Monday, August 4, 2008

Memoirs of a Running Fool

2012 miles since I decided to start running...

On Feb 11th 2007 I decided to run the ING Ottawa Half-Marathon. I figured since my (not so) better half at that time was off at school and being an “idle hands are the tool of the devil” kind of guy I needed an outlet for my free time. I just wasn’t sure how to handle time free of nagging and free of domestication. One day while talking to a friend I announced “I am going to run a half marathon”, there was a moment of silence as I am sure they needed time to compose their thoughts and prepare reasons why I shouldn’t do it. All she could say was “Are you sure?” and wished me luck. You see I used to feel that people who ran more than five miles a day had mental problems. Seriously, but as a full blooded hypocrite and flip-flopper I decided to join the craziness and start running.

It was a slow start, and I am sure the image of a big plodding jogger brought a smile to the morning commuters. Through all this something inside me began to change. Instead of wishing for death at the end of runs I began to look forward waking up to go running. Surprisingly, I stopped counting minutes and started counting miles. I became addicted to the runner's high and enjoyed the quiet mornings. I still love the constant challenges that running brings. Should I come to a training peak I cannot stay there. I must start each day at the bottom and climb to the top.It was during these runs that I was able to center myself and ask the difficult questions, like “Do I really want to work this job the rest of my life?” and “What does this all mean?” and any other existential dilemmas mankind kind had ever faced. My runs became like therapy with some issue or problem in my mind, and me working through it while running on side and country roads. I would usually come to some form of resolution at the end of the run.

To me there is nothing better than pushing yourself to your limits and to see how far you are willing to go. The only reason to set a goal or a limit is to push through it. For me, it started as a challenge to impress my friends and became a lifestyle for me. Like Descartes said “Conquer yourself rather than the world” and for me that is what running began to symbolize.

Needless to say on the day of the race I was terrified. No matter how many fartleks, hill repeats, tempo runs and long slow days I had put in, I did not feel prepared. But to quote the great marathoner Alberto Salazar “I had as many doubts as anyone else. Standing on the starting line, we're all cowards.” And that is how I felt, scared. What if I could not finish it? Before I could get too into my head, the horn went off and before I knew it, it was all over. There was no way to describe how I felt as I ran the last mile, 10,000 people on the sides cheering. It was almost a transcendent experience, if not for every muscle and joint in my body screaming bloody murder. And what they say is true; as I crossed the finish line I knew nothing would ever be the same.
I do not want to sound hokey, but once you push yourself farther than you ever would have realized you could, there is no stopping you. I was totally hooked. 3 more half marathons followed and 1500+ more miles.

I have to say that the best experience I have had as a runner is finishing and watching and cheering on the other runners as they sprint the last 100 meters and observe that look of elation mixed with complete and total pain. It is amazing to watch, and even better to share.

I stopped looking at myself as a jogger and started to look at myself as a runner. You do not have to be an elite athlete to feel like you have accomplished something special, and knowing that you are following in the footsteps of the elite runners only spurs you on more. If you were motivated enough to train for and participate in an organized running event, then you are a runner. Anyone willing to risk public failure in order to be a part of the running community--no matter what his or her pace per kilometre might be--is a runner. Period.

So for anyone wanting to take that first step, let me know. If I can do it, anyone can. And for everyone else, please don’t call it jogging, I am a runner. To quote John Bingham “I AM A RUNNER because I am willing to lay it all on the line. I know that every finish line has the potential to lift my spirits to new highs or devastate me, yet I line up anyway. I AM A RUNNER because I know that despite my best efforts, I will always want more from myself. I will always want to know my limits so that I can exceed them. I AM A RUNNER because I run. Not because I run fast. Not because I run far.”

Good luck to all in whatever races you decide to run.