Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I ran every day for 365 days. Here's what I learned.

I ran today.

Running streaks have to start somewhere and it was a year ago tomorrow, U.S. Thanksgiving Day, I went on a run.

This morning, I ran for the 365th straight day.

This is a post that in theory I've been thinking about writing for hundreds of days. If I had my way, I would write the entire piece while on the run, as opposed to on the couch long after I've put away my running shoes. In front of my laptop, I can't ever match the emotions, sensations, thoughts that I'm having each day while I am out on a run.

I ran today.

Today, I felt speed, as I accelerated while weary of the lights threatening to turn red. Even typing the word "speed" doesn't begin the describe it. How does one feel speed? My head says go fast and my legs respond, firing off those commands to move arm, muscle, bone, leg, feet -- while my lungs suck in extra air that will be parcelled out to areas that need it most. In the span of a few seconds, speed is not just movement that is done rapidly, but speed is expressed as motion executed by a series of strides, only to be spurred on by a series of decisions -- one decision overrode them all. The decision to run. And today I decided to run.

I ran today.

Today, I missed my mom. I put on a toque and a neck gaiter and as the soft snowflakes lingered in the air before hitting my sub-zero mitt, I stopped to admire the patterns and edges on an ice crystal before it blew away. Later on the run, after making the first tracks on fresh-laid snow, I saw Hydro workers restoring power. They were up among the trees that had lost so many limbs to layers of ice, those branches bringing down wires, sending a city into shivers. I wished them a Merry Christmas and thought about their families and how I was blessed to have my brother and dad and also my health, something mom lost a long time ago. Toward home, a little faster, with a few slippery stutter steps in those first days of winter, I ran.

I ran today.

Today, I hobbled, felt chastened and deflated, as I sought to get a requisite 2 km in. A day earlier, I had let bravado and stupidity get in front of me as I could feel the pulling against my calf, the muscle popping, a signal to call it a day. All the things I worked for, the race ahead of me, the season of training behind me, were seemingly slipping away. It hurt less to jog than it did to walk at that point, and while my heart and lungs were ready to go, I babied every step, finding some sort of stride that would get that muscle working again. By the end of 15 minutes, I was done, but I knew by then I would run another day. The next day, I would go for a run, but it had to start with tentative steps today.

I ran today.

Today, I smiled, as I turned the corner on a route that I've run on average twice a week, about 100 times the past year. The smile, I'm trying to recall, was an involuntary act, brought in by some memory, a recollection or a feeling of joy. The smile wasn't to another person, the disarming one you'd flash across the room. The smile, while outward showing, was in the dark, only the lights of the passing cars or the closing storefronts would illuminate the goofy grin. It came in mid stride, as my body was trying to process all the commands I'd been giving it -- go forward, turn left, hop the curve, sidestep right. Maybe the smile was in how fluid it felt. Maybe the smile was a self satisfied one, knowing that for once in this day I was in full control of my faculties -- my spirit, my mind, my body. Running does that to you. So today, I went to capture that feeling. Today I went for a run.

I ran today.

Today, I felt foolish, in the way kids with big hearts do. I had notions, borne out of stupid thoughts as I was walking to work. This morning, I decided I wanted to run a marathon, and that thought brewed in my head all day -- it didn't make sense to do it. I thought of all the other things I could be doing on this day, my birthday, and went to the local rec store to buy a running backpack and a few gels. I charged my phone and on a work break, I plotted a route. Today, I finished my run in the dark, 42.2 km from work, at the elementary school track where I first learned to run. Today was the best marathon I've done. A week later, I would enter a trail in Portland and run another marathon. On both days, I tended to my soul. Only a run in utter foolishness would do.

I ran today.

Today, I fit my run in. I had the longest of days ahead of me, plans at night. I had gone out the night before, but when the alarm went off at 5 a.m. I popped out of bed. A few minutes later, I texted a friend who was already up and within an hour we were out running, catching up on our run, catching up on life. I had places to be, breakfast to make, emails to return and a to-do list that scrolls on for pages, all of those things that were churning in my head while we witnessed a gorgeous sunrise that only greeted early eastbound commuters and the two of us. I parted ways with my friend and hours later we traded a text to say running was the best idea. We were glad we ran today.

I ran today.

Today, I ran with a group for the first time in a long time. I started an awkward conversation with a few runners, asking about PBs, number of marathons, what the next race on the calendar was. The runners sped up all of a sudden and we were going near tempo pace. In the coming weeks and months, I'd find a coach and teammates, people who I'd cheer on as friends, and runners who I would spend countless hours running and talking about running and life. I found a kinship that was special, I found it on the run.

I ran today.

Today, I raced, as I hammered home the final stretch of my marathon. I cashed in all the fitness, the hard workouts, the long runs in the polar vortexed winter. I pushed myself right to the edge of discomfort and when uncomfortable became painful, I remembered all the days and miles and stretches and put aside pain. I embraced what racing truly is -- seeking your best, pushing your limits, expressing your fitness. I braced for, then embraced all the emotions, including the zen and anxiousness of the start and the slow satisfied shuffle after crossing the finish. I know the time I finished with but am remembering more the feeling of a job well done and being proud of so many of my teammates who had done the same. The next day was a struggle to even think of the paces I'd done today, but when tomorrow became today, I ran that day as well.

I ran today.

Today, I ate like a runner, blitzing my 'morning salad' smoothie while my coffee maker oozed out a pre-measured amount of caffine. I'd snack all day on nuts, fruits and -- safe to say -- I had a voracious hunger. My lunch had to be consumed by 11:30 am or I'd become super grumpy. Later, at home, I'd hunt for as many veggies and protein I could stuff into me. I'm no longer a slave to carbs but they had to be consumed because, hey, I'm a runner, and I ran today.

I ran today.

Today, I ran in shorts and a T-shirt. Yesterday was a different day. I was sick and slogged through a short run. Today, I was coughing up a lung but my legs were ready to go faster. The winter was ending and the days were getting slightly longer and I was glad to be running intervals in the daylight. Feeling the air against my skin that had been covered with layers through the past four months was like getting a preview of spring. Tomorrow, another snowstorm would wallop the city, but today, it hadn't and I was glad I had gone for a run.

I ran today.

Today, I ran in two continents. This morning, still fighting jet lag and pulling on my compression sleeves, I jogged up Primrose Hill in London, taking in the view of the city before I was to go back to the airport for my flight home. On the plane, I flipped the screen to show the flight path between Toronto and London and at some point, I saw it pass 3,500 km, the distance I'd run the year so far and was in awe of the distance. Later that day in Toronto, battling traffic, I was itching to move after being sedentary for so long. I put on my gear and went out for a second run.

I ran today.

Today, it hurt, I was gasping for oxygen and I wasn't sure I could keep up with my running mates. They were pushing and I thought I had nothing left. I counted down the last 10 seconds before the next pain session would begin and we hammered home the next kilometre. Turns out I was fine. Some four months before, we did the exact same workout, only we were going 15 seconds slower. We were now faster, and I was the better runner for it. After the workout, after our cooldown and goodbyes, I stood in my kitchen eating my dinner at 9 p.m., knowing I'd be out there again in eight hours for my morning recovery run, the only way I'd have it after running today.

I ran today.

Today, I cried and laughed, all in the same breath. I was running up a park path, about 3.5K in, and looked back and saw something beautiful. I tend to see beautiful things on my run that I never see on a walk. The sky was lit, the skyline was clear, and I could see, above it all, a mass of rooftops, skyscrapers and a tree-framed horizon. It was early enough on a weekend that I was one of the few people out here. While in awe of the landscape, and of how far I travelled to get that view, I laughed at the ridiculous beauty then started to sob, a joyful realization. I was getting emotional so I regrouped myself. I thought of that moment as I started running again, remembering how amazing that particular emotion is. Is it bliss? Was it a profound moment?  Whatever it is, I've only ever got it on the run. How can I recapture that beautiful feeling? Today, I found yet another one of those moments, when I went on a run.

I ran today.

And it wasn't until I started running every day that I put my finger on how time fades into the ordinary, sort of like when you're asked what you did last weekend on a Monday afternoon and you can't remember all the details. There are constant daily markers -- breakfast, a shower, a click of your front door as you head out to confront another day. In the three hundred and sixty five days that knit together a year, those markers become unified. You remember not necessarily moments -- like alarm clock going off -- but the idea that you get up every morning, that you step out the front door. Time doesn't freeze into moments as much as meld, memories blur to create a collective. The collective doesn't amount to much some times -- the collective memory doesn't create a narrative.

[Conventional run streakers would demand to know time (369 hours) and distance (4,377 km or 12 km a day average) but that doesn't make for much of a story I'd like to tell about the year I decided to run every day.]

I ran all of these days, and on each one of those days, I remember routes, sunsets, red lights, near misses, slow kilometres and fast splits. On those runs, I felt joy, defiance, strength, weakness, sometimes all in the same run. I had great conversations and debates with others or tended to my internal dialogue. I felt chilled, heated and sometimes regretted the gear I'd put on. I felt sad, happy or reflective. I felt blah, if that's a feeling, and I felt antsy. I felt stress building up, the ah-ha moment of solving a problem, or the relief of a week's pent-up energy expended with a long sprint. 

I felt alive on all those days. That's what I'm taking away from all of this -- that's the big lesson for me about all those days I've run.

Today, I ran, and I felt alive.

Today, I saw the sun briefly light up the sky in fiery reds and oranges.

Today, I breathed in the air, filled my lungs as my arms swung wide and my legs attempted to go farther, faster. I could feel a connection to my body.

Today, I felt the ice beneath my feet, the fresh layer of snow that I was able to be the first to tread on, seeing my breath burst into a cloud.

Today, I thought about nothing but the music. Today, I wanted to confront a feeling. Today, I thought about work, or the next story I want to tell. Today, I pondered the meaning of life. Today, I wanted to go faster. Today, I thought, "god damn it, I love to run."

Today, I was alive.

I ran today.

Welcome to those who arrived from DC Rainmaker and Flipboard, glad you took time to make it this far and read this. (Also, here I am on Twitter.) If you liked this, you may enjoy other posts I've written about running:


James K. said...

Obvious question. What will you write tomorrow? "I ran today" or "I didn't run today".

Patrick said...

Great post Kenny. Congrats on the streak.

Marlene said...

Such a wonderful post Kenny, one of my favourites. Makes me want to run!

Robin said...

Beautiful post Kenny, and what a year!

yumke said...

Thank you everyone. And James, I was going to mention what I'll be doing tomorrow, but we all like cliffhangers, right?

marie said...

I love all of this.

Marky Mark said...

An amazing streak-I am in awe! Will you now be able to tolerate a day when you don't run?

Emma said...

Beautiful post, Kenny! Congrats!

Andrea said...

Congrats Kenny. Both on your run streak and on this wonderful post.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the streak! If you run for another year you will have run all the way across Canada, 9,306 km. Better keep going.

Silly question but...what brand are those blue runners in the image at the beginning of the post? I really like the pattern.

Arcane said...

Congrat's Kenny! I see now why you didn't want to take a day off when you calf started aching. Here's to another year, maybe.

Wing said...

Love this heartfelt post!

yumke said...

Thanks again! And the shoes are New Balance 890s.

Saleem said...

Nicely written, Kenny. It is difficult to capture those moments, but you do an admirable job of evoking them. Keep going.