing lungs. I walked the rest of the way home. Never a quitter, I tried again the very next day and made it ever so slighter farther. I caught my breath, resolved to walk for a bit, and then started jogging again. I ritualistically repeated this exercise for days, perhaps weeks, until I could make it around that loop without stopping. I remember the first time I did, and although I have no idea how long it took, it was among the proudest things I had achieved to that date. And when I had done that, I simply decided to keep running and do the loop twice!

Later that year I joined the Cross Country team in High School and was convinced I had finally found my calling in sport. For two years I upped my mileage, made some great friends and even won a regional title or two. I wasn't amazing by any standard, but I loved what I was doing and worked my ass off to get better. At some point my dedication to running became highly problematic as I struggled with some very serious and significant physical and psychological issues surrounding body image, self-esteem and eating behaviour. I ran because I had too not because I wanted too and at some point was forced to stop running entirely less I continue to hurt myself.

After high school and whilst struggling with the issues above, my running career took a rather erratic route in which I didn't run once during the first two years of university. Then in third year after gaining the freshman fifteen and an additional sophomore several, I came back to running as a means of finding myself again. I began to run regularly but certainly not seriously. After running a few races, I could see my progress unfold and I liked the idea that I was getting better. I kept at it but my commitment to running wavered and was wildly inconsistent (the ultimate key to distance running success). In 2009 I moved to Toronto to pursue my Master’s degree (in Exercise Science at U of T) and once again I began to take running more seriously. I wanted to continue to improve and only when I no longer did so on my own, did I make the best (running) decision of my life…I joined a local running club (the Longboat Roadrunners).

For almost two years, I trained with the club and found like-minded individuals who shared my passion and pushed me to achieve my goals. I got better, A LOT better, and seemed to set a PB in every race I ran. I had a solid group to train with and these guys became my closest friends and a kind of family. At the same time, I was conducting my Master’s thesis exploring psychological aspects of physical activity adherence and used my connection with the running club to explore the physical culture of distance running. In August 2012, I defended my thesis entitled: ‘In it for the Long Run: An Ethnography of Psychological and Social Benefits of Distance Running.’ In the Fall of 2012, I began teacher’s college at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), also at U of T, where I intend to receive my Bachelor of Education (BEd) degree and one day teach secondary science and biology.

2012 also continued to impress in terms of my running success. I've set impressive PB's in almost every distance I attempted this year. I ran 16 and change in a 5k, 34:20 in the 10k, 57:15 for 10 miles and an impressive 1:13 for the (Scotia) Half (which I am particularly proud of) as well as a 1:51 for 30k at ATB. I broke 2:50 in my first ever marathon (STWM in Oct 2011) and then took an unprecedented 13min off that time to run a 2:37 in the Spring (Goodlife 2012) and then bettered that number slightly (2:36) this Fall (at Hamilton).

Quite simply, numbers motivate me. They just don't lie! You are only ever the runner your numbers say you are. In a sport that consists of covering distance as fast as possible, little more matters than the clock. Running well isn't easy. It's actually incredibly difficult. It takes time, patience, commitment, organization, sacrifice, suffering, and the support of friends and family. And yet running is unique in that the outcome is no more and no less than what you put into it. The time and energy dedicated to training can be as much or as little as one can afford but the result will reflect that to a brutally honest degree. There is a pure sort of satisfaction knowing that you only get what you deserve. You cannot lie or cheat your way around it. Prefontaine probably said it best when he said: “You have to wonder at times what you're doing out there. Over the years, I've given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.

People run for a variety of reasons: health, fitness, weight-loss, charity or a cause, career, escape, freedom, fun, pleasure, personal satisfaction, socialization... the list goes on and on. No reason is better than another. Mine is simple: I run to run faster!

Epilogue: July 16th, 2013

Yesterday I returned from a weekend away in and around Utica, NY for the running of the Boilermaker 15k road race. This was hands down one of the best running events I have ever been part of and was by far much better than my first Boston earlier this year (which didn't exactly go to plan on a number of fronts). The weekend was centred around the running of the race, which turned out to be a challenging course on a hot day. Luckily the overwhelming support of the local crowds (in addition to all that training I do) led me to put forth a personally pleasing performance of 52:04 good for 45th place overall and top Canadian. But the reason that those three days were as amazing as they were was because of the people I shared them with. Black Lungs Toronto, and more specifically the members of that group, the Black Lungs, are something very special. It means a great deal to me to be part of something that is so much more than a group of guys running in circles trying to get faster. The commitment we show to each other and the camaraderie we share has become among the top reasons I now run and provides me with the motivation to get up and run every day and continue to strive to be the best I can be. Of course I do it for myself (for the results, the sense of personal accomplishment and pride, self-actualization, etc, etc.), but I also do it for them.

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