Thursday, May 22, 2014

With files from...

When many of us race, we may find ourselves drafting other runners. Single file, you may plunge into the course, finding comfort in the group and respite from the elements ahead.

On many a training day this past season, the winter throwing layering penetrating, bone chilling gusts, I took solace in facing the vortex with others. On one occasion, there was a stretch of road, not more than 2 kilometres long, where the wind was fierce, and it was no small task to stride into it.

So we took turns running into the wind. Single file, two of us took on the wind, while others took shelter. The pace never slowed. We were faster.

I've been advising a co-worker who just finished his first marathon. Through the course of the conversation, we both keyed in on what he found he loved about the training -- he finally got the alone time, the quiet us long distance runners find when we are in our own heads, only the road ahead of us and minutes -- no hours -- to wallow in, to zone out, to think, to analyze, to experience raw emotion and tune into your body, or to simply focus on the run.

I know the benefits of alone time -- it's what took me through 26 marathons, some 22,000 kilometres over 10 years. I even trained to my previous peak while doing it solo. For that, I will always look back at it -- and the accomplishments topped with a Boston qualifier -- with an equal amount of pride and wonder.

If solo running helps you discover more of your self, what does the other side look like? What can you find in a group?

I took on a coach for the first time this year. I've written about him -- Rejean Chiasson. I took on team running for the first time this year. I've written about the group -- BlackToe. I've written about running with team members, about hard Wednesday workouts, about progressively longer Sunday runs, about Friday speedwork. In my races leading up to my goal marathon, I paced with teammates and I found the power of the group.

In my coach, I found the weight of program planning lifted. I didn't have to worry about setting up my 16-18 week schedule by myself. I got the program, I gulped, freaked out and then plugged it into my calendar. From my coach I got confidence from a proven runner, I got advice on eating, stretching, warmups, recovery. If I had a lot of answers for novice runners, I finally got for myself a running guru. Most of all, I got someone who believed I could achieve more than I thought I could.

In my team, I found a band of passionate runners, so much so that I felt I was normal among fellow maniacs. I found consistency, a group of people who didn't care about the bad weather, or that it was the 16th Sunday morning in a row that we woke up to get to our 8:30 a.m. long runs. I found that while the running community at large is a true community, camaraderie can be shaped in small groups, expressed on the roads and solidified over endless cups of coffee in the post-run thaw.

In my teammates, I found people who inspired me by their raw talent. I met people who I would run along with -- more often shoulder to shoulder than behind. The act of running beside a runner, instead of behind or ahead of, shows an inherent trust. To me, it says, we'll get there together, whether that 'there' is a 3:55 km interval, or the 29th kilometre that we're supposed to do at marathon pace or that point in a road race when we're all going out to kill the race plan. On Day One of the program, they were just fellow runners. Before too long, they became my running buddies.

The evolution of a runner, I've told a few people, is not unlike the rolling hills that we navigate on challenging courses. We fight for performance, we eke out miles just to run for our head. We plateau, achieve our time goals, then look to run just so we can run -- presumably for the rest of our lives. I've been running distance  long enough to know that it is rolling, that the evolution doesn't turn from novice to committed to performance and then plodding retirement. Instead, we run first because we love to run. We run because we need it, just as our body craves it, so does our mind. We run, then find the type of running right now that fits our selves, be it trails or road races or early morning recovery jogs. My comeback year was to say that I can -- through hard work -- get back to performance, even it's my own Everest.

Make no mistake, there will be a day when I'l just want to run like I have for the past few years -- and I'm okay with that.

In the works of journalism that my colleagues and I produce, you will notice some jargon. One of them is the phrase "with files from" which you will often find tucked into the bottom of a story. A story will state at the end that it will have "With files from Bob Smith and Canadian Press" which is to say that Bob Smith and the Canadian Press contributed to body of work and without citing them, you are not given the work true credit. I often joked to my roommate Blaise after university that he deserved a "files from" on my journalism degree.

I've set four personal bests this year, an achievement that for myself is mind blowing. A half, 30K, 8K and marathon.

I've once described a race as a potential work of genius, the footsteps have a rhythm not unlike a well executed chorus line or -- more likely -- a jazz solo. It's part art, part craft, with a dose of fitness thrown in.

The races I've run are definitely my own. I ran each of them within my abilities. I ran it with heart, I executed it and expressed my fitness. In my own way, each one was a work of art I'd put my name to.

I'm rejoining BlackToe for this next season, and proud to. I know that my old coach isn't there (he's here now if you're interested) and that many of my teammates won't be back. A lot are returning, and I'm eager to work with the new coach, welcome back some old teammates and meet new ones. And I always look forward to seeing old friends on the usual trails.

But before I put a close to this season, and look forward to the new one, this is the body of work I am so proud to put my name to, one of the most proud things I've ever worked on. And to note those I'd attach their names to.

By Kenny Yum

With files from BlackToe team, Rejean, Mike, Julia, Mike, Alison, Lyndsay, Olivier, Helene, Peter, Jenny, Debra, Wing, Angela, George, Maya, Leah, Andrew, David, Nathan, Danielle, Sep, Martina, Alex, Alan and Luis.


Carmy said...

This was very well written. I quite enjoyed reading it. There really is something special about running with a team. Suddenly not having to endure hard runs on your own, always having someone to lean on, and someone to push you when you want to give up (plus having a cheering section to cheer you on helps! Haha). I still very much enjoy my solo runs but I'm definitely looking forward to the upcoming season.

marie said...

THIS is why I love group running!