Sunday, May 25, 2008

Facing my demons


Today was a little different. It was my first run since the Blue Nose Half Marathon and my first run without my running club in months. I must say, I missed my running buddies; I prefer to run solo, but I enjoy the camaraderie of starting and finishing with the group and sharing a few stories over a post-run coffee.

I took advantage of my alone time to face one of my demons. I have my very own "Heartbreak Hill". It's about a two hundred foot climb, spread out over a third of a mile or so. I watched my father take it head on a couple of years ago, an awe-inspiring feat for sure. But for me, this hill has prematurely ended many a good run - I simply refer to it as be-atch.

I've actually had nightmares about this two minute ascent. There I was, leading the Boston Marathon with one mile to go (more of a delusion than a nightmare, I know). Course signage advised that a detour was in effect and guess where the detour brought me - right to the base of be-atch, the finish line was at the top. I woke in a cold sweat, it had beaten me again.

This short stretch of topography has actually caused me to forego running certain routes in our city in attempt to avoid her merciless attack on my psyche. I even know people in our Running Club that probably wouldn't show up for a Sunday run if they knew be-atch was part of the route.

Today would be different.

I set out for an easy three miler, planning to face my demons after mile two. It was a great morning for a run, it was a great morning to take back part of my city.

As I got closer to my rival, there was my buddy, the sun, shining down on me. I've drawn a lot of inspiration from my bright-eyed friend and I don't mind telling you that I talk to him on a regular basis during long Sunday runs - hey, whatever works, right? He winked at me, I winked back - I wasn't letting him down today.

I made the final left turn and started my climb. I caught myself taking a quick glance towards the top where I'm sure I could see the pearly gates, that's how far away it appeared to be. One foot in front of the other, that's all I had to do.

Half way up I took a quick look at my watch to gauge my pace, I was flying, in relative terms of course. Turns out mile three, which included the hill, was my fastest of the day. Once at the top, I managed a quick little fist pump and then went to work regaining the breath that be-atch had punched out of me. I finished with a slow jog to the finish line. I'm a hill machine.

Now I own you, be-atch.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Nan, The Beav, and The Little Engine That Could


Someday I’ll fly. Someday I’ll soar.

I love it when a plan comes together. Our Running Club’s recent trip to the Blue Nose Half Marathon in Halifax could be summed-up in a single word:


It was an emotional weekend, check that, it was an emotional week beginning with the ups and downs of wondering if we were even going to make it to Halifax. Pea soup-thick fog had grounded most flights for two straight days - we were set to leave on day three - we were worried. Plan B had been devised, but Plan B was not Plan A, and Plan A was what mattered most. In the end, someone or something was shining down on us and we arrived in Halifax right on schedule.

Rain on Saturday caused us to spend most of the afternoon walking through Halifax’s network of sky walks and “sky scrapers” - when you come from where we come from, any building over 6 storeys is considered a sky scraper. We picked up our race kits and headed back to the hotel to freshen-up before our team supper and one last team meeting to prepare for our first ever half marathon.

At our team meeting, we reflected on our training, had a few laughs, talked about Santa Claus, and dedicated our races to people who had left an impact on our lives - we weren’t going to let them down, we were ready.

We met in the lobby on race day, excited about the challenge ahead. Nothing looks better to me than club members in their race colours - they mean business in their blacks and their reds. Isn’t this great?

Just a few moments later, we were in place in the starting coral - just enough time for a last high-five before the gun fired. We were off and running. Just 13.1 miles more to go. Enjoy every foot strike.

It took me about a mile to bring my emotions in check. I spent the first ten minutes choking back tears thinking about my running buddies and how they had prepared for this moment. Every Sunday for the past seventeen weeks, we had pushed our bodies and our minds beyond our comfort zones. This was going to be a great day in all of our lives. If you train, you can do anything.

I arrived at the finish line and met Mary and Chris there - they had finished ahead, well ahead, of me, lighting up the race course in their usual style - and no, thank you, Mary. Also there were Rita and Tony who had just completed a 10-K and Janet who finished her first ever race, a 5-K.

I was happy my race was over; I had struggled for the last two and half miles so the finish line was like an ice cream at the end of desert hike. The thirty minutes that followed watching the rest of the team come home was the proudest moment of my life.

First came Dave. This was his best race ever. Nothing needed to be said.

Then came Heather and a few more tears. As I watched her approach the finish I recalled her struggles with injuries. This was her day. Heather’s love of this sport is so pure that she makes my runs that much better. Thank you Heather. I hugged her and told her that pain is temporary, pride is forever.

Next up were the “four amigos”, one of whom I am married to. Gloria’s running has come a long way - she finishes every run with a smile.

Debbie and Keith were right behind her, they clasped hands and finished together - that was nice to see, even for an unromantic like me. Debbie had been worried that she wasn’t prepared for the distance - her ear-to-ear grin told a different story on this day. They embraced each other, I embraced them.

Ray completed the quartet - our senior runner, the grandfather of the group. Getting Ray to stay within himself has been my biggest challenge to date. Back in January and February after watching him trying to run through countless injuries, I had told others that I didn’t think he would get to the start line.

He showed me.

Ray crossed the line and hugged me and I hugged him back, but we’ll never admit to that. “Ray Lawlor is going to shine today.” Told you so.

Then along came Valerie, Debbie G. and Joan, the little engine that could. Smiles and hugs all around. Joan was in tears, I soon followed her lead. Debbie limped in, determined to finish strong - she did, she’s one tough mother. Valerie finished in usual Valerie style - Paula would be so proud.

Here comes Terry - always smiling - I think it’s genetically programmed into her face. We’ve always respected each other as co-workers, now we love each other as friends. I thank you too, Terry.

Bev arrived in the finishing chute, eyes already tear-filled, this was going to be tough. She crossed and we hugged and we cried - I didn’t want to let go. You did it Beaver. Now go get your medal.

And finally, it was “Nan’s” turn to cross the line. Shirley always stays out behind us to make sure we all find our way home - she bats clean-up for the group. She never missed a step - she’s incredible. Within minutes of arriving and in her most eloquent tone, Shirley announced she would not be doing a full marathon any time soon.

I’m with you Nan.

Let’s savour this one for a while.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

My friend the half marathoner


As I sit here, a little over a week away from the start of the Blue Nose Half Marathon in Halifax, I am reflecting back over the past seventeen weeks of training and thinking how my Running Club buddies have wowed me, yet again. The focus and determination exhibited by each one of our Running Club members has been a great source of inspiration to me and to others who have watched their progress since training started in late January. The latest example of their unwavering focus came last week when, to a man (and a woman), they declined to participate in a local 5-K road race, opting instead to run 8 miles -- talk about taking the road less travelled.

As our trip to Halifax draws nearer, there is a quiet excitement starting to surface around our workplace as we all look forward to the memories in the making and sharing our first half marathon with each other - I for one can't imagine sharing the experience with anyone else. But for all the excitement, I have one running buddy, ah heck, a friend, who I'm a little worried about.

Joan and I have not always been friends, more like workplace acquaintances, but I think she would agree that running together has brought us closer to each other. My concerns with Joan have nothing to do with her ability to complete the half marathon distance - she has conquered every other distance, so this is just another Sunday for her. My fear is that her nervousness about the event is going to take away from what is surely to be a highlight for all of us -- when I ask her what she's nervous about, she says "it's just bla" and gestures as if she's about to vomit. Most runners have a restless night before the big day, but to lose sleep three weeks before the event is something different entirely. So Joan, I am offering a few final words of advice, a sort of last ditch effort to calm you down enough to enjoy a top-ten life moment in the making. A part of me thinks this is akin to offering a shovel full of sand to the desert, but I remain determined to make sure you enjoy this weekend, damn it.

First off, the race distance and your ability to reach the finish line is not open for discussion. You could complete this race in your sleep. I've seen you pull off some amazing runs over the past 16 weeks, this is just another Sunday with your running friends. Take it nice and easy from start to finish. If you're having a tough time at some point, take a walk break - no one will laugh and it won't affect the world running rankings in any way, and it probably won't jeopardize your chances at a gold, silver, or bronze medal. Those standing on the sidewalks will still clap as you pass them, inspired by your courage to start and your tenacity to finish.

Every time you feel a nervous moment coming on, remember you're not alone, we're all there with you. Take solace in the fact you have methodically prepared for this weekend - preparedness equals success. You'll get out of it what you put into it, and you've put in a hell of a lot.

You've run races before, this one is no different. Your racing resume includes 5-k, 8-k and 10 mile races. Soon you'll be adding a half marathon to the list and like I told you before, think about your friends and those you hang out with outside of our Club - how many of them can say they have participated in a half marathon? You're an inspiration to all of them, every time you lace up your running shoes.

Finally, Nova Scotia has some really antiquated Sunday shopping laws, so distractions will be kept to a minimum allowing you to light it up on race day. Leave your credit card in your hotel room, just in case.

My friend JM - the little engine that could.