|And unparalleled chances for some nighttime trail running.|
Yesterday was my 8th "runnaversary": it was on November 10th of 2008 that I first laced up my shoes and went for a run. I trotted around my small crescent block 3 times, for a total of 9mins and about 1.25km - just over 3/4 of a mile. I wouldn't run a race until March 14th of the following year (a St. Patrick's Day 5k), but by then I was hooked.
|Overdressed, pointlessly carbo-loaded, and happy just to have run the whole thing.|
I try to run every year on the anniversary of my first, and last night - despite strong, gusty winds and delicately trying to balance recovery, training and taper for this weekend - was no exception.
|Running 5km has got rather easier in the interim.|
You might notice I'm wearing my shirt from the 2015 Sulphur Springs 50k in the photo above. It, along with a few other races, represent things I never expected I'd be able to accomplish from my humble beginnings as a runner and endurance athlete.
I'm just finishing off my most ambitious season to date, and am set to thoroughly blow away my prior best mileage year: in 2013 I eked out just over 2,139km / 1,329mi, but I'd surpassed that before I even ran Horror Trail at the end of last month. The 5.6km I ran last night tipped me over 2,225km / 1,382mi for 2016, and I still have a 6-hour race to go this weekend...plus the entire month of December!
|Though I don't think last weekend's incredibly mild weather will last that long.|
Somewhere between those first panting, out-of-breath and totally unconditioned runs and now, my perspective shifted. As recently as last year, I very nearly resented some races for what seemed to be an unnecessary level of difficulty - making you run up a ski hill, or through a nasty set of rolling hills at the end, or even just across nigh-unrunnable terrain. It was like the race directors enjoyed toying with people.
|The distances were challenging enough - why couldn't it all be on flat, sunny paths?|
Somewhere along the way, without even really realising it, I've actually come to relish the challenges. From rolling my eyes at the (actually quite modest) hill in the middle of Horror Trail to giggling at the prospect of running up a ski hill twice per 7.5k loop this weekend. It's quite the shift in thinking, but one that happened naturally as a result of my slow drift toward ultrarunning.
When I was primarily a triathlete - as I used to occasionally say "a triathlete with an ultrarunning problem" - I was focused on going as fast as possible to the exclusion of almost all other factors. Not that there was really much to hang around for at most triathlons anyway: the courses usually didn't have much in the way of scenery. I'd go out, huff and puff my way along, kind of hate it, then finish and go home. Ultrarunning - and trail running in general - is more to me about the incredible experiences you can have during the race (or training run, even) itself, and immersing yourself in the character of that particular part of the earth.
Yes, it's hard. I won't lie. But the difficulty is what I crave - the ever-present question of whether I will be able to get through this; if I'm truly strong enough for what I have taken on. Really, if I wanted something easy where there was no possibility of failure, the modern racing world is full of non-competitive events like colour runs.
|I'd rather have to go find the colour myself.|
So on Sunday I'll lace up my shoes and try to run a second 6-hour ultra just 1 day more than a fortnight after the last. While my last attempt at two ultras in two weeks worked out rather disastrously, I'm encouraged by the fact I did not in fact wreck myself at the first one this time. I've done my best through getting a few decent nights of sleep (really!) and running quite lightly in the last couple of weeks to recover. There's no pressure, as I have no performance goals at all for Sunday: I'd simply like to finish without injuring myself, even if I end up hiking most of it. If I'm still capable of running at the end of the 6 hours, even better.
|But I guarantee I'll be walking quite a bit.|
Twice up a ski hill per loop, after all.
Of course, circumstances also serve to inject one more sobering dose of perspective: on this day of contemplation, remembrance and honouring those who courageously fought for freedom from tyranny, I know that nothing I attempt in the endurance sport world will ever compare to the bravery and strength shown by men and women who selflessly sacrificed so much so that others could could live free. My gratitude is boundless for their valor and dedication to creating a better world for us all.