Running has never been my forte. That’s probably why I keep doing it—because I refuse not to be good at things. Sometimes it feels like a fight with my body; other times, it feels like we’ve made an amicable alliance. The self-love of it comes from being able to get my shoes tied and my legs moving, and from luxuriating in the afterglow of sweat, sore muscles, and a redeeming record of my efforts on my fitness tracker, but by no means does it feel like love every step of the way.
As a female on the larger side, I feel an unending urge to push past what people would expect of me. It’s easier to train to run 15 kilometres (as I attempted last Fall) or to ride your bike 600 km over six days than it is to lose 4.5 honey badgers. Goals of distance and increased fitness are not only more measurable and achievable for me; they’re more enjoyable. They signify self-care more than any other method I’ve tested to date.
This year I completed my third official 10K run with the Sporting Life 10K in Toronto. It is worth emphasizing that this is advertised as a “run” and not a “race” (you can even walk it if you’d like to sign up for the last corral). This is a run that’s predominantly downhill where you can expect personal bests, surrounded by people in your speed-category, in a low-pressure, no-competition environment (as most charity-organized events are). For a number of participants, this run/walk isn’t about physical endurance—it holds its significance specifically for its link to support a camp for children with cancer.
This run happens every year on Mother’s Day. Despite this regularity, the last three years have been met with drastically different temperatures—an unseasonable heat wave, blisteringly cold winds, and a chilly sun-mist-rain-repeat, respectively. Training early in the season in Canada is a challenge if you’re fragile when it comes to cold temperatures like myself (I recently slept in eight layers of shirts and three pairs of socks for a camping night that reached a low of 7 degrees Celsius). For me, running in the cold and rain in the eight weeks leading up to mid-May is always a nightmare. As such, I’ve been under-trained for this 10K for the last three years.
The first time I ran with a friend who was equally unprepared. There was comfort in our solidarity, particularly embarking on this scary long-distance challenge that neither of us had previously attempted. By some twist of fate, we managed to finish in less than an hour and a half (experienced runners might smirk at that speed, but for us, it was a feat!).
The last two years, I ran solo within a crowd of 20,000+ people. As an introvert, it felt oddly electric. I don’t like to run with music, so being surrounded by the march of feet and chatter of those who chose to run with friends was an ambient comfort. It was a quiet, mass solidarity.
Crossing the finish line, runners are met with a sociable welcome of volunteers of all ages holding finisher’s medals, electrolytes, bagels and bananas, and thousands of sunny faces of satisfaction of those who broke personal records, supported friends or family members, or were just happy to have completed the distance.
While I know that I don’t need an organized run to go outside and run 10 kilometres, it’s that push that I’m completing something for a reason bigger than myself that makes it possible. It also gives me a solid goal that I can pen on my calendar that I know I can’t erase.
Apart from being a benchmark that I can set for myself each year, it’s an atmosphere that’s difficult to replicate anywhere else. I don’t know where else I can find 20,000 people to run with that I can smile and nod to without requisite conversation.
Each year I’ve managed to chop about five minutes off my overall time (this year thanks to a run/walk training strategy), my legs a little more prepared and my feet less blistered, and I feel like I belong. I am one of those 20,000 sunny faces at the finish line, medal in one hand and bagel in the other. Next year, I hope to be five minutes faster.
Vanessa is an editor and communicator in the field of health and wellness. She enjoys travelling, cycling, and photography.