Thursday, July 31, 2008



A few days ago, our Running Club got together for our once-a-year "Gala" to hand out a few awards to those runners who left extra special impressions on us over the past twelve months of training and racing. I had the privilege, as President of the club, of choosing the recipient of the "President's Award", no easy decision by any means. When it came time to announce the winner on awards night, I declined to read the words that I had written about the winner, opting instead to read aloud a heart-felt email that had been forwarded to me by her sister a few days prior. So let me take this time to talk about this year's recipient of the "President's Award".

First off, we'll refer to the winner simply as "Hop-along", so as not to identify or embarrass her, she's much too modest to pat herself on the back and even more so to let someone else do the patting. From the first day that our Running Club started, "Hop-along" stood out from the group. While the rest of us looked like newbies, a little awkward and apprehensive, she looked like a runner, her form so simple and sweet, she made it look so easy. And as the weeks went by, I came to realize that "Hop-along" loved running, even as much or more than I do - she connects with every foot-strike, she savours every stride.

But for "Hop-along", it's been a tough year battling sore knees and a pain-in-the-butt piriformis muscle. We've joked from time-to-time that we're sharing the same injuries, the same struggles, but watching "Hop-along" deal with her setbacks, I came to realize that she simply gets it, while most others don't. I told her a couple of weeks ago that I hope the rest of the group learns a lesson from her and from her approach to running over the past several months. She's smart. She knows when she's hurting and when to pull back - she sees the bigger picture and foregoes short-term gains in favour of a long-term running career - her ego never leads her in the wrong direction. And as frustrating as it has been for "Hop-along" at certain times, you'd never know it unless you sat down with her and asked the right questions, that's just the way she is - she'd rather hear about your successes than talk about her own struggles. She'd rather encourage her teammates than explain her own pain.

But for all her struggles, it was still quite a year of accomplishments, sore butt and all. Just within the last few months, "Hop-along" completed her first half marathon, an 8-K, and most recently her second go at a local 10-miler, and while she may have been a few minutes slower than last year, I couldn't help but notice a smile on her face as she crossed the finish line - a smile as big as her heart, as energetic as her spirit.

So it is with great pride and privilege, that I award this year's "President's Award" to a wonderful human being and a pretty darn good runner. I promise you brighter days and memorable runs are in your future.

Congratulations to someone as sweet as Suga'.

Congratulations to Heather.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The sights and sounds of the season


Hard to believe, but here I am, just a few days away from my favourite running event of the year. Adding to the excitement is the imminent arrival of family members coming from different parts of the country to participate in the race and spread some "Christmas cheer", complete with a turkey dinner and all the trimmings. We've figured-out that the latter weeks of July are more like a family Christmas get-together than, well, a December Christmas get-together, without the carols, of course. We simply refer to the next couple of weeks as “Christmas”, we're quite creative, I know.

The July race always seems to mark the end of another running season partly because of the "post-Christmas" blahs that set in when the race is over and everyone has gone home, and partly because the remainder of the year is usually spent running 5's and 10-k's right through to New Year's Eve. This year's a little different what with a half marathon on the docket for October, but aside from that, I’ve been looking back at the year that was since I last ran my favourite July race.

This season didn’t start off so well. In August of last year a rather rude introduction to a piriformis muscle and its refusal to play nice with a sciatic nerve knocked me out of running commission for three months and had me questioning my ability to return to running at all. But I squeezed some lemonade out of that lemon and took advantage of the downtime to set some weight-loss goals, map out a plan for the months that were ahead and look at my running in an entirely different way. Running was no longer an adversary, it became a best friend. From that point up until today, my running has never been stronger. Sure, being lighter has helped but I credit this eight-month surge on a different way of thinking that has helped to strengthen my mind allowing me to challenge my running fears head-on. Consider it training for the brain.

Running for me is no longer about foot-strikes, shortness of breath and profuse sweating, although all three still seem to follow me wherever I run. Rather running has become a moment of pure enjoyment from start to finish, whether a twenty minute jaunt or a two-hour journey. I’m guessing that most runners never reach this state - I can think of just a couple of others I know who have, I can think of many others who have not. The lesson I've learned over the last little while is this:

As in life, when it comes to running, we can control just about every situation based simply on the way we choose to approach it.

If you fear a hill, it will eat you up.
If you loathe the heat, it will melt you.
If you cringe at the distance, it will get longer.
If you set unrealistic goals, you will fail.

So change your approach. Clear your mind, put one foot in front of the other and enjoy every foot-strike; that's running in its purest form and your ability to do so is the gift you've been given.

Merry Christmas. Now pass the salt meat.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Brown's Store


[first published September 2006]

There's something about running on Sunday mornings. Lately, I've been a little sluggish when first waking up, so when I thought I heard rain bouncing off my bedroom window I was relieved to have an excuse not to go for a run; when I looked out however, it was like the streets were calling to me.

It was one of those mornings when the sun was just coming up over the hills in the east and what wind there was could barely cause the leaves on the trees to flutter. I could not miss a morning like this especially now that summer is drawing to a close and the morning temps are beginning to drop.

It was beautiful and warm and I could practically taste the air with every breath. My route took me to a part of town that I had not run before - an area where I used to live before moving to Ontario nearly 30 years ago. I couldn't help but think back to the visits we used to take to the convenience store I was passing on my route, still named 'Brown's Store'. I smiled at the simplicity of the street names in my old neighbourhood - Limerick Place, London Road and Dublin Road. It was a run to remember- forty-five minutes in total.

Looking back over the past few months, I have come to realize that me and running have reached a special place; one that has nothing to do with pace, personal bests, running shoes or tank tops. It has to do with all the intangibles that running has to offer, the emotional, sometimes spiritual side.

I've come to learn that me and running are best friends.