Sunday, February 17, 2013

The joy of running

The snow had narrowed the sidewalk that leads home from work, slowing me down as I was rushing to get back to my condo. It was a Friday, and apparently we were having the worst snowstorm since 2008. My sense of urgency was so I could put on those winter runners and go play in the snow in the fading daylight -- too late, as usual, this time of the year.

In front of me, a woman and her two kids were struggling down the sidewalk. Rather, she was struggling and her boy was bounding into the snow, running in short bursts then landing with emphasis, the imprint of his tiny boots barely making an impression on the mound of snow.

Earlier that day, while winding down, I had come across a piece in the Guardian titled Why we love to run. It's an absolutely gorgeous piece but several excerpts resonated with me:

Running brings us joy. Watch small children when they are excited, at play, and mostly they can't stop running. Back and forth, up and down, in little, pointless circles. I remember, even as an older child, I'd often break into a run when walking along the street, for no reason. There's a great moment in The Catcher in the Rye when Holden Caulfield, caught in the uneasy space between childhood and adulthood, is walking across his school grounds one evening and he suddenly starts to run. "I don't even know what I was running for – I guess I just felt like it," he says.


Racing along out on the trails, or even through the busy streets of a city, splashing through puddles, letting the rain drench us, the wind ruffle us, we begin to sense a faint recollection of that childish joy. Somewhere a primal essence stirs deep within us; this being born not to sit at a desk or read newspapers and drink coffee, but to live a wilder existence. As we run, the layers of responsibility and identity we have gathered in our lives, the father, mother, lawyer, teacher, Manchester United-supporter labels, all fall away, leaving us with the raw human being underneath. It's a rare thing, and it can be confronting. Some of us will stop, almost shocked by ourselves, by how our heart is pumping, by how our mind is racing, struggling with our attempts to leave it behind.

Read the rest here

Running is so seemingly simple, which begs questions like "how can you put out a monthly magazine dedicated to a sport about putting a foot in front of the other." Or how can one write a running blog for seven plus years and still have something to write about thousands of miles later, 1200 posts in. Funnily enough, there's plenty to say.

That's where I am. In those early years of training for marathons, every run had a story, a distance to log, a new challenging workout to master. As the years go on, I haven't found the passion die, but wanting to capture more of the essence of what running is.

So what is it?

Running is a sport for soul searchers, and which each successive movement, we find communion with our true selves. Recently, as I huffed and puffed my way through a dark path, I watched steam rise from my mouth, impeding the view of the icy trail. I worked hard to stay upright through the patches of black ice and through that danger, and working past the pain, I felt what I've always gotten from the run. To carve out time back for myself. To feel at once lonely and powerful. To reconnect with something so innate in our modern lives. I love the phrase poetry in motion, and you can capture it more often than not if you go out enough, run enough. In simple words: Moving, Speeding, Sprinting, Striding, Gasping, Running, Living.


Tuesday, February 05, 2013

28 days later

I'm an advocate of rest days, and although I would feel bad about missing weekday runs, I usually hit the roads four out of five days during the work week. Although that's a lot of days when you have to make plans to run, I usually found one day to kick back and relax. Usually it was a Friday.

I started the new year sick, and it really wasn't the way I wanted to begin my marathon training. I wanted to get the miles going, to kick myself back into motion. Sluggish was a fairly good description of what my legs felt like -- and I was out of breath, my heart really not into hard work.

Clearly, I was not in the shape I wanted to be in. In December, I would be running miles in the 8:40 to 9:10 range, a pace that I wanted to lower in a big way. I entered January with hopes of upping the mileage, lowering that pace and to feel like I could not only do the distance, but start bring back the form I'm used to.

The streakers, and there are many in the running world, are the odd sort of our sport. I have long suspected that a few runners I see on the trail almost without fail at least once (or twice) a week may be on running streaks. And yes I mean time, not clothing optional. They run every day, never stop. I read about them in Runner's World, or see a few quests unfold on social media, but it was really nothing I was interested in pursuing.

I mean, I run a lot already -- why try to make it more complicated than to force yourself out.

Through my quest to regain fitness, to restart my training, I pledged to do consistent running. First step was to convince myself that I had to start building more miles. Second, was to believe that 4-6 miles was a perfectly reasonable minimum mileage during a weekday run, when I would been happy with 5Ks. Third was to again cajole my body into doing a medium distance run during the week, say of 8-10 miles (shock!). Fourth was to take no Saturday or Sundays off, and to focus on getting endurance back -- say start at 13 miles and start building my way back to 19-20 miles by mid-March.

Of course, that really meant reforming all my running habits, to face winter head on and to take no excuses (or prisoners).

Suddenly, I had two weeks of training behind me and a 14 miler that went off reasonably well. Then I figured that in another week I'd regain fitness, so I kept on going out. Then on a Friday, a usual rest day, I saw a beautiful blanket of snow cover the trail, so I went out for a few miles to enjoy the experience.

Meanwhile, my longer runs were paying dividends. I'd done a few long runs (11 miles, 13 miles) at 8:50 mile pace. By the time I was reaching the third week of my running streak (20 days in), I ran almost 14 miles at 8:27 pace.

Something clicked. I never stopped running (I never really do) but the consistency was bringing back my fitness, and 27 days into my running streak, two days ago, I found myself running 15 miles at a 8:05 pace. I remember hitting the half marathon mark and was a little shocked to see 1:46 on my watch. What the heck happened there?

Sure, the weather was perfect, but in that solid month of training, I was rebuilding myself, starting to recapture something.

And in that time, I feel stronger, my form is improving. On the 28th day, yesterday, I went out for a run, and for the first time in a long time, I started to race my watch. It wasn't a breakthrough, but I fought to keep the stride up, the heart racing and sprinted through the last 50 metres, finishing the run with an average 7:40 pace. Not blistering, and shockingly not even fast enough to hit my best marathon pace, but it was good to feel that.

Okay, so you can rebuild a runner, from the ground up. Part of it is rediscovering why you loving running so much -- being outside, feeling strong. Part of it is putting in the work and seeing what you get back.

So after after 28 days -- with my longest streak I can remember -- today, I made a choice. I decided to go out for a run.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Running with Vine video, Twitter's new app

As I wrote recently, I've been snapping great pictures on the run with my smartphone, as runners get treated to beautiful views along the running trails.

Today, I busted out my iPhone and played with Vine, Twitter's new video app that lets you record (in spurts if you'd like) a six-second video. Doesn't sound like much and lots of debate over why six seconds, but we've seen pretty cool videos that play on a loop.

Running happens over many minutes, even hours. Runners travel far distances, and get to pretty cool areas by foot.

Somehow, the repetitive nature of running makes the six seconds actually flow with running. I've compiled a bunch of Vine videos I've seen taken by runners, starting with one of my own, taken over the course of 16 minutes and 3K. (Sorry if I blow up your browser, it's a lot of video!)