Perspectives (2019)

The year 2019 was a year of self-evaluation. Half marathons abounded. Focused introspection paused in lieu of some other form of introspection. I ran and tried to figure out why, tried some new things, tried to correct the course while plodding it. It was tough, and I can't say I went forward as much as sideways.

January 2019 (Year-end Recap)

Januarys are always so full of hope and promise. They gotta be. It’s freaking cold out here in Edmonton and if you don’t have a little bit of hope all you got left is snow, dark, and holiday bills.

As this year fades into memory and simultaneously I attempt to spin up a year-of-training-hell blog to accompany some lofty new years goals, it seemed appropriate to reflect on my past year in sneakers. If I’m still writing here next year, maybe it’ll be a tradition. If not, well… context.

The month started well: a five klick run on New Years day as per usual. In an effort to persuade myself to avoid excessive food and bev on the last day of any given year, I tend to sign up for the annual resolution run. I’ll be repeating again in less than two weeks. It sets a tone for the year. Fast. Slow. Cold. Less cold. Bitterly freaking cold. Whatever combination usually leads into an optimistic month of running.

Not on repeat this year (at least it seems to be absent from my Strava feed) is the 40|80 Challenge. Lululemon incentivized a few of us to log a helluvalotta klicks over three weeks in January 2019 with a coupon reward to those who passed the milestone. I did. I bought myself a sporty hoodie. I’d buy another one if I got another coupon, but methinks the marketing department blew through its budget on last year’s challenge.

When the ice isn’t too bad we run the snowy trails or plod through the frozen neighbourhoods. For some reason it’s usually December and January when the major race planning begins in earnest. By the end of the month we’ve worn the indoor track a few fresh loops of boredom and are craving the long, hot days of summer. Or at least a little less ice.

Brr…

Sunday morning runs are glorious because they tend to be the only run day when we run in daylight. Not to mention the mindblowing contrast of freezing one’s ass off in the bitter January weather then slipping on a dry hoodie and settling in for a hot coffee with a big group of thawing friends.

And then just like that January was done.

February 2019 (Year-end Recap)

If there is a lesson to be learned from Februaries it is that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

February turned things around. Not in a good way. Perhaps it was something in the overconfidence of a new year and an epic push through a hard core January, or who the hell knows. I bungled my toe, burned myself out, and pissed off a few important people in my life. Cocky as shit. Downhill. Miserable training. Slump. And…

Alright, backup.

To be honest I’ve been sitting here for fifteen minutes trying to remember what I actually did to my toe and [dammit!] I can’t remember. I bruised it, a big toe hobbled by a a dumbass accident, and I recall quite vividly that it hurt to run for about six weeks. Really hurt for two weeks. Cautious pain for another four. I skipped out on a winter half marathon, the Hypothermic Half, because… toe reasons. Bailed. Phoned in a non-participate, which was fine because it turned out to be a colder-than-average year for an already freaky cold run. I was sad but not really.

Getting sidelined makes you defensive, too. When the thing you feel like you can control is suddenly out of control… good intentions… road to hell… blah, blah…

Keeping me in check: The kid, who has not been mentioned yet on this bloggyblog (I think) is not a runner so much as a kid who is told to particpate in sports. The last indoor track season of her elementary school career saw her running relay races and showing up her side-lined old man. She got fast. Kids don’t care. They sprint hard until they hurt so much it comes out as tears. Grown ups stub our toes and watch netflix on the couch.

I nursed myself back to health runjogging my own indoor track. The local facility beaconed me as a refuge. Escaping the hell of commitment to an outdoor course. Exscaping the hell of the cold and ice. Escaping the socializing that comes from distance running with people out in the wilderness but who can instead pace you for ten klicks on a track and never actually see you. Plodding klicks on a circle of green rubber followed by sad-face coffee commiserations.

I was keeping up with the swimming, tho. Cross training. Attempting to mantain a real fitness schedule because (as alluded to in January) I’d jumped into the triathlon mindset with another race registration (summer!) and things were looking rosy for a swim-bike-run later in the year.

Future optimism mixed with winter blues and a minor (oh, so minor) injury were a potent recipe of self-pity-inducing failcake. Something had to give.

March 2019 (Year-end Recap)

As far as months of transitions go, March pinned it.

Escaping note in February’s recap post was the race schedule to which I’d suddenly found myself committed by the end of that month: a half in April, a half in May, a baby-ultra in May, a tri in June and another half in August. Registered. Paid. Yet to be earned.

A couple of those were aligned with people. But more of them were solo races that I’d be training for on my own gameplan.

The snow began to melt (as it does) and the daylight hours got longer (as they do) and I plodded myself into a routine of three solid runs per week: steady on Tuesday evenings, hills on Wednesday evenings, and long runs on Sunday mornings. All this was mixed up with a blend of cross-training split between my home bike and local pool.

Transition to optimism; Go.

I’ve been running out of the same “club” for about a dozen years. I caveat the term club with quotes because as I’ve learned over those dozen years we’re less of a club in the internationally recoginized sense and more a club in the people who hang out together and have a social media chat room sense. I solo-train, obviously, but the anchor of a place and a time and a group (however fluctuating) of people who are there to train with me has been an invaluable resource.

Round about March, however, a couple of us committed full throttle to decoupling some of those people from the place and time. That’s to say, a friend and I started running from a different location in the city and brought a few folks along for the adventure. This had more to do with some dissociated personal dad-duties at a geographically more convenient set of trails, but numerous others also have their reasons not to linger in the shadow of a multinational running retail outlet for every training session. I sure did. We started running a regular route on Tuesdays out of a less obvious meet-up. Eight klicks through an established inner-suburb and adjoining natural area with deep roots in the history of Edmonton. I note its importance in the past year of running because as the year draws to a close and our club (crew, group, affiliation) is threatened to be scattered to the whims of the aforementioned multinational running outlet’s business pressures, this move migrated my training mindset to an oddly displaced effort: less about the place, more about the people. It was a feeling that would amplify over the course of 2019.

Hills, distance, plodding efforts in the cross-training. March sublimated into a month of respectable, solid workouts and I ended the first quarter of the year feeling as strong and fast as any time in the past two years… if somewhat disconnected and increasingly isolated from the group that had anchored me for so many years. Deliberate or otherwise, I was actually plodding onward and transitioning into a year of solo training though solo alongside a dozen friends and fellow runners. Not that I recognized it as that.

Funny how one’s perception of such things tends to work out.

April 2019 (Year-end Recap)

San Fransisco was a whim.

I mean, who doesn’t have “run across the Golden Gate Bridge“ on their bucket list? Or, at the very least, the flexibility to add it when six weeks before a race there a cheap flight is discovered online and karma aligns for a weekend getaway in California?

Early in April I found myself standing on a pier in San Fransisco dressed in a pair of running shorts and technical shirt with a few thousands of other people, a light, drizzling west coast rain, and a half a loaf of fresh sourdough in in my belly. The Rock n’ Roll half marathon was queued up with an early morning course along the waterfront with a loopback over the bridge and a jut out for a selfie opportunity. My training had been dedicated enough but winter slog-running has a way of keeping one just-fit-enough to get through a race like this, and knowing I wasn’t going to set any personal records I opted to run it modestly and carry a camera. Ah-hem… bucket list? I finished with about fifteen extra minutes on the clock than my A-goal, and with a refresher on the lesson that ocean-front bridges are actually hella-big hills.

The mini-vacation was far too short, but getting away even for a few days is a soul-cleanser. And we stuffed ourselves silly on sourdough and seafood and chocolate. It’s not that I don’t like running locally, but April became a bit of a flagpole in my mind for travel running and understanding one of the big three benefits I’ve gained from the sport:

  1. the people I’ve met
  2. the fitness I’ve gained, and
  3. the places it’s taken me

By the time we got back to Canada, spring was pushing full momentum (though as always the snow is a little stubborn) and I burned a lot of klicks (on foot) maintaining for two more races in May and (on wheeels) building for the tri I had scheduled for June. It was a good spring. I was hopeful for a good year. There was a good team around. Work was busy but not nutty. We were starting to trip over election signs while out running too, but local politics hadn’t quite gone off the rails yet.

The year was (mostly) still young.

May 2019 (Year-end Recap)

I bookended the month of May with a pair of races.

As I bumble through this retrospective exercise, basking in the glow of a christmas tree and pondering the calendar switching over to a new decade for the fifth time in my life, my intention was to get a bit sappy (no tree pun intended) as I attempt to trace a narrative path through my past year of running and thus draw some kind of lesson or theme from the effort. I’m no (let’s say) Haruki Murakami, author and runner, who like as not could have taken the mundane and routine events of my days and punctuated it with some kind of moral abstaction about the nature of the mind and soul blended into a slurry with the indifference of a vast, unknowable universe. Nor am I some kind of (let’s say) Sean Astin, actor and runner, who might be apt to tell me that even when one is rich and famous and known for being the guy who helped save Middle Earth from Sauron whilst fighting off the Fratelli gang for the pirate treasure hidden under the state of Oregon, you still gotta put the miles in if you want to cross the finish line standing on your own two feet. It’s all part of the story, somehow.

The half marathon I ran over the first weekend was a small, two hundred person race that wove through one of the nearby bedroom communities of Edmonton. Run Wild took us through asphalt trails, out onto the shoulder of a highway, up into a suburban streetscape, and back into a bit of wilderness walking trail. I paced it with a friend, Jenn, who was struggling with her running addiction by dabbling in the cult of spin for the past year. Anita tried the ten klick, sprinting it in with a respectable time, and we all met for free coffees at the finish.

Both ladies challenged me to run a baby ultra a few weeks later. The term “baby” here is only partially pejorative: Blackfoot Ultra is a multi-lap ultra race through a huge nature reserve east of the city. It is rough but wide track, muddy rolling hills, bear-alert swamp running. One loop is twenty five klicks. Runners can choose any combination up to four (with some optional add ons to make an even 80 klick slash 50 miler course for those so inclined.) I tackled the baby-one-loop-twenty-five-over-three-and-a-half-hours option, chasing Anita and losing Jenn. We all survived, were be-hoodied, and gorged on the atmosphere of ultra base camp party grooves.

I’ve run two races with Sean Astin (not recently) though he doesn’t know a thing about me (shouldn’t, though when our eyes met at comic expo a couple months ago I think he sensed it, or that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) nor care, nor worry about the outcomes: Both times I passed him (according to math relating to start and finish times.). The thing is, I grew up envying the guy for kicking ass as a goonie or later for being buddies with Gandalf, but it turns out he’s a lot like me as a runner. Just plodding along, fighting for every step, and getting passed by thousands of people he doesn’t know. But we just have a lot of months like May, when there are just races to get done and people to pace, and a place to be that isn’t punching Gollum in the face over a piece of jewelry that you don’t even care about. A moment to savour. So savour it. May was my not-punching-Gollum month.

I’ve never run with Haruki Murakami, but I assume he could run circles around me.

June 2019 (Year-end Recap)

I bailed on that triathlon in June.

I would be (mostly) reluctant to say that I feel any regret in bailing on that race, but occasionally I do let my mind wander over to an alternative reality where I hadn’t let all the mitigating factors blur into an excuse to ignore the seventeen email reminders to drive down to Red Deer and pick up my race package. Sometimes you just don’t feel it. Sometimes you gotta bail.

Arguably, I’ve learned over the last year that it is possible to be standing at a start line for the wrong reasons. Blind goal setting to hit some abstract race quota. Routines and just because. Peer pressure.

Peer pressure is a big one.

Part of me will, albeit cautiously, admit that I might have been aiming, gunning, daring to complete another triathlon because of peer pressure. While there was no one else who actually signed up to race that one with me, there was a need — a want — to signal a kind of ellusory dedication to a new sport in a vague effort to recapture a moment in time when I had completed my first. My first triathlon was epic and a dozen friends came out to watch and cheer and make it into one of those keystone memories in my humble career. The summer previous, the June exactly one year prior in fact, a couple of us had chased a whim and did the training and (can you dry run a swimming course?) dry ran the course. It was new and fresh and felt good. And there it was: a lingering bit of that feeling, the peer connection, the peer jubilation, the peer excitement — pressure — and precisely none of that materialized the second time round. My training fell of for the lack of it. My confidence set up a few mental boobie traps. My inclination was towards excuse.

So I bailed.

To be fair (to myself, mostly) I was having some issues in the pool. Yes, I could have handled the run confidently. Yes, I’d been putting in the klicks on the bike. But that water! The water was haunting my dreams in the weeks leading up to the day. It was an easy excuse to find.

That weekend, I volunteered as a bike course marshall for a local triathlon instead. It was the same race that I hadn’t bailed on the year before, and now I was standing beside a pylon in a penny waving cyclists around a sharp turn at pace, and losing my voice for all the cheering. It was a good compromise (also linked to some peer pressure) and life went on as summer hit full speed.

July 2019 (Year-end Recap)

The year was half over and with just six weeks until the big local race, everyone was (finally) in training mindset. Unfortunately, I was in soon-to-be-on-vacation mindset… even though my vacation would involve a half marathon (they always do somehow!)

Jenn and I cranked out a local ten klick race from downtown mid-month. We ran across the historic high level bridge (which in my year of running across historic bridges was a bit of a sad trombone sound.) And then we ate like CRAZY… kinda.

People get serious when they have a race on the horizon.

For a good chunk of the year, running meetups lean on the socializing and bullshitting side of the ledger: we meet, we cross “do a run” from the daily task list, and then we go for coffee or hang around and chat or … social, y’know?

Summer, and six weeks until a race. The five weeks. Four. There is an unspoken panic.

“We’re running 9 hill repeats tonight, not one less. You can do it. Oh, was that ten, well… what the hell are you complaining about!”

“Long run tomorrow? I need at least twenty-eight kilometers, and it’s gonna be hot so let’s meet at 7am and do this thing.”

“I’d have a beer, but … training. Let’s celebrate AFTER the race.”

I wasn’t taking my race that seriously, though as the month ended I was standing on a different continent feeling a little nervous about my summer half.

August 2019 (Year-end Recap)

On the first day of August I woke up shortly before six in the morning, laced up my sneakers, walked down towards the pond near where the swans were still dozing, and started to run. I ran up along a narrow gravel trail, over a small grassy rise, along a small road, past a two hundred year old towering monument to the Scottish hero of lore, William Wallace, down into a slumbering neighbourhood, and plodded across an eight hundred year old stone footbridge, where (as legend would have) the Scots routed the British invaders in the 1300s in a battle made famous in the film Braveheart.

We spent three weeks in Scotland (staying near Stirling) and Ireland in the month of August, and my training continued in the wee hours before everyone else in the forty-seven member travelling group had bothered to get out of bed.

Two weeks in, I skipped out on the official tour, boarded a train, then a bus, then a RyanAir flight to Dublin. The next morning I was standing in Pheonix Park in shorts and crowd of a few thousands of Irish runners getting ready to run a speedy five klick race through the misty rain.

Almost exactly one day later (after a long and convoluted adventure to find my race pickup package, some art supplies, and a cold pint of Guinness) I was standing on a street in Dublin getting ready to run the Dublin Rock’n Roll Half Marathon.

I wasn’t expecting to do too great. I mean, try travelling for over two weeks, sitting on planes and busses, and wandering up and down through tourist locations (which there are generally castles with narrow staircases leading up to vantages) and then do a race. Travel running is awesome, but expectations need to be kept low. When I pulled a three-year personal best out of my backside, in other words, I surprised even myself. It was a positive split, if I’m being completely honest, but filled with a kind of Irish spring in my step through the first eleven klicks, down cobbled roads, around castles and amazing old architecture, to the sounds of cheering crowds and loud music, it all kept be strong.

Then we hit Pheonix Park again, and the rolling hills killed me. But that’s how these things tend to go.

I returned to Canada with a neck laden with multiple bling medals and a few memories, too, and pretty much nothing else I did that month topped that weekend.

September 2019 (Year-end Recap)

How do you run with a twelve year old?

Very slowly, and with a lot of complaining from her… apparently.

September was a slog of a training month. Back to work, back to school, a new routine full of exhausting and time consuming activities.

The only real highlight of the month was a five klick run through the streets of the small city of Red Deer where the family wen to help out with the annual Terry Fox Run, a charity run to raise money for cancer research. After our handful of duties were complete, the kid and I participated, slogging through the trails in the warmth of the sun, jogging for a bit, walking for a bit, jogging a bit more, and listening to the rhythm of complaints emitted from the mouth of my twelve year old daughter.

I don’t know if kids maybe have a different sense of time or distance, or it’s merely that after twelve years of running (yes, twelve — not a coincidence actually) I’ve honed an ability to not only tolerate long stretches of meditative running activities, spans of time where the mind has nothing to do but watch the sidewalk and let the moments pass one by one by one. Kids suck at patience, whereas in my forties I’ve been craving long stretches of mindless quiet time. Running has been ideal for this.

We ran our five klicks for Terry, did some more volunteer tasks, and went for dinner with the organizers — who also happen to be the kid’s grandparents. Again, not a coincidence, actually.

Life was suddenly busy, changing and getting quietly darker as summer passed into autumn.

October 2019 (Year-end Recap)

Training is a slog of day, after day, after day, after day.

It’s kinda like trying to write a daily blog post, but with running shoes on. And more sweating. And about the same number of people are actually paying attention.

I ran my last half marathon of the year in October and a summer of training followed by an autumn of faster training netted me a pretty decent time.

About mid-month we packed up the new car and drove for twelve hours westward on Friday morning. It was planned. I had registered for the Okanagan Half Marathon in Kelowna, British Columbia, a beautiful little mountain valley city on the edge of a lake and tucked inside a microclimate that made it feel more like September than the nearly-winter chill back home.

I spent ten klicks chasing a loud couple of runners wearing full-length bacon body costumes, then left them behind to pursue my own pace. In the end, I crossed the finish line about a minute short of beating my PR (which I’d set in 2014) and instead settled for my best half time in five years.

One might attribute the new speed to some special training regimen or a dedicated focus. Rather, I think we’ve just been running faster. When the people you train with increase their easy pace by even just 5% it follows that you run faster all the time, and when a race happens… well, you don’t slow down.

My (personal) victory was short-lived and we (almost immediately, after a quick shower) hopped back in the car and drove twelve hours back to Alberta and home.

The snow the met us on the mountain pass was a prelude to the rest of the month of training, and I quickly settled back into a three-per-week run training schedule with little focus on a goal. Not registering for anything will do that to you.

November 2019 (Year-end Recap)

It would be fair to say that the most exciting running event of November is recieving my Heavy Medalist bling in the mail from the two Rock ‘n Roll half marathons I ran this year.

It was a sparse training month. The weather had turned cold for keeps. The daylight hours were barely overlapping the working hours. The end of the year was far enough away that there was no pressing need to consider the next. And lacking any race motivation, many of the crew had retreated to their winter hiberations.

December 2019 (Year-end Recap)

Then December arrived.

I’ve spent the last twelve days of this month reflecting on the last twelve months. This was in no small part because of something that happened as the month rolled in, namely an acceptance letter to a marathon lottery. And if or not I find myself standing at the start line of a marathon in Chicago in October of next year, no matter if I do that or run screaming in the other direction, the year 2020 will likely be defined by my effort to get there.

Marathons have a way of doing that.

On and on I go.

I’ve already written a couple posts on my thoughts about being accepted, and the effect it is likely to have on my year. I’ve started cross-training in earnest, if for no other reason than I need to train myself up to get ready for the actual marathon training. I am like as not to register for a few more races in the spring and summer to guage my fitness. And I’ve even booked a hotel, which oh-by-the-way is gonna be hella-expensive in Chicago on race weekend.

I’m going to start the new year — new decade — in a similar way to how I’ve ended this one: by scaling back my running. Over the past couple weeks I’ve actually been on a bit of a break. After running hard for eleven and a half months this year, the past two weeks as I’ve written all these posts I’ve simultaneously been hiding out. Writing rather than running. I’ve run precisely once, and that was on purpose.

A break. A reset. A re-think.

Tomorrow, January first, a couple things happen: the new year and the new decade begin with a five klick resolution run though the snowy streets of Edmonton, the gates open on at least one major training run, and my imminent return to routine means that I actually need to start thinking about something that is only a day closer but will no longer be separated by a decade of measure.

Footprints in the Snow

January 21, 2019

If I were to let the snow get under my skin, metaphorically speaking, I would quickly grow fat, lazy, and boring in this winter city where the frost holds dominion for nearly half of the year.

Cold — brutal, toe-freezing, shivering cold — is my reality for at least two months each year. Those two months are fringed and spastically punctuated with just a lingering, discomforting cold, but for two months furnaces blast a hovel of safe warmth through the wood and insulation of my small prairie home just to maintain a glimmer of protection against the deadly outside.

I do have a personal rule about just how much cold I will realistically tolerate. It is a gut instinct really, though calculated based on time of day, length of run, strength of wind, trail conditions, precipitation (usually frozen), just how far into the season we are and how much my tolerance has been leveled, my overall mood, and if there is anything good on Netflix.

That means if something falls outside the comfort of these rules, I hide in my house. If it doesn’t? I make footprints in the snow.

It has been many years since any deep or abiding fascination with true path-finding through my city clung to my conscious purpose in running these trails. My early running career was one of seeking new routes, entering unfamiliar trail-heads, and breaking with the known with a careful expectation of adventure. Curiosity drove me to reveal many paths.

The unfamiliar quickly mingled with the everyday. After a couple years, finding new paths became a rarity mixed among the plodding necessity of race-training.

Fresh snow changes that.

Trails, routes, paths are all trampled with a quantitative measure of feets. The more prints, the more common the path. The more prints, the more people have already found a particular route through the wilds of the city.

Untrod branches in the path beckon. No prints tempt of the allure of something less common. Perhaps we are not the first to go this way. It is unlikely, in fact… but there are few enough that to break through a fresh snowfall on a trail feels closer to exploring than just plodding along in the cold for mere mileage.

Why we Run: Resolving

January 3, 2019

Forty-eight hours into a brand new year and I can already feel the motivation slipping.

I set a thousand and one goals as the hours ticked down on last year: eat better, run often, write boldly, worry less, post clean, capture moments, and dig deeper. Resolutions writ bravely upon a fresh new calendar, and all of them seeming abruptly ambitious now that the hours press into days and soon into weeks.

The very first thing I did on the morning of January first, however, was the same thing I’ve done every January first for a decade: I’ve run a five klick race.

I woke up, drank coffee, pulled on my shoes, and driven to the annual Resolution Run. We traipse into the cold of the new year, be it minus forty or a balmy barely-sub-zero as this year. We linger at the start. The anthem is sung. The other new years clock counts down to the 11 am and we run the first run of the year.

Five klicks through icy, oatmeal, mashed-potato’d streets and cold. A new year and a new resolve, and over a pancake breakfast on the floor of a small recreation centre gymnasium we ponder our distance totals from last year and our grand ambitions for this new one.

After a depressing December of too much food and dwindling motivation, we dash into just another day with a kind of renewed appraisal of this sport, and resolving to set grand goals in the blur of it all.

How to Goal Set (using your head)
  1. Set simple, manageable goals. Y’know… things that you can actually accomplish. Sure, there’s glory in shooting for the moon, but very few people actually get there.
  2. Make yourself accountable to someone (besides yourself).
  3. Write stuff down. Measure. Track. Record. Make a spreadsheet or keep a journal. Take photos of your ass in the mirror. Something. Your brain is fickle and will convince you of failure unless you can present it with hard evidence of success and change.
  4. Don’t wait for a special day to start. Go live today.
  5. Remember that incremental change (and success) is worth celebrating.