Silence (The Run Diary #12)

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This is part of a diary I’m keeping on this blog about long-distance running, which I’m calling The Run Diary. All pieces can be read here.

Silence in its most meaningful sense is not an absence of sound or distraction, but almost an immunity from it. People, sounds, objects, and even memories, are often harbingers of anxiety and temptation.

The ability to have such things in front of you, be aware of the mistakes they invite, yet somehow simply acknowledge them and continue moving forward without confrontation, is true silence. That silence is an inner strength that allows one to find an authentic peace and persistence.

When Steve Collins fought Chris Eubank, his eyes were closed and head tilted toward the canvas of the ring throughout the pageantry that typically commences a championship fight. He remained seated, the hood of his robe cloaked over his head, somewhat in the fashion of a Franciscan at vespers, while he and his opponent were introduced.

Eubank, as expected, showboated for the crowd, proudly and prominently displaying his adonis-like physique and flashing his cocksure stare all around the arena, gestures made to seem even more brazen by the fact that the crowd was clearly behind Collins. “Steve-O! Steve-O!” they chanted.

Collins remained seated, eyes closed, and head cast downward, not bothering to even acknowledge the cries of support let alone drink in those shouts of his name and strut for the crowd. The fight commentator pondered whether or not it was safe to be seated for that long before a fight.

Even as the chants of Steve-O continued, Collins is robotically proficient, remaining the more active fighter but refusing to remain in front of Eubank long enough for the Brit to counter meaningfully. Where the chants of the crowd and early successes of nailing Eubank, a previously undefeated and thought to be untouchable fighter, could easily invite recknlessness, Collins remains as attentive and steadfast in purpose as St. Antony in the desert.

Collins wins by fighting his fight. He wins by finding silence in all the distraction and temptation, remaining almost meditative in the midst of the violence in the ring. I would like to think that he was indeed deep in meditation, reminding himself of the plan that he brought to the ring and repeating it like a mantra. How brilliant it seemed to me that one could be so committed and immune from temptation. How genius that by making no rash moves, Collins executed a performance that was the stuff of legends.

***

I hadn’t run in Hamilton in over a year and wasn’t terribly excited to be back. I was there more out of the necessesity of getting my legs used to the notorious hills of the Around the Bay course. The group that gathered in the parking lot of LaSalle Park was large, an amalgam of Toronto and Hamilton runners.

I hadn’t seen the hills since the previous year and standing in that parking lot before we took off, they were really just memories. I remembered for a moment the last hill on North Shore Boulevard that leads on to Plains Road and just how overheated I was and how the gels I had taken for fuel were not settling right when I climbed that hill during the race in March of 2014. I remembered my legs feeling shackled during a training run the previous year and getting progressively slower the more I ran.

In the moments before we took off, I found myself silent, knowing that I was surrounded by other runners and would encounter many more along the route, all preparing themselves for the truly unique race that was Around the Bay, and that I might be tempted to keep up when I couldn’t. I knew that the hills were going to find themselves in front of me and that I could find myself daunted or tempted to attack them aggressively.

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My Own Private 30K (The Run Diary #6)

This is part of a diary I’m keeping on this blog about long-distance running, which I’m calling The Run Diary. All pieces can be read here. The group I run with is called Tribe Fitness and they are absolutely incredible. Check out their Facebook page.

My Around the Bay shoes.

1. You Got This

The night before the 2014 Around the Bay Road Race (ATB), which would be my first time running this race and covering a distance of thirty kilometres, I laced the timing chip to my shoe. Unlike other races, where your chip is attached to the bib that you pin to your shirt, ATB provides a chip through which you weave your laces. This requires that you unlace your shoes, place the chip flat on the throat of your shoe, and relace the shoe, running the laces through the chip.

I noticed that my shoes were worn down. Holes were visible in the fabric near the toe and around the sides. This wasn’t a major issue. The sole of both shoes remained firmly attached, but showed signs of wear and tear. Because I’m a writer, however, everything is a symbol of something and an invitation to reflection on something else.

I never counted the distance these shoes covered, but however many miles it’s been since I first laced them up, that distance includes navigating the Louvre and the halls of Versailles, roaming the grounds of Westminster Abbey, and climbing to the top of the Belfry in Bruges. They also included my first 10K race, my first half-marathon, and as of this writing, the 2014 ATB.

Truth be told, they had overstayed their welcome and would need to be replaced after ATB. I thought about how they survived training right through one of the harshest winters I’d known in my lifetime and figured that like a shopworn fighter, they would give me one more run.

I wove the chip into the right shoe and sent a picture to a friend to ask if I had done it right. I had an extreme case of apprehension that I would do it wrong and somehow my time wouldn’t register at the race. Then I would be considered as not having completed it after months of training and dragging my sorry ass up Valley Inn Hill. She said it was fine.

This type of anxiety is essentially part of my ritual before any event for which I’d long been awaiting. I contemplate all the things that might spoil the occasion. As we stood in the First Ontario Centre the next morning before making our way to the start line, I pondered trivialities out loud. Should I tuck my shirt in for the race? Am I wearing enough layers? Are these socks good? Do I have enough fuel? As if I could change any of these things at this point. With calm and compassion rather than the backhand slap that I probably deserved for all this neuroticism, my fellow runners all affirmed, “You’re fine. You got this. You’re going to do great.”

I suppose this anxiety can’t help but be present, but one thing that I’ve come to adore about running is that it vanishes immediately as I take off. As I run, imperfections never spoil the journey. A little cramping, soreness, or overheating are par for the course and I always find a way to continue. If I’m wearing a bit too much clothing, perhaps a hat or pair of gloves that becomes unnecessary, I tuck them into my fuel belt and continue. I never find this the least bit inconvenient. If I’m running, the desire to continue is so much more powerful than any minor imperfection. Discomfort is something I have learned to power through.

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Experience (The Run Diary #4)

This is part of a diary I’m keeping on this blog about long-distance running, which I’m calling The Run Diary. All pieces can be read here. The group I run with is called Tribe Fitness and they are absolutely incredible. Check out their Facebook page.

Fighting my way up the notorious Valley Inn Hill in Hamilton.

No run is created equally. No run, furthermore, is perfect. Every time your feet pound pavement, a wide array of variables, some within and some outside of your control, will leave you wishing something was different that day.

The amount of rest you had before the run, the adequacy of your warmup, your fuelling and hydration strategy, your mental state that day, and how strictly you’ve held to your regiment will all show up on any day. So too will the factors you cannot control, factors such as the weather, the conditions of the surface on which you’re running, and what you might encounter that day. There will never be a day on which all these variables are working perfectly in your favour.

We’re human and we will fall short when it comes to those things we can control. Some nights, sleep will elude us. We’ll give into temptation and throw our dietary requirements aside and this too hinders progress. This is to say nothing of those factors we cannot control.

Time is how most runners measure their success and every run will leave you feeling that you could have shaved a few minutes off your time. This feeling might just be what keeps so many runners chasing the perfect run.

Experience is an obvious factor in determining how well you’ll do on any given course. If you’ve run a trail several times, you know what to expect. Where it turns, where it inclines, even where you might step into a ditch or pothole.

When it comes to covering longer and longer distances, experience obviously matters once again. The longer you have been covering that distance, the more comfortable you will be. You’ll avoid the amateur mistake of starting too fast. You’ll understand how vital hydration and fuelling are throughout your run and that you cannot survive long distances on a few sips of water.

Before you can understand and adopt better strategies, however, you have to endure making every mistake imaginable and looking like a fool. Your body has to suffer the the pain of surviving ordeals it has not previously experienced. First, you have to lament your lack of experience.

***

Seven of us gathered at Canoe Landing Park on a Saturday morning. We would be carpooling to Hamilton to simulate the Around the Bay 30K, which was three weeks away. A few others would meet us in Hamilton, where hundreds of other runners would be doing their own trial runs. Two members of our team who were not running that day would drive the course as we ran and park at designated pit stops where we would pull aside for water, energy gels, orange slices, granola bars, etc.

The purpose of this run was not necessarily to complete it in the best time possible, but to become familiar with the course and get comfortable with the distance. It would be the longest some of us had ever run, myself included.
Understanding this course is especially crucial because Around the Bay is notorious for its hills. Knowing where along the course they lay is key for pacing yourself.

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