Friday, November 27, 2015

First steps

The fire, I felt it in those final miles of the Philadelphia Marathon this past weekend. It was burning in my legs, that tinge to signal effort. It was present in my lungs and I could feel it in my veins.

This morning, five days into my off season, I woke up before my 5 a.m. alarm. I balanced a mug on my lap as I warmed to the thought of the outside. In another half hour, I was outside to confront November, running as darkness reluctantly relinquishes control. On a similar morning, four months ago, I'd be on my front stoop, stretching lightly, babying a niggle on my left hamstring, watching the mid-summer dawn take over the sky. Eight months ago, I was watching the late winter give way to spring.

Today felt like spring. Today was like first day, only that it wasn't.

Run, every day.

The first few steps of every run reignites everything. It may draw out your pains, may expose your lack of sleep or express how fit you truly are. For the past 730 days, I've taken those first steps and it's led me here to this moment.

I'm writing this as I "lap" the second year mark of my run streak. Last year, I wrote a post about the things I've learned about running 365 days, and although not much has changed, my perspective is evolving.

The life of a runner begins with enthusiasm, sparked by fitness gains and early PBs. They're bolstered by bucket list goals, by friends we meet on the trails and the goals we dangle in front of us. Over the years, that early love affair with running changes, not as obvious as a fork in the trail, but there is a point in the path where we decide what running is to us. Is it something we did before life and work and responsibility edges out running.

I've lost count of the number of kilometres or runs I've accumulated in the past 11 years as a long distance runner. Two years ago, in starting this run streak, I had rekindled my love of performance running. Simply, I wanted to get fit again, get as fast as I could, and get to Boston. Within those two years, I achieved that and more, but the unintended outcome -- in its 730th day -- was the unexpected surprise.

Heat map of the last two years of running
That fire I felt in Philly was another rekindling. I was reminded that running in the long term is not unlike every stride you take. Your next step follows the first. You bound through trails, on top of concrete on asphalt on a forward motion -- jumping, really -- that would not have been possible if you hadn't taken the step before that.

We bound, one foot in front of the other, on our daily runs. Over the course of the days and miles and trials, we get stronger. That strength is like a shockwave that travels from your heel right up to your heart. A runner's body changes over the course of the years. Our bones solidify, our muscles extend and tighten, our bodies can get lean, our stride efficiency increases.

There are moments during every run when everything feels fluid. Easy even. But that belies the pain -- forcing legs to move faster than they are capable, pushing the heart to pump out enough oxygen to fuel your needs.

In the middle or end of any hard workout there is a point when you say no more. You think you can't go forward. But you push. And at the end, lungs busting, heart leaping, knee leaning, you are crafting a harder version of yourself.

So I enter into a part of my running life not thinking that the road has run out, but rather that I've taken that brief pause, and now I'm ready to see where the next cycle will take me.

Run streaks are really not about peering from the top of the mountain to appreciate the view, as there is no summit. You're in perpetual motion. Every day resets itself. You get on your shoes and, like any other runner tackling that day, you're taking your first steps. Something fuels that. Ritual, repetition, for sure, and maybe even habit, but I think somewhere in there you need the fire.

They say you don't want to run another marathon until you've forgotten the last one you've run. The pain you experience during those challenging miles, the wall, the cramps, the feeling of exhaustion meted out, drawn out. Why do we do it again?

In those final miles of Philly, a race that didn't go according to plan, I told myself to fight through. I shut any impulse to shut down. For once in the past few months, I embraced the suck.

And when I passed that finish line, I felt a different type of fire. It continues to burn.

The past year has been amazing. What's next?


Patrick Voo said...

this is really an incredible run streak kenny - i'm struggling just to get through a month-long run streak of my own. kudos to you!

Robin said...

Love this post!! Hope next year is even better....looking like it will be :)

pyrad said...

This is very beautiful Kenny. I love your poetic writing about this sport we all love.
You inspire me and many others! Don't stop!!

Running with Rhyno said...

Nicely put! I always fail in my attempts for a running streak. I applaud the folks that do them though! Good on you!

jelema said...
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