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Or “I’ve Been Here Before”

I recently came across this little gem which I wrote on paper in 2008, after I had an operation. Now five years later, I find myself in the exact same situation, having just come out of an unexpected surgery which will lay me flat for a few months. I find the message here very motivating. If I was able to summon up the courage to set the goal of a 50 miler back then, surely I can do it again. Enjoy!

“You will require eight weeks off to recover from this surgery,” my doctor told me. “Eight weeks with no work, no lifting and no exertion.” It felt as if a heavy fog had rolled into the examination room while I tried to absorb this latest piece of information. It was surprising enough that I was a candidate for surgery, but unbelievable that I would be out of commission for such a long time. This was going to impact every aspect of my life.

“You understand that this means no running either,” she added emphatically, giving me a knowing smile.

On all accounts, I am a healthy person, living a healthy lifestyle. I eat my greens, recycle as much as possible and run just enough to allow me to truthfully call myself a runner. Cutting running out of my regime was not going to kill me but I knew I would miss it. Although I regularly met up with friends early on weekend morning to run in the rain and frost, my purpose was to socialize, always looking forward to warming up with the apres-run coffee.

It's the social life that keeps me truckin'.

It’s the social life that keeps me truckin’.

Luckily, my surgery was scheduled for the middle of November, just after the clocks fell back one hour. I often look at the end of daylight savings as the beginning of winter hibernation, so it was fitting to begin my recovery then. I followed doctors’ orders to the letter and did close to nothing for eight full weeks. As time went by, I was granted permission to go on short walks in the neighbourhood but, in all honesty, those walks wiped me out. I spent hours wondering if I would ever be back to normal again.

On the seventh of January, I had my last appointment with my surgeon. Officially, I was healed, fixed, recovered and was given my life back. It was thrill to simply go back to work. I even enjoyed shovelling snow day after day. There had been so many little things that had fallen to the wayside during my recovery.

But, what about running? I was so hesitant to begin training again. I know how hard it is to get past the one hour mark, after taking a break from running. I know that hill climbing is the first skill lost when not practised. I need a  concrete, attainable goal to help me get back into the groove. But I also want a challenge to work towards that will take me far beyond the level of fitness I had before.

My sights are set on the STORMY 50 mile ultramarathon in Squamish, BC. A fifty miler is a substantial goal and I will have to work hard to achieve it. I have run on those fabulous mountain bike trails many times and I know that their beauty will offer needed distraction during some of the gruelling times. I am keen on supporting a local race and racing alongside some of my training buddies. I also know that the race director puts her heart and soul into making this run a destination event.

In my preparation for the fifty miler, I plan on working up to the Scorched Sole 50 km race in Kelowna, BC. Again, this grassroots race is put on by a dedicated team of acclaimed runners who know exactly what racers need to succeed. I look forward to the help and motivation they will provide at the 25 km mark as they send you off for another loop of Okanagan Mountain Park.

I am looking forward to spending a lot of time on my feet and literally running away from my surgery.

I have run away from surgery before. I can do it again.

I have run away from surgery before. I can do it again.

Addendum: In 2009, I built myself back into fitness and achieved both goals. I completed the Scorched Sole 50 km in 5 hr 30 min. I went on to set a PR of 10 hr 4 min at STORMY 50 miler later that summer.

STORMY - 200m to go.  It ain't gonna be pretty.

It ain’t gonna be pretty

But it will feel good when it's over!

But it will feel good when it’s over!

Imagine 100 people signing up to participate in a 10-week Learn to Run Clinic during the coldest, wettest months of a coastal Canadian town. Many were absolute beginners, who had decided that this was the year to make a change. Many others were the repeatedly injured who chose to finally take advice from experienced volunteers. Some others sign up annually, as a New Year’s resolution to try to get fit again, in hopes of squeezing into that bikini for spring break. Some (like me) just wanted company and extrinsic motivation.

Then imagine 64 of those participants toeing the start line 10 weeks later. And then stand back and be amazed that 63 of them finished the 5km race! A great day, indeed.

For me, the goal was to pace myself right from the start. I always start off too quickly, even when I run by myself, and the reason is that I am usually cold. So today, I had a nice long, slow warm-up run in my sweats and gloves and made sure that I was starting to sweat before the start. I peeled off the layers and headed to the start line. It made all the difference! Can you believe it? I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks!

The course was a straight-forward out-n-back, with a gentle incline all the way out and a slight headwind all the way home. Once I found my own space, I stayed focused on going gently and trying not to get caught up in anything else. As we came to the 2km mark, the incline increased and I started to think a lot about my breakfast. (Did I eat too much? Too late?) I was keeping an eye on the turn-around cone, knowing that I would feel a lot better once I hit the sweet downhill.

I started to count the runners as they turned. 6? 6 runners ahead of me! Well, I’ll be dipped. And only one was a woman! Hee-hee! In the few 100 meters after the turn-around cone, I opened up a bit and managed to pass 2 more close-by runners. I could see that the others were too far ahead to catch so I just had to maintain what I had gained.

As I headed back into town, I had the lovely treat of seeing all the people I have met over the past 10 weeks. It felt like I was calling out names and encouragement to each runner. I saw the true learn-to-run participants who were actually running the whole distance. I watched the walk/runners who would dutifully begin running again when someone’s watch beeped. All their happy faces on a sunny Saturday morning made the second half fly by.

And, just like that, it was all over. I crossed the line in 23:30 – 5th overall and 2nd woman (not that anyone was actually keeping track of these things).

As I finished, they handed me a popsicle stick, a ‘participant’ ribbon and a tottery older gentleman. He offered me his arm and I happily obliged, as I was pretty wobbly for those first few steps! As soon as I was steady again, I headed back to watch the others finish. I was struck once again by the enormity of this run for some. Entire families were gathered at the finish with bouquets of flowers, videos filming the finish and children joining parents in the finish chute. Fabulous, indeed.

I think I’ll do it again next year!

Now I can truly say I am a member of the Comox Valley Road Runners and an official participant in the 5km Fun Run! I have the proof!

For 10 weeks now, on Saturday mornings, I have dutifully headed into town to learn to run. Each week, the clinic began with a speaker who shed light on some aspect of running – from stretching to injuries; from nutrition to clothing. After 30 minutes of listening, we participated in a group warm-up and then split off into our levelled groups. In my group, titled ‘racers’ (rather than walkers or walk/runners), each week’s run introduced us to a strategy to help us improve our racing technique. We ran fartleks, did track work-outs, ran hill repeats and ran at tempo. We did it all and we are now considered ready for the big race.

Tomorrow morning is the 5 km Graduation Run. I am trying to take it seriously but it feels a little silly to me. I ran 20 km without batting an eye last weekend and ran another 11 km this afternoon. So much for tapering! I even considered running to the race and from home afterwards (8 km each way) just to make the day worthwhile.

I guess I need an attitude adjustment. This is a BIG deal for some of the participants and I should be more respectful of that. When I think back – way back to 1995 – I remember my first 8 km race.

It was a Women’s Only 8 km run, held at Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver. With a downhill profile, it was a race with guaranteed success. I trained hard for it, on my own, and I pushed myself to my limit. I remember feeling so proud at the end. Bruce, who rode his bike to sections of the route, had miscalculated my finish time and missed me completely – mostly because I ran way faster than my ‘best case scenario’.

For me, tomorrow marks my graduation to a new social group of runners in the Comox Valley and my re-entry into road running. For so many others, tomorrow marks a change of lifestyle and an “I Can” attitude about setting and keeping goals. Best wishes to all of those who dared to get off the couch and give running a whirl!

I have one speed that I comfortably fall into when I go out for a run.  It’s a nice, easy, sight-seeing pace that allows me to run with minimal effort for hours and hours. I don’t believe in listening to tunes (although I have been known to sing out loud) so my pace is genuine – something that comes from within me, like my personal metronome.

But, as I have lamented of late, I am in a running rut and I have begun to take action to dig myself out.  As part of my Learn to Run 5km clinic, the group leaders have begun adding fartleks into our group runs.  Simply, we go out for a slow, casually-pace run and, on the call of the leader, we all put in a 30 to 45 second burst of speed and then resume the casual pace.  These bursts are not supposed to be your flat-out fastest sprint but merely a faster-than-tempo spurt. During our weekly runs, we have been doing 3 or 4 fartleks over our 45 minute run.

Did I mention that this Learn To Run clinic involves weekly homework?  Well, it does.  We are encouraged to complete 3 other runs each week and they should involve the same casual pace and fartleks.

Being a good little school girl, I headed out yesterday to run my favourite close-to-home trail loop and, for the first time, I added in 4 fartleks. What I learned is – it is hard to be honest and truthful about your running when you are on your own, on familiar trails.  I found that I was putting off the speed work because an incline was coming up. Instead, I would cheat and wait until the trail began its downward slope before I decided to pick up the pace.  Is this cheating? Or is this smart?  I never seem to know the difference.

The other aspect that I found easy to fudge was the timing.  I am a bit old-school, in that I don’t carry some techno device that will calculate my minutes per mile or my gps coordinates.  For pete’s sake, I don’t even where a watch!  So how long is 45 seconds, when you don’t carry a time-piece?  Somewhere during my first fartlek, I decided that four footfalls took a little more that 1 second, so I would count every fourth step until I reached 30.  I have NO IDEA if this was accurate.  Each fartlek could have been anywhere from 20 seconds to 3 minutes.  Who knows?

But, in all honesty, those little speed bursts kept me very aware of my pace throughout my run.  After each fartlek was done, I was gasping and almost staggering along, trying to keep out of the salal and huckleberries at the trail’s edge.  I consciously tried to run relaxed and slow right up until the urge to ramp up my pace came through me again.  And then I worked on my recovery, both in breathing and in pacing.  That has to count for something, right?

The Happy Wanderer

My Paths on Strava

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