Monday, May 23, 2011

Running Lessons: It's all about the journey

I did my long run on Saturday this week, rather than the usual Sunday, because I wanted to volunteer for the Bluenose Marathon yesterday. I'm glad I did - even though it meant running through some pretty miserable weather for the last hour or so.

Being out on the course yesterday cheering for the thousands of full and half marathoners was good for my soul and reminded me that long distance running (for mere mortals like me at least) is really all about the journey. On race day, things may go well or badly - but, when the months leading up to it have fed our souls and strengthened our bodies - then all the training is worth it. And I could see it in the faces of those running yesterday - the pain, the pride, the determination and the joyful exhilaration of being "a marathoner" - however awkward and slow.

The journey teaches us to motivate ourselves to do things we never thought we'd do - like run a half marathon in February or, as I did yesterday, choose a challenging hilly course for my last long training run before my next marathon.

I've gotten complacent about training on hills since I moved back to Halifax, so I confess there was more than a little hubris involved in that decision. I didn't think the rolling trails along the 36km route I planned to run would pose any particular challenge - but I was wrong. Though the elevations weren't extreme, the steep inclines at many points on the trail imposed stresses that, coupled with dehydration, cold, torrential rains and exhaustion, caused my legs to seize up and made the last 4-5kms painful and difficult.

Fortunately, until that point, it was a great run. My route took me out through Shubie Park, and along the Shubanacadie Canal to Lake William and the Waverley Road which I followed to the village of Waverly before doubling back. (The photo above is of one of the locks at the western end of the park.) Since most other runners were home resting in preparation for Bluenose and the weather was cold and grey enough to discourage casual visitors, I had the trails almost entirely to myself aside from a few dogs and their companions frolicking at the western edge of the park.

And, though the skies were grey and heavy, there was still lots of beauty on the trails yesterday. Soft green leaves just beginning to to unfurl looked almost fluorescent against the wet, dark tree bark, and around every turn there was another lovely view. In addition, there was the usual selection of squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and birds to keep me entertained and I got to run through  my favourite grove of old pine trees - which somehow survived Hurricane Juan though huge swaths of the park were decimated.

As I finished the run, I admit I was hobbling and wondering whether running a marathon next month was really a good idea after all. However, as I approached my apartment building, sun peaked through the clouds to illuminate the garden of lovely spring blossoms in the park across the road - refuelling my optimism and reminding me that, no matter how my race goes next month, it really is all about the journey - about getting outside, enjoying nature, and challenging myself to do things I never thought I'd do.

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