Tag Archives: running

sunrise

The Things I Notice When I’m Running

Lately I’ve been running to early morning boot camp. It’s not far. Maybe a 10 minute run each way, depending on if I take the 90-second shortcut through the woods (8 minutes) or stick to the sidewalk (11 minutes). This, in turn, depends on the extent to which I hear people discussing the potential for cougars in our neighbourhood. One morning I came across a deer in the dark December woods.  I didn’t actually see it in the tight glow of my headlamp. But I heard the rustle and gallop close behind me. I hope I didn’t wake the neighbours with my instinctive perilous shriek.

In the 16 to 22 minutes of running I really notice things. It’s like the first inhale of cool morning air snaps my senses awake.

Head barely out the door, I listen and look for rain. Most times there is none, though its night visits leave tell-tale signs. The wet stairs. Dripping in the eaves-trough.

Then I listen for bushes rustling. One morning I opened the door at 5:50 to find two deer immediately on the door step nibbling our bushes. Once again, scared the sh*t out of me. They are everywhere.

Heading down our long driveway, it’s the stars. I glance up at them twinkling overhead, unfettered by any urban glow. They always seem bright and close. Like really close.

Then it’s leaves rustling in the wind. And on unusually windy mornings, if I’m lucky, I also hear the waves down on the Bay. Distant, vague crashing sounds of the ocean.

Into the second or third minute of the run, I notice the rhythmic beating of my heart and my exhales. Particularly on that dark road with no street lights where I can’t see much beyond the blackness. I keep my eyes locked on the single driveway light about 500 meters down the straight, dark road. It’s like a beacon, a lighthouse. I run down the middle of the road toward it. In the visual vacuum, I hear the tenor of my foot strike, the cadence of my breath, the swish of arms against my windbreaker. I hear myself through the dark.

Around the final bend, the well-lit intersection emerges. And the world opens up again. Just a minute to two to go. Asphalt glistening. The far off sounds of the main road.

Then on the way way home, it’s the brightening sky, now indigo behind the outline of the Douglas Firs. Just before I come down the hill, I stop to scan the horizon. These days, the peach glow of sunrise is coming up from behind the hills on the other side of the channel.  Birds chirping.  Sometimes the hoot of an owl. A barking dog. A car engine and a set of headlights.

And always, always…my own breath…regulating, slowing. The heat and damp of my skin. The tingling of work in my legs, as they walk me the last few minutes home.

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When Running Isn’t About Running

Recently, I went for a Saturday run while Isabelle was at her swimming lesson. With limited time, the plan was to run out and back from the pool along the city trails. I was making time for fitness on a busy Saturday morning; I felt organized and in control.

It was a cool and grey April morning. The pathways were busy. People were walking, running, pushing strollers. There were kids on colourful bikes, dinging their bells.

I’d been running about 20 minutes when I found myself on a narrow stretch of path that was bordered by tall, dense, green bush. It created a sense of containment and quiet. This stretch was empty except for two people running ahead of me.

At some point, I noticed the two runners ahead of me had stopped. They were standing in the middle of the path, facing each other.

At next glance, I saw they were hugging. Maybe a quick, friendly, goodbye hug before they went their separate ways. But they continued to stand – unmoving – in the middle of the trail, in a full embrace. It felt like something else.

I kept running toward them.

I could feel myself getting closer to their zone. I sensed I was getting closer to something deeply personal, not meant for any witness.  I instinctively slowed down. I wanted to create more time for them.

About 10 feet away from them, I noticed more detail. I could see his arms gently moving over her bright pink running jacket, over her lower back and shoulder blades.  She was on her tip-toes, her white cap lowered over her eyes and arms gripped around his neck. Each of their faces was buried in the other’s shoulder. Silent. Hanging on.

Eventually I jogged by them, squeezing myself as quietly and respectfully as possible around the edges of their moment.

As I passed, I stole one last glance. They were still embracing. Still silent. Still hanging on. I’m sorry. I love you. It’s over. Never let me go.

Once past them, I picked up my pace. The emotional density of the air was somehow cleared. It was back to trail, bushes, random thoughts…and distant sounds of the city.

But the moment I witnessed between those two runners created a moment for me.

They reminded me that life is bigger than the run. Or the work-out. Or the Project. Or our various acts of busy-ness. The big life moments pop up in unexpected places. When the energy and air pressure is just right, they arrive.  Sometimes we are stopped in our tracks.

And maybe, just maybe, the running…the movement of the body…helps create a little more space for certain moments. In the physical shake up of the body, things fall away. And other things settle in. Layers are removed, and insights pop and stir. Then one day, little cracks open up. And what you need – and perhaps didn’t know you needed – has just enough room to step in.

So keep running. Keep moving. Have your goals and competitions and lists, if that’s your thing. But sometimes, just run and let things shake out. And watch what happens.

See what moments and insights arrive.

Because when they do, our job is to recognize them. And stop.

To turn toward them.

Embrace them.

And hang on.

 

Upward, Toward the Light

I went out for a run last Saturday morning. It’s officially spring, but the air was hovering below zero. The sun, mercifully, was dazzling. The cold air caught my breath as I stepped onto my front porch and put on my shades.

I was going to run to GoodLife, do some weights, then run home. But I changed my mind. I needed to just run. Stay outdoors.  Don’t worry about destination, time, pace, heart rate. Run until it feels right.

So I started down my street. I found a good pace, as the creaks and twangs in my ankles and knees settled in and dissipated. I had no route in mind. I have been known to pre-plan even the simplest run. Like 12 minutes warm up, then 6 sets of stairs (resting for 2 minutes in between), then 12 minutes easy run home. This time, no. Just move the legs, girl. Open up your body and mind to the experience.

So I ran across the soccer fields, and up past the construction site. Then on from there. Mostly I ran towards the sunny patches.

At times I felt the cold of the air stinging my freshly-washed teeth. It felt better than mouthwash. As I ran across the school field, I fell into the direct path of a sunbeam. The sun glistened off the frost on the grass, like a carpet of glitter. Like what I glimpse on daughters’ cheeks and hands after they’ve been playing dress-up or doing crafts. Sparkles of indigo, gold, white.

From the school field, it was down the path, through the trees and into the shade. I cooled off quickly and picked up the pace. Get back to the light. So I rounded the corner and went up the wooden stairs behind the library. I kept going upwards. In absence of any other plan, this seemed like a good rule of thumb. Go upward, upward toward the light.

Makes sense for running. Makes sense for life.

At the top of the stairs, on the hillside ridge, it was breath-taking. The mountains were etched white on the blue morning sky. It was the perfect destination… for now.

Without knowing, I had brought myself to the right place.

I stood scanning the western horizon, catching my breath. Drinking it in.

I stayed until it felt right.

Then I turned for home.

 

This post was written as part of the GoodLife Fitness Blogger Ambassador Program, however all opinions expressed are my own,

First Run Back

I feel lucky that I rarely get injured.  For all my jumping around, the old body seems to be holding up ok.

Sure, there was the incident when I tried Cross Fit and ended up in the Emergency Room because I couldn’t move my left arm properly.  Turns out doing 4 x 15 reps of swinging ones feet up to a pull-up bar can cause a pinched nerve in your back which leaves ones arm all limp and non-functional.  Particularly when you don’t know what you’re doing and you act like a crazed monkey swinging around.

But that was a freak thing due to a freak activity.  Injuries from wear and tear of my regular running, biking, weight lifting, basement-jumping-around thankfully seem to have stayed at bay.

Until a few months ago.

In late November, my left knee began to bother me when descending stairs.  I didn’t think much of it.  But then, on a run a few days later, there was a twinge.  Then another one.  And then eventually there was shooting pain that drove me to a halt.  I walked home, thinking crap.

A trip to the Physiotherapist the next day confirmed an injury.  I’d love to tell you more about what the injury was, but my mind doesn’t work that way.  My mind doesn’t retain all the science/physiology stuff so well.  When the Physio explained it at the time, I nodded my head and it all made perfect sense.  Something to do with my quad muscles being too tight and pulling things in the wrong direction.  All I remember was the plan: ice on the knee, heat on the quad, no running or biking or squatting or lunging.  Lots of stretching.  For at last a week. Again, crap.

Turns out it was more like six weeks. I wanted to make sure I didn’t blow it.  So I swam.  I did lots of upper body workouts and glute isolation stuff.  I walked. I tortured myself on the foam roller.  I went for massages and physio.  Eventually I got the green light to squat and lunge, and then to spin.

Then it was time to run.

Yesterday morning I pulled on my running gear in the darkness of my sleeping house – my typical Saturday morning routine.  I laced my shoes, put on my i-Pod, and snuck out the front door.  I crunched down our snowy driveway.  I walked for a while down our icy street, breathing in the cold air.  Then, when the sidewalk cleared, I broke into a slow run.  A shuffle.  For the first few minutes, I listened to my knee.  Waiting.  Waiting.  I picked up a little speed.  My body shifted and creaked.  My lungs got to work.  And eventually I just went.  My legs took over.  I settled into the rythym of the run.

God bless Pinterest

Back on my doorstep an hour later – the grey light of morning creeping in – my body was alive and tingling.  As usual, my heart and mind thanked me the early blast of life and vigour.  Then I remembered my knee.  And it felt fine.

Man, it’s great to be back.

Not all who run in circles are lost

A few weeks ago on a mini-vacation with my husband in Arizona, I did some early morning running.

They say running is a great way to get a feel for a new place.  However, with my terrible sense of direction, I don’t do it often.  When I’m out-of-town for business I usually opt for the hotel gym (which means – with most of the places I’ve travelled for work in the last few years – a crappy old treadmill in a closet).      

But this was Arizona, and so for my morning workouts I ventured outside. 

I have run in worse places

I typically run out and back when in an unfamiliar neighbourhood.  They say this is smart.  It means, in theory, I can get myself back to my starting point no problem.  It minimizes the chances of ending up lost in a back alley face-to-face with a street gang.  And having to employ self-defensive Ninja moves.  Or break into a dance sequence from Thriller, which is likely to wow my potential assailants with a different kind of fear.

This particular Sunday in the outskirts of Phoenix, however, I employed an alternate strategy. I decided to run in a loop. 

This was a loop we had driven several times the day before going to and from my husband’s mountain bike race.  It started from the hotel.  It went out along the highway for a bit.  It then turned up a hill into a suburban area heading toward the nearby mountains.  At Saguaro Boulevard, a left turn would bring me back down the hill to the highway.  Its map image was firmly entrenched in my mind.  It felt like about an 8 km circle.  I figured I’d be back in about 45 minutes.   

Let me put it this way.  At 45 minutes into the run, I was not back. 

At 45 minutes, I was ready to be filling my coffee mug and loading the waffle-maker at the Comfort Inn breakfast bar.  However, I was not even at the second turn-off, which – according to the laser precision of my mental geographic planning – would bring me to the down-hill home stretch.  At 45 minutes, I was still chugging up hill.  I was wishing I’d eaten something before leaving the hotel.  I was starting to fantasize about water.          

I had two options.  I could turn around and run back.  A guaranteed 45 more minutes.  Or I could plug on, in hopes that Saguaro Boulevard was just around the next bend. 

I went for plug on.  This was not the greatest decision I’ve ever made. 

I was not technically lost.  I knew the turn was there.  I had just grossly misjudged the distance.  It was simply a much bigger circle than I figured. 

As I ran on, the agony chorus of my hip flexors kicked in.  I found my inner-monologue ranging between two camps.  The first camp was the one of “What was I thinking?  I can’t do this.”  The second camp…”Relax. You’ve got this.  Just run.” 

On I plugged.

Eventually the turn came.  As did the down-hill stretch.  I found my way back to the Comfort Inn on the highway and the blessed end of the loop.  There were no street gangs.  No attempts at smoke screening to assist an FBI-led search party.  I just kept running – thirsty, hungry and sore – for like an hour longer than I’d expected.     

There’s a lot of basic running lessons in this tale.  Always double-check your route.  Tell someone where you’re going.  Bring water.  Bring a cell phone.  Uh, run out and back when in an unfamiliar place.  

I think there’s some life lessons too.    Like sometimes you end up in tough situations that you weren’t anticipating.  Sometimes you’re on your own and you’ve gotta figure your own way home.  Sometimes it’s your fault you got yourself in a situation in the first place.  Sometimes the circle is plain-old bigger than you thought. 

And sometimes when you think you can’t, it turns out you can.  You just keep moving forward. Because you can’t just stop in the middle of nowhere and give up.  Because people are expecting you.  And because – perhaps most importantly – the breakfast bar closes at 9:00.

Stories from the Trail

Turns out the only bear I saw during the Sinister 7 last weekend was the stuffed one that the Parks guy put on the stage during the pre-race meeting. 

He also brought a stuffed cougar. 

If that was his way of getting us to pay attention to the serious risks of trail running in the Crowsnest Pass, it worked.   

Because I wasn't worried enough

I mean, a stuffed cougar?  I had to get as close as possible to compare our sizes and think through my cougar-tackling-eye-poking strategy, should it be required.

Another crappy Blackberry photo

I am happy to report it wasn’t.  And, despite my worries, these weren’t required either.

Required race gear. Seriously.

My run, in the end, was perfect.  Agony and torture, but perfect.  I ran that 32 kilometres up and down mountain trails.  Up, as it turned out, for the better part of the first hour.     

When I got to the first water station, legs on fire, I asked the volunteer what distance we were at.

“10 K!” he said cheerily.  “Only 22K to go!”  

Could. Not. Compute.

So I didn’t think about the full distance.  I thought mile by mile.  I thought until the next bend in the trail.  The next hill.  The next creek I had to run through. 

I focused on the few people who I seemed to be running with.  In a race of over 1,100 people,  I think I saw only about 20 on my leg.  There were only about two that I saw more than once.  There were two that I seemed to pass, and then be passed by, over and over.  The girl with the pink t-shirt.  And the little wiry dude with crazy long hair.  I can still see their backs just ahead of me on the trail. 

When I turned off the highway back onto the trails – somewhere after the three-hour mark – one of the race marshals yelled “only 3.5 K to go!”  

It seemed too good to be true.  My legs had turned to concrete about 5 km previously.  I was fighting off cramping in my left leg.  Each incline forced me to walk. 

But as I listened, I began to hear noises in the distance.  Noises of people and crowds.  Somewhere as the crow flies just through the trees, I realized, was a finish line.  That was a good moment. 

When I saw that finish line at the bottom of the last descent, it was glorious.  I found some energy to pick up my pace and run fast to the finish.  It was wasn’t exactly a Donovan Bailey sprint.  But I found some juice.  I finished in way under my anticipated time.  I’m still not sure how that happened. 

A little like Hussein Bolt, right?

Everyone on our team, and every team, has a story of the race.  

Like our team’s final runner, my husband’s young cousin.  He was running the last two legs.  He took a wrong turn in the forest of the middle of the night on the last leg of the race.  He ran up trails and through creeks for about 5 km before he realized he was off course.  But he turned around and ran back.  Then kept running.  And running.  And running. To the finish.  There’s nothing like an extra 10 K tagged onto your scheduled 26 K in the dead of night to test your character.  Lesser people would have sat down in the dark forest, pulled out their space blanket and started a-blowing on that whistle.   Not that kid.  

Then there was the guy who came last.  A solo runner.  Solo, as in he ran the whole 148 km himself.  He came across the line at 11:45 a.m. the next morning when everyone else was in the middle of lunch.  That’s almost 29 hours on the trail.  We all poured out of the arena to watch him finish.  The crowed roared.  The women wept.  And he – the final runner  – slowly walked that final stretch to the finish line.  Legs beaten and bandaged.  Leaning heavily on his poles.   Head bowed and lips quivering.  Nodding slowly to the thundering applause.  I wish I could hear that guy’s story.   

I wish I could hear them all.

winter run

The plan is to run this morning.  It’s Saturday.  I haven’t run much in the last while.  But an old friend is back in town, and it’s part of what we do together.  We run.  And talk.  And philosophize.  We clear our heads.  And things typically feel a lot better when we’re done, better on many levels. 

She arrives at my front door in a swirl of snow.  We both admit we had been tempted to cancel.  It’s minus eight out there and windy.  The sky is grey and low.  Running on a cold morning doesn’t seem so bad if the sun is shining and the sky blue.  No such luck today. 

We get bundled and laced, and step out on to my street.  Even layered, toqued, and mittened, the wind is cold and biting.  The blowing snow sticks to my eyelashes and forces me to squint.  The street is a treacherous mix of ice and dusted snow.  We shuffle down to where the clean sidewalk starts.  No excuse now.  We start our watches and break into a slow run.

We decide to do one 3-km loop and then reevaluate from there.  It’s too cold out to commit to more quite yet.  We turn the corner and start to head around the boulevard.  We’re out of the wind now.  Suddenly it doesn’t seem too bad. 

Within a few minutes my body starts to warm.  My exposed ear lobes are freezing.  I should have brought some kleenex.  My blood is pumping and my legs find a rhythm.  Sometimes you find a certain pace where you feel like you can run forever.  That comes quickly today. 

Our pace quickens.  We are talking and focused.  I don’t notice right away that we’ve picked up speed.   But when I do, I see that it feels fine.  My body needs this pace today.  It needs to work a little harder, to push a little more.  My lungs feel strong.  Up the hills they burn a little.  But not too bad.  Not too bad.

We finish the loop and decide on another.  The snow is still swirling and my cheeks are frozen, but we’re not done talking.  We settle in and continue on.

When we reach the end of my street again, we slow to a walk.  I am warm and damp.  My skin is pulsing and the cold pin-pricks on my face and through my running tights to my thighs.  I notice steam rising from my friend’s head.  I feel awake.  Wide awake.   

Back at my front door we say our good-byes.  My friends gets in her car and drives off into her day.  I step inside my front door to squeals of delight from my daughters.  The house is warm.  I smell coffee and maple syrup.

It was a good run.