It is amazing what our bodies can do. In my work, I see injuries recover and people become healthier versions of themselves on the daily. In my personal life, I am surrounded by runners and Crossfitters, and I see them push themselves to the limits. And yet, after 12 years in practice and a few decades in sport, I still marvel at the anatomy, the physiology, and the ability of our bodies to adapt, to habituate, to endure.
Let me tell you a story:
This story is about a girl who loves to run.
It’s the early 90’s, in the small town of Sundre, Alberta, and this girl is running the finishing stretch of her County’s cross-country meet. The meet is being held on her home course, on Sundre’s infamous Snake Hill, and the finishing stretch is along its most feared section, “The Scar.” The Scar is a punishing portion of trail that traverses the entire side of the hill, complete with a gruelling incline and a bird’s eye view of the finish line. This girl can hear the crowd below, this girl can feel the adrenaline surging, this girl’s happiness and fulfillment builds. She can’t articulate it yet, but she can feel it, and she knows she’s found what she loves.
This girl is me.
You see, my high school English teacher was also the cross-country coach, and she took me under her wing. I trained with a very small group of runners after school, usually just three or four of us running alongside Mrs. Leslie. We’d head to Snake Hill and we’d run hill repeats, kilometre loops, strides along the trails. We’d run in the cold Alberta snow and we’d run in the fading light of dusk. She taught me the power of my legs and my lungs, the welcomed full-body fatigue of a workout, and the sense of accomplishment of a race well run. It’s only now, as a teacher’s spouse, that I realize the commitment she had to us and the sacrifices she made to share her love of running. If there’s one person to point to in my running career, it’s her. She changed my world and burst open a decades-long love affair with a sport that has now become a part of my identity.
I went to the University of Calgary and became a member of the cross-country and track teams. I was a red-shirt Dino, racing only occasionally, often choosing parties and late nights over the early-morning miles on my training schedule. My lack of commitment was never more obvious than when I called my Dad in panicked tears, only minutes ahead of my 1000m heat at the University of Alberta’s iconic Butterdome. “What if I’m last?” I cried, “I’ll be so humiliated.” In fact, I was last. But I learned a hard lesson that day: you can’t fake hard work. There are no shortcuts in running, no cheats, no cutting corners, no easy results.
Then came marathons, and Boston, my coveted finisher’s gold medal at the Around the Bay 30K in 2004, and my third-place finish at the inaugural Mississauga half-marathon. I was in my twenties, running 100km weeks and going to school, planning my life around my runs, instead of the opposite. Real-life responsibilities hadn’t quite begun, and I was content to run unceremoniously in a pre-Garmin, pre-Strava, pre-Social Media world.
Running has shifted to more of a background role in my life over the last decade, as I’ve had my children and consistently chosen the convenience and efficiency of CrossFit workouts. But over the past couple of years, as my kids have grown, so too have my freedom and flexibility, and my mileage has begun to increase once again. I’ve joined a new running club, and for the past three months I’ve been training hard with them, aiming for some Spring races that I haven’t thought about in years. I’ve been noticing big changes in my fitness lately and having some breakthrough workouts, and that’s what has prompted this post. It’s the Butterdome lesson again: you can’t fake hard work.
The 5:30am hill repeats, that 4:45am wake-ups, the -20ºC long runs; it’s all coming together. It is amazing what our bodies can do.
But you can’t fake hard work.
The University of Alberta’s Butterdome track.