High on Accomplishment

Two days ago, I ran in Burlington’s Chilly Half Marathon.  This was the 20th anniversary for the event, and I’m guessing that I’ve participated in six or seven of those twenty.  The Chilly Half is a staple in my life.  There have been years when I was fit and fast, years when I struggled just to finish, and years when I ran with friends for fun.  Sunday seemed to be a combination of all of the above.

Approaching this race, my mindset was different than ever before.  This time I was running for only me, ignoring the self-imposed pressures of race times and previous bests.  My dear friend Michaela was set to be at my side, but unfortunately got sick the day before and couldn’t make it.  So I ventured to the start line solo, took a picture to offset some nervous starting corral energy, and off I went with the pack.

I started much faster than I’d planned, getting caught up in race-day adrenaline and swept along with the thousands of footsteps around me.  Perhaps it was my imagination, but I heard panic in the voice from my running app as it announced my pace per kilometre.  In hindsight, that panic was likely my internal dialogue, as I knew I could not hold onto the speed I’d started with.  I have lots of racing experience and have probably completed upwards of thirty or forty half marathons; going out too fast is not an error I make often, but one that I know the full ramifications of.  And sure enough, I paid for it: my right foot went sporadically numb, my chronic hamstring injury reared its ugly head, and my obliques were screaming from those awful toes-to-bar in my CrossFit Open workout two days prior. Kilometres six through nineteen were a blur of self-talk…..

“Breathe in.  Breathe out.”  “Keep going.”  “Hold this pace.”  I read signs and repeated them in my head to the cadence of my footfalls:  “App-le-by Line.  App-le-by Line.  App-le-by Line.”  I did the math over and over: “If I slow two seconds per kilometre for eight kilometres and then pick it back up for the last two, what will be my finish time?”  “Just get to the turnaround.”  “Just get to the next kilometre.”  “You can do it.”

But this post isn’t meant to be a race report.  To write a race report, you must race, and that’s not how I approached Sunday; I was over-scheduled, under-trained, and certainly not prepared.  Instead, this post meant to tell you what happened after the race.  I finished in 1:42.  My personal best is 1:23 (in 2004).  This means I ran nearly one minute per kilometre SLOWER than what I used to run.  And yet, it’s hard for me to remember a running moment I’ve been prouder of than I was on Sunday.

You see, this was waiting for me:

My kids.  My friend’s kids.  The medal, the music, the energy, and they were caught up in it all.  My children have been to dozens of finish lines to cheer me on, but this one seemed different.  Their excitement and pride shone through their smiles, bigger than ever before, and I could physically see the impression I’d made on them.

The truth is, I talked myself through that entire 21.1km.  I finished through sheer will and stubbornness.  And that’s why I keep running, keep racing, keep coming back for more: the runner’s high.  And really, the runner’s high is just fancy lingo for a sense of accomplishment.

On Sunday, my children got that runner’s high too.  So all my struggle was worth it.


I Can’t Think of a Better Reason

I’ve been running a bit more lately, as I’ve registered for two half marathons this Spring.  My first race is on Sunday, March 6th- it’s the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington, and it’s got a start line that I can now walk to, since my family’s move this past Fall.  I registered myself based largely on that fact alone; a pedestrian life makes me happy.  My second race is at the end of May- another half marathon, this time a women’s-only in Toronto, that I’ve entered with two dear friends.

But as the date of my first race draws closer and my confidence starts to dip, as it always does before a race, I am shifting my approach and calling it a training run instead of a race.  I’ve been less than perfect with my long runs, and since I’m only running once/week, that’s an important piece that’s been neglected.  I have been consistently going to the gym four times per week, and throwing in some hot yoga for good measure, but the actual running mileage on my legs is very low.  When I was in my prime long-distance-running years, I was logging 100km+ each and every week.  I ran for the University of Calgary’s cross-country and track & field teams, and following that, running helped me to channel my energy through the intense demands of my Chiropractic degree.  I got on some podiums, set some personal bests, and even won some money.  I ran against the clock, against my strive for perfection, against my constant drive to be faster and better and better and better.

I still approach most things in life like this, and I’m nothing if not self-motivated.  But now I’ve learned to control it.  And the deep, dark truth is that running, or more accurately, racing, doesn’t always bring out the best of my psyche.  There’s a fine line where my self-imposed pressure can become unhealthy, and black-and-white race times have the ability to play with my head.

I had my first child in 2009 and ran a 10-mile race ten weeks post-partum.  In hindsight, this was a terrible decision, as my body was completely unprepared for that intense energy demand.  But I needed to get back out there, I needed to feel like me again, and a big part of me is running.  And from this race, I gained a positive despite the physical negative; that 10-miler changed how I saw myself.  It showed me that running can be a subtitle in the story of my life, rather than the headline.

Throughout the past seven years, the expectations I’ve placed on myself and my running has exceedingly changed.  I’m realizing that people don’t care about my race times.  People don’t care if I win my age group or run a four-minute kilometre or (gasp!) have to slow down.  People don’t care that my half marathon will be more than twenty minutes slower than my personal best and that it will likely take me three full days to recover.

And the most important person that doesn’t care about this stuff anymore is me.

I run to focus, I run to de-stress, I run to think.  I run because I LOVE TO RUN.

I can’t think of a better reason.


This is my run from two days ago.  It’s probably ten minutes slower than it would’ve been in years past, and I’m okay with that!


21.1 Kms of Friendship

This is a story of friendship:

Lakeshore Road in Burlington, Ontario.  A cold Sunday morning in March, 10:05am.

A and M are two 30-something females who have been friends for a decade through Chiropractic College, weddings, babies, businesses, tears, and laughter.  This is their first Half Marathon together in 9 years.  With 1:23 and 1:20 Personal Bests under their belts in 2004, the two friends are aiming for a 1:45 today.  However, their unspoken competitive natures are evident in their quiet demeanors and anxious pre-race preparations.


Starting Line (Brant/Caroline Streets)
A: Here we go!
M: Woohoo!

KM 1
A: So we’ll head out on this stretch for a 5km out-and-back, and then we run East all the way to the turnaround at Burloak.  (Nervously) So we’ll be able to see a long ways ahead of us once we’re on that straightaway.
M: Okay, thanks for the heads-up. (Checks watch)

KM 2-8
A and M talk about their day-to-day lives, family vacations, and what their kids eat for breakfast.

KM 9
A: (Pulls out energy gel) Okay, so this is Walker’s Line.  Then it’s Appleby Line, then Burloak.  That’s the turnaround.
M: Okay. (Checks watch)

KM 10
A: (Excitedly) I see a police car up ahead with its flashers on, that must be the turnaround already!
M: No, I think that’s just the leaders coming back onto the homestretch.
A: (DefeatedOh. (A is starting to play mind games with herself, worrying that they’ve gone out too fast.)

KM 11-12
A and M excitedly cheer on the leaders coming back West along Lakeshore Road.

KM 13 (Turnaround at Burloak Drive)
M: (Checks watch) Okay, now I don’t want to get you too excited, but if we keep up this pace, we’re going to break 1:40!
A: (Huge smile) I’m going to apologize for my bad mood now.  Let’s do it!

KM 14-17
(M tells various stories about other races and reminisces about her and A’s racing history.  A is silent, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other.)
A: M, please go on ahead.  You look strong.  I’ll meet you at the finish line.  Go ahead.  I don’t mind.  Go kick some butt.  I’m hurting.
M: You’re doing great! (Checks watch)

KM 18 (Church volunteers at water station.)
Volunteer: Oranges and bananas!  Oranges and bananas!
(A finds that this phrase matches the cadence of her stride.  She continues to repeat a silent mantra- oranges and bananas, oranges and bananas, oranges and bananas).  M continues to stay beside her, half a stride ahead.
M: Let’s use this downhill (Accelerates).

KM 19
M: Two kilometres to go.  C’mon. (Checks watch)
A: Ten minutes.  Less than ten minutes.  I can do that.
M:  Yep, less than a WOD at Crossfit.  Let’s go.

KM 20 (Fans line the streets, holding signs and ringing cowbells. A and M can hear the music from the approaching Finish Line.)
M: (Checks watch)  Okay, now it’s time to think of your sweet little Drew and Casey meeting you at the finish line.  Picture their faces.  Let’s chase 1:40!
A: (Holding back tears, overwhelmed with emotion and exhaustion.) Okay.

KM 21 (Heading North on Brant Street, the Finish Line is in sight.)
M: There they are!  (Points to A and M’s husbands and children cheering and waving at them)  Look at that clock! (M’s watch reads 1:38)
A: Almost there! Go!

KM 21.1 (Inside the finishing chute; A and M step across the timing mat and embrace.  Tears of joy run down A’s face.)
Thank you so much for sticking with me and pulling me through when I was clearly dying.  I could not have done that without you.
We were in it together, every step, because I wouldn’t have even made it to the Start Line without you.  I’m so proud of us!

~The End


Basking in the post-race euphoria!