Malindi Elmore, from my home town, smashed the Canadian women’s marathon record on Sunday, running a blistering 2:24:50. Canadian Running observed that it has been a spectacular year for Canadian women runners. Twenty records have fallen over the past thirteen months. In Houston, as Malindi was crushing the marathon, Natasha Wodak became the first Canadian woman to run the half marathon in under 70 minutes.
Fingers crossed, Malindi will run for Canada in Japan this summer, and I know the Kelowna running community will be glued to the live stream when she races. The success of our home-town superstar reflects the achievements of a larger group of amazing women runners of all ages and stages. Liz Borrett, age 80, ran the Boston and London marathons back to back last April, winning her age group at both races. Christy Lovig was the top Canadian woman at the New York marathon in November. Diane Leonard, age-group winner of the 2017 Boston, was declared Grand Master of the Maui marathon the same day Malindi broke the tape in Houston. Kelowna is home to Cindy Rhodes, six-time winner of the Victoria marathon.
I have often speculated that there is something in the Okanagan water that makes for such greatness. But having run with the Kelowna Running Club for the past two years, I’m pretty sure it’s about the running community, a community that has fostered women’s running for decades, even when running—especially the marathon—was all about men. The loneliness of the long-distance runner is well documented, but in this place, everyone has your back, whether it’s Park Run or Boston that you want to race.
When I moved to Kelowna, my friends in Ontario warned me: “Those people out there, they’re not kidding.” And it’s true—they aren’t. They race to win. And racing to win is not for everyone. But the joy of racing, at any level, is the about the joy of testing your limits. And for me, testing limits and gaining confidence in the face of adversity (currently, the fresh hell that is the marathon), is part of the feminist work I undertake as a daily practice. The women of Kelowna push me forward when I want to step back. Of my half marathon performance in the fall, a running friend observed, “I thought you would do better.” When I say these words to myself, they are part of a language of self-criticism and defeat. When I hear them from a friend, they motivate me to reach the standard she has set for me. The same is true on a long run. When a Boston veteran tells me I had better pick it up for the last five kilometres of a 20 km run, you can be sure I get my ass in gear. I run harder because the women of Kelowna believe in me, even when I don’t believe in myself.
On Sunday, while Malindi was chasing her PB in Houston, I was running a half marathon in California, and Diane was running her full in Maui. I thought of my fellow Kelowna women as I ran, knowing that all three of us were suffering. As I reached mile ten, a woman came up on my shoulder. “Let’s pass these guys,” she said, nodding at the men in front of us. In that moment, I remembered what is distinctly feminist, for me, about racing. Women prove, by their efforts, that they have great strength, strength that often goes unrecognized and unrewarded in our culture. We prove that we are determined to overcome the barriers we encounter. We prove that we will get to the finish line, one way or another, with the help of our friends and allies. Approaching the end of my race in Pasadena, I saw a young woman in front of me struggling. “You’ve got this,” I said as I came up beside her, and she took off. I kept her in my sites as I ran for my PB. I was doing my thing, and she was doing hers. But we were doing it together.
I have some thin friends who say that they just watch it for a joke. They’re looking forward to new episodes. It’s so bad, it’s good they say. I’m not a “it’s so bad it’s good” kind of person.
I said, just stop. It’s not funny. It’s abusive. It doesn’t work. It hurts people. But also, it affects your attitudes towards fat people. Did you know that?
“A 2012 study published in the journal Obesity found that people who watched just one episode of the show exhibited higher levels of explicit bias against fat people. “Participants who had lower BMIs and were not trying to lose weight had significantly higher levels of dislike of overweight individuals following exposure to The Biggest Loser compared to similar participants in the control condition,”the researchers found. Just one hour of watching the show left thinner people with an even greater personal dislike of fat people.” From Jillian Michaels and the Alarming Legacy of the Biggest Loser.
What do you think? We know that my sense of humour about the treatment of large bodied people by the media is running low. You might have read my very very cranky review of Brittany Runs a Marathon.
You can’t miss the announcements: “The all-new Biggest Loser | Premieres January 28th.” But you don’t have to watch the show.
We’ve written about the show before. Lots. As you can guess we don’t much like it.
Day one of retirement was officially declared a “jammie” day. No alarm clock, a pot of tea, a good book, feet up, sitting in front of the fireplace. It was blissful and lasted almost ninety minutes.
And then that was enough for the dog who, delighted that there was another human home, insisted on a walk.
Somewhat reluctantly I changed out of my jammies.
It is so quiet and peaceful on this crisp winter’s day. No noise except the occasional passing car. Was this what it’s like, this retirement thing?
I returned home an hour later, fully intending to return to my perch. (My colorful, cozy jammies now replaced with walking gear, looking suspiciously like running gear), and then I had a vision: an empty pool, a lane to myself perhaps. Was that actually possible?
It was too irresistible, and so the perch by the fireplace was abandoned again. And there it was: my empty lane. Two kilometres of blissful, uninterrupted swim strokes.
Was this what retirement is like?
The choice to retire from teaching elementary school music was a tough one. I loved my job and was not particularly desperate to get out.
I had a fulfilling and vibrant career but, I was curious what life would be like on the other side.
Last fall, in a moment of “but what will I do when I retire?” I wondered what it would be like to be a gym rat, and so I approached my computer in search of half ironman races. These are called 70.3’s in the triathlon world. It seemed a good idea at the time, and it was a distance that my years as a triathlete had prepared me for.
I chose a date. May 31st, that worked for me. It would have been concert prep time, if I was not retired.
I chose a location. Connecticut, I could drive there.
Done! I signed up.
Oops. I missed a little bit of homework here. I found out later that this half ironman is called the Beast of the East.
As I write this blog, week one of retirement is almost over. It’s also my 59th birthday. I think about this “fitness” thing. For me, it’s always about the joy of seeing what my body is capable of. I do not have a point of view about speed, competition, losing weight, or much of anything else.
I love a challenge; my body loves to move endlessly, and the amazing thing is that I am fitter, faster and stronger than I have ever been.
I think I might be able to get used to the quiet, the recovery time and being able to head to the gym, my trainer or the road, at hours that do not involve the numbers 4, 5, or 6 attached to “a.m.”
I think I can get used to this thing called retirement. And who knows, hills may just become my new best friends.
Mary is a recently retired Elementary School Music Teacher, an Energetic Body Worker and a professional violinist. When not involved in any of the capacities mentioned above, she can often be spotted in water, on a bike, or running to prepare for her next triathlon.
Exercise was not a regular part of my life until my early 20s. Not because I did not like being active, it was simply not an opportunity or privilege afforded to the kids of middle income families in the 1990s Turkey. I was able to swim, however, in the summers, and I felt so at HOME in the Aegean waters. I discovered running as a young adult during my MA in a super cold city in Western Canada (Saskatoon!) thanks to my roommate K and continued to run on and off during my PhD in Toronto. Loved running around the Lake Ontario: was as close as I could get to the Aegean.
I never considered myself an athlete though, because (i) I wasn’t particularly fast nor ambitious enough to get faster, (ii) I mostly ran solo, so was not part of a “team spirit”, and (iii) I ran so that I could write: I never ran for running’s sake. I grew the habit of drafting my papers, and then eventually my dissertation during these long runs. My love of running complemented my love of writing. It was during those years that I read Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I talk About Running” so many times.
I trained for and finished my first ever half marathon when I was 29 with a beloved Toronto friend a few months before I finished my PhD. I was 29. Fast forward 10 years: Moved 5 more times in 10 years (academic job market!!!), went through several episodes of back pain exacerbated by a combination of cold weather, job market stress, sitting long hours on horrible chairs to write. I continued to run on and off, even did half marathons with my students, but never dared to call myself a runner. I also started spinning at indoors with my friend A: Spinning kept us warm and cozy during the epic snowpocalypses of Buffalo. I always wanted to incorporate running and cycling into my daily routine and start swimming but the perpetually cold weather, pre-tenure grind, and the intermittent back and knee problems were not particularly helpful.
Things have finally changed for the better when I moved to San Antonio: Even before my fly out for my job interview I knew everything about the UTSA’s gorgeous heated outdoor pool and how warm the city stays in the winter! I got the job. Within first few months of moving down, I started biking in the gorgeous trails that lace around the city and took lessons to improve my swim. My swim coach introduced me to the UTSA triathlon club and Paragon Training and for the first time in my life I started regularly training with a super supportive team of athletes from different walks of life under the leadership of my inspiring coach Mark Saroni. It was January 2019. It was a humbling start, I felt like I was constantly trying to catch my breath during the swims, and just “wanted to die” during the 5k run time trials. To my surprise, however, I did start feeling like an athlete even though I was and still am constantly struggling. Overall, I had more energy. I was a lot happier. I made great friends which was SO welcome because moving – yet again— to a new city in mid-life is NOT easy even for social butterflies like me.
I did my first Sprint Triathlon at the end of September in a cute Texas Hill Country town. Not only was I able to finish, I also got pretty good results. Most importantly I had so MUCH fun. I loved the high energy nature of the sprint triathlon; I loved how focused I was during the race: just one breath, one stroke, one pedal, one step at a time. After the race, I started training more.
Today I raced the running only component of Texas Tough Duathlon which is put on by the UTSA’s triathlon team (go Runners!!) and Paragon Training. Caveat: there were NOT that many runners, but the course was super hilly and I broke a PR – 8.43/mile – and won the first place among women. I am so happy and proud of how far I have come. After having moved around all years, literally and figuratively, I am happy to have found a community that moves around with me to “suffer faster,” in our coach Mark’s words. What I learned from fellow athletes is that you start planning your next race the second you are done with one: For me, it is a Half Ironman, for which I shall start training once I get tenure.
Şerife Tekin is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Medical Humanities at UTSA. When she is not moving around she can be found petting her kitty cat Cortez. Her website is www.serifetekin.com.
Last Sunday, I ran my first race. I’ve been running for eleven years (and are my legs ever tired!) but I’ve never run any kind of a race before. Mainly because I’ve just never been much of a one for races. I even dropped out of the rat race a few years ago, because – as a funnier and wiser woman than I once pointed out – even when you win, you’re still a rat.
So naturally, for my very first race ever, I chose to run a half-marathon. Because why not?
Actually, it was Andra’s idea. Andra is my physiotherapist, and a former competitive swimmer and volleyball player. She takes no shit from anybody, least of all me.
I’ve been working with Andra for over three years now. For two of those years, I wasn’t running at all. She helped reconfigure my body after my last pregnancy downloaded and installed some updates that I don’t ever remember clicking “OK” on.
The thing is that, apparently, for most of my adult life, I’ve been walking around with an undiagnosed case of scoliosis: a bent spine. Mine curves from side to side, creating a posture somewhat reminiscent of one of Tom Thomson’s windblown jack pines. I always knew I was a bit off-kilter, but I never knew until three years ago that I had A Condition.
Apparently (don’t quote me on this) if you have scoliosis, one pregnancy is OK, but subsequent pregnancies can worsen the spinal curvature. Much hilarity ensues. Like, if you’ve ever wanted to recreate the Grand Canyon between your rectus abdominis muscles, scoliosis plus pregnancy can totally help you with that.
Now, I did not want the Grand Canyon, but it ended up being part of the whole post-partum package-tour I embarked on back in 2016 (you really gotta read the fine print on these things). In addition to scheduled stops at Sleepless Gulch and Hormone Crash Hill, there was also plenty of commentary from the locals: “Already pregnant again!?” “Is this one of those weird twin pregnancies where they’re born weeks apart?” “Wow, I forgot how long it takes to look normal after giving birth!” etc etc.
Worst trip ever. But at least, after the magical “six weeks pp” were up, I’d be “allowed” to run again. Right? Right?!
[Ron Howard’s voice: “She was wrong.”]
In September 2016, I found out that not only did I have scoliosis, but it had also probably worsened during the pregnancy, turning the area under my ribs into a veritable pressure-cooker and creating a gaping 12cm/6-finger separation between my abs. This separation, together with the scoliosis, was setting me up for even worse alignment problems that could result in spinal deformities, disc herniation, urinary incontinence and – everybody’s favourite – pelvic organ prolapse.
And so, given this, I should give up running, forever, and take up race-walking. (If my life were an episode of Friends, this would be the one where Chandler Byng quips, “Because race-walking is such a ordinary, everyday activity that doesn’t make you look ridiculous or stand out AT ALL.”).
Oh, and also? My abdomen would never be flat again without at least ten-thousand dollars’ worth of plastic surgery, followed by a two-month recovery and almost inevitable chronic and incurable pain from nerve damage. Pretty much the best thing I could do, in this strange, new, disloyal, and no longer conventionally-attractive body, was “be grateful” I was a “mama”, and “embrace” my “journey”, along with my “battle scars” and my “tiger stripes”.
I am still mildy amazed that I didn’t “drop-kick” the “physiotherapist” right there and then, but forgive me, my reflexes were pretty shot from lack of sleep.
That was Physio No. 1. Physio No. 2 was Andra. Who, in her no-nonsense, does-not-suffer-fools-gladly, clipped Romanian way agreed with Physio No. 1 that my situation was “not good” (“It feels like gummy bears in here, it feels like a trampoline” she said, prodding my abdomen).
Then she uttered life-changing words: “We will fix this.”
If I’d known, sitting in a tiny office up the street from the Reference Library on a dreary winter afternoon, that the path to “fixing this” was going to involve a two-year slog through electro-accupuncture, progressive core-activation exercises, swimming endless laps, tedious floor work, before finally graduating to modified workouts with a trainer at the gym – I’d have crumpled to the floor. This piece, written then, knowing that, would have been entitled By the Toronto Reference Library I Sat Down And Wept, and I probably wouldn’t be running today. Actually, I’m not sure – I’m a stubborn old cuss when you get right down to it. But knowing that entire years lay between me and me getting back to my preferred – at the time, my only – sport, would have been devastating. Andra was smart. She didn’t say anything about how long it could take. She just said we would fix it, and I believed that we could so I was ready to show up and do the fricken work.
And if you’d told me that in less than three years, I’d run a half-marathon – me, who had never run any race, ever, who had run a continuous 20K exactly one time, in three hours, four years ago – me, always picked last on teams in gym class – me, lugging this living cautionary-tale of a postpartum body around, a “Here Be Dragons” warning made flesh – me? Run in a marathon? I would have laughed so hard I’d probably have busted a gut. (Except it was already busted, so no worries there).
But. Reader, I marathoned. OK, I half-marathoned. I ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half on October 20, 2019. My goal was modest: sub 2:30. I crossed the finish line at 2:27.
A year ago, almost exactly, I was running one minute and walking five. I was glad to be running again, even if only for a minute at a time, but I was finding it really, really hard. I had so little endurance, despite all the work I’d put in over the past two years. And when winter came, I quickly got bored of running on the indoor track at the gym. So I took up skating instead, because if you can’t beat Winter, you may as well throw your arms wholeheartedly around it while also leaping around frozen surfaces on sharp blades.
When the ice melted, I moved the skating indoors, but I also went back to running. With Andra’s endorsement, I registered to run the STWM half. I didn’t commit to seriously training for it until June, which is when I made the total rookie mistake of upping my daily mileage by 6K in one day and made the fascia around my right hip “angry”, in Andra’s words. My hip’s temper tantrum set me back weeks.
Nevertheless, I persisted. Andra’s advice plus a tennis ball and a foam roller got me back on track. By September, I was running 10K easily. Then 12, then 14, then 16, and finally my last three long runs before the race were just over 18K.
Seasoned runners joke that running a marathon is simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. So too was my recovery. Except, I stopped looking up while I was doing it, because every time I looked up, I scanned for a horizon I couldn’t even see, much less imagine, and this made me angry and scared and sad. So, I just kept my eyes on my feet and kept moving them forward. One foot, then the other. Physio, swimming. The gym, my bike. The stairs in High Park, and then the hiking trails. Run one, walk five. Skate a bit, run a bit more. One foot, then the other. I just kept showing up. I went to the gym and to the rink and to physiotherapy (thank you childcare, part-time job, supportive partner, and generous spousal health insurance coverage!) and somehow, somehow along the way on this metaphorical “journey” (*makes flourishing air quotes with hands*) I upgraded from the all-inclusive Occasional Runner package, to some kind of Choose Your Own Jock Adventure deal. And that’s an upgrade I’m more than OK with.
Jennifer is a writer, mother, wife, runner, cyclist, skater (ice and inline), and non-profit administrator. She lives in Toronto.
comparison trap is a difficult mindset to be stuck in. I hear it all the time
in my gym community—folks not satisfied with their progress because it doesn’t match
someone else’s. I also hear it in my own head. I hear my inner dialogue as it
compares the barbell I lift to the amount my friend can pull, and I feel my
self-worth increase or decrease with how much—or how fast, far, long, or many—I
can do. And I’m sick of it.
I know that seeing my fitness as a competition with others is a reliance on outside
factors and external validation to feel good about myself, and I’m slowly
talking myself out of this mindset. I’m paying more attention to my inner voice
and deliberately disrupting the dialogue with a new set of messages.
learned that how I talk to myself matters, and so I have started a practice of
drafting pep talks. I like this practice because it encourages me to dig into
some of the finer points of comparison and competition, and by writing to “you”
(who is you that is reading this but also is me in the mirror) I can develop
and order my thoughts in a considered, deliberate way. How we speak to others
can be so much more compassionate—and, also, more objective—than how we speak
to ourselves, and I’ve found this approach helpful to busting out of—or at
least putting some serious holes into—the need to compare and compete.
What Is Competition?
we get into reconstructing our mindset around fitness, let’s consider the
characteristics of competition.
competition is a contest in which there are winners and losers. At its core,
competition is a comparative exercise. Someone comes out on top. Sport is
competition; fitness is not.
sport, we determine a winner or a ranking of the top few. Someone is
identified, as objectively as possible, as the fastest, the strongest, or the
most skilled. Validation comes from others; it is external to the self. The
point is to win.
pursuit of sport and the pursuit of fitness are fundamentally different. In
fitness, there is no finish line, no award ceremony, and no gold star.
Validation is found internally, from meeting your own needs. The point of
fitness is to be able to participate.
doesn’t mean that fitness is easy. In fact, it’s often harder than sport.
Without the clear parameters of winning, how do we know when we achieve it?
Without agreed-upon rules of engagement, how do we know we’re doing it right?
And perhaps most confusing, without competition, what drives us?
shifting how we think about fitness away from competition and toward
participation we open ourselves up to so many more benefits beyond just the
Fit for What?
you identify the exact criteria for fitness? Few can agree on what to measure,
never mind the thresholds required, so don’t be surprised if you find it
difficult to pin down. Part of the issue is identifying the fitness
objective—what is it being used for?
fitness objectives are likely different from yours, and yours are likely
different from your neighbour’s. For example, I’m currently fit to care for
myself, do basic maintenance around my home, carry my groceries, walk around
town or hike through the forest, go ocean paddleboarding, and learn new
gymnastic skills. In other words, my fitness matches my objectives. I have
other objectives that I’m also working towards, and my fitness is moving in
that direction. Should my objectives change, I would likely work to alter my
I’m a competitive athlete, you say. Well, do you want to run hurdles, or
long-distance cycle, or execute a tumbling routine, or fence, or play rugby?
Great! Are the fitness requirements the same for each sport? Are you working on
fitness specific to your objectives?
no bar for fitness, nor should there be. Fitness is not an absolute. There is
only the ability to do the thing you want to do, at the level you want to do it
you picture yourself as a fit person, what activities are you doing? If you’re
already doing those activities, mission accomplished. If you’re on the path to
making it happen, mission accomplished also. Everything—everything—is a
It’s All About You
situation is unique. Really, it is. Hear me out.
physical fitness and the mindset you bring to it are specific to you and your
personal history. What you can do with your body, right now, is a manifestation
of that lived experience.
variables are infinite. Blow out your knee ten years ago? Recovering from a
major illness? Not sleeping well or working eighteen-hour days? Your mental and
emotional stressors are just as significant and combine with the physical to
create the you of this moment.
is the you that is capable of what you can do right now.
it make sense to compare your work-, family-, or injury-related stress to
someone else’s? No? Then why would you compare your one-rep max of anything?
about this: if you and I were to compare our fitness in a contest of
shoe-tying, would it matter who wins? If it doesn’t then tell me why it matters
that you lift more than me or I run faster than you. Each of us can do what we
can do and it’s irrelevant to compare.
there is a place where our unique situations are indeed relevant to others. We
all experience challenges, sometimes small and niggling, sometimes devastating.
And we all experience successes, be they fast and fleeting or sticky and
triumphant. Though incomparable, our experiences are what allow us to relate to
each other. Comparison is pointless, but empathy is gold.
is competitive, as are many other things—a game of chess, a spelling bee, a job
opening, an audition, the last seat on your bus-ride commute. What do all of
these have in common? There is a winner and there are those who . . . didn’t
win. The reward is limited to one, sometimes to a few. The system is based on
many of us, the competitive mindset is in our blood. We feel driven to lift
heavier and move faster than those around us. We want that personal best. We
want to “catch up” to our friends who can do more than we can. We want to
regain a skill, a speed, a body we once had because we think we used to be a
better version of ourselves.
comparing a past or an imagined future to where we are now and judging our
current selves lacking, less worthy than before or not yet enough.
fitness doesn’t exist in a system of scarcity. It is available to you now, or
later, whenever you decide to strive for it and regardless of who else is
working on theirs. There’s no podium and no limitation on who can have it, how
much you can have, when you can have it, or how long you can have it for. There
is no competition—it just doesn’t exist.
you don’t live in the past or the future. You live in the now. So how are you
not enough? You are, literally, everything.
the land of fitness there is infinite room, space for all, enough for everyone.
okay if you see something that someone else has and want it for you, too.
you see a stranger climb a local pitch, or your friend completes a Gran Fondo
with style, or someone at your gym has a two-pull rope climb.
might feel . . . jealousy. It might be hard to admit, but there it is. It’s no
surprise, really. We’re taught to compare ourselves to others. We expect to
compete for limited resources. We learn that there are winners at the expense
of losers and that the rewards go those at the top. But with fitness there is
no competition. You can have it too.
the important bit: your response to others’ achievements paves the way for your
own. If you celebrate the success of others, you’re saying yes to that success
for yourself, too, whether it be now or in the future. None of us exists in a
vacuum. Your support of others matters—to them, to a future you, and to
everyone else who wants to succeed. It creates an environment where we all can
strive and where more is possible.
if you put down the success of others, you’re saying that you’re not interested
in that achievement for yourself. You are, in effect, saying that the
achievement has no value—not for you or anyone else. This creates an
environment of apathy.
If, by watching your peers
increase their fitness, you discover a sharp desire to handstand, increase your
bench, or row a lightning-fast 2k, channel that motivation into your training.
Now you have a goal and the drive to make it happen. Go get it! Your
achievement won’t supplant someone else’s. But do this first: cheer on the
person who is inspiring you.
BIO: Shana Johnstone is an editor and writer who lifts, learns, and loves in Vancouver, BC.
These last six months, running and I have been on a rollercoaster ride together—queasy stomachs and screams of joy. In March, I agreed to do a half-marathon with a friend on her April birthday and immediately started dreading it. I swore off road races about a decade ago. The running events I participate in once or twice a year are off-road. Runs on forest trails or in the mountains. To compound my dread (or perhaps because of), I trained poorly and my race result was disappointing; actually, extremely so. I wish I’d read these wise insights right after, it would have helped me process: So You Had a Crappy Race … Now What?
I don’t want you to notice that crappy half marathon.
In an attempt to redeem myself (for myself), one month later I recommitted to running by joining a Hood to Coast relay team. That’s a 200-mile relay run from Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood (near Portland) to Seaside on the coast of Oregon. Our team of 12 ran 36 legs (three each) ranging from just under 4 miles to as long as almost 8 miles. My legs (as runner 6) added up to 17.6 miles (plus the two bonus miles I had to run just to get to the handoff points when our van was held up in the event’s inevitable traffic snarls (with more than 10,000 participants, imagine the people moving pile-ups). Did you notice how challenging the event sounds?
I am not much of a joiner. This event was uncharted territory for me. I felt a responsibility to train properly, not just to re-energize my own relations with running, but for my team. Fortunately, I was in my favourite place to run for the weeks leading up to the event. Every summer I spend a good chunk of time in California’s Sierra Mountains. There was a period of a few years when I would run for hours by myself training for an ultrarun. But in 2016 I had surgery to remove a Morton’s neuroma from my foot and I seemed to have lost that source of joy. This summer, with Hood to Coast on my calendar, I recaptured the bliss of long runs alone in the mountains. In addition to my longer runs, I added a new training discipline. There’s a short-ish loop my partner and I have always loved as our super-efficient workout. Glacier Way. 4.2 miles. 45 minutes (give or take). 724 feet of elevation gain (and loss). This year we did the run once a week as fast as we could go. As a friend of mine used to say of such intense efforts, “I almost coughed up a lung.” It had been a long time since I’d pushed my speed like that.
Two weeks before Hood to Coast, I told my partner that I felt the strongest I had since my foot surgery. He was shocked. I virtually never say things like that. Partly out of self-doubt and partly superstition. I don’t want to tempt fate by saying that I feel strong out loud. It’s like saying, “Oh the traffic isn’t bad,” right before your car comes to a full stop because of road construction. On the Monday before the event, I surprised myself with my best ever Glacier Way run, cresting the hardest climb, as if the wind were at my back. No one saw me do it. I didn’t need anyone to notice. It felt so good just to be alive in that moment.
Despite the great run, I was scared about the relay. It was my first time doing the event, so I was worried about everything from food, to what to wear, to the mental and physical discomfort of sitting in a van for long stretches and lack of sleep. Plus, I didn’t know most of my team mates. I was overwhelmed by social anxiety. What if my van mates (each team of 12 has two vans of 6 runners) disliked me? Or vice versa. We were about to spend long, intimate hours together.
I figured out what to eat—pre-made peanut butter, honey and coarse salt sandwiches and dried mango. I brought one pair of running shoes and three complete running outfits, plus a long sleeve shirt in case my midnight leg was that cold. And I wore the same loose pants, tank top and flipflops the rest of the time, donning layers as needed, including a knee length winter jacket for extra warmth, which doubled as a sort-of sleeping bag.
As for my team mates. They were super nice. Easy. Good spirited. No pressure.
Really, no pressure. So much so that they didn’t really care that I’d been training my heart out and had sharpened up my speed and endurance. Each leg I finished faster than the leg before, I felt like a child bringing home crayon drawings to be displayed on the fridge. But there was no fridge. Occasionally we’d pass a fast woman runner and someone in our van would comment on her speed. I’d assess whether she was running faster than me and if not, wonder why they hadn’t commented on my speed. If I had run four minutes per mile slower, my relay legs would have yielded the same attention they got. All crayon drawings were admired equally and discarded. This is, of course, the way it should be on such a team. This is, in fact, the thing that made my team experience so seamless. My longing to be noticed for my contributions of speed is … Needy? Childish? Human?
I’m going with human.
While I wanted to impress my team mates, the person I most wanted to wow was myself. But, as I am also my harshest critic, I often need others’ praise to truly believe that I’ve done something well. I know I shouldn’t need the outside world to assure me of my okay-ness, but I do. Most people do. And that’s the reminder I came away with from Hood to Coast. I know it’s not just me who wants to be noticed. It’s all of us. I can’t do anything about whether or not someone notices me, but I can (and will) be better about noticing others.
And this—these fleet moments come and go. If I don’t notice my own strength for my own self, then I miss the opportunity to enjoy these days of running frisky!
What do you want people to notice about you? And what are celebrating for your own self?