Pre-race Pondering: It’s not about Running

Patagonia-260I was at a bar the night before Summsault 2000 in Edmonton, a music festival that had a bunch of bands I was apathetic about. The only one I really wanted to see was Smashing Pumpkins. I was a big fan of the lanky, bald asparagus frontman, Billy Corgan. I loved his lyrics and thought he was particularly weird. I appreciate weird.

My friends and I were partying, but I wasn’t drinking because I had a marathon coming up. 42km through the streets of Edmonton. It was my third race—I’d ran it every year since I was 19. Distracted by pre-race jitters, as is always the case when I consider how much running long distances hurts, I was trying to focus on my friends’ drunk rambling when she screamed, “BILLY CORGAN!”

The pale giant was standing with his much shorter and stockier bodyguard in the dark corner of the bar. She immediately ran over to Corgan and launched herself around his neck. The bodyguard gently pried her off. I sidled up behind her and smiled at Corgan. He bent over and whispered, “Can I hug you?”

OBVIOUSLY. I reached up—waaaaaaay up—and gave him a hug. He squeezed me tight, then pulled away slightly, then leaned close to whisper in my ear, “You’ve got a hard body, do you swim?”

I held back a shocked guffaw, pulled away, and replied, “No, but I run marathons.”

He looked deep into my eyes, like super, uncomfortably deep (he is disarmingly intense) and surmised, “I don’t know what you’re running from, but maybe we’re running from the same thing.”

It was a bit much. I looked over at his body guard who kind of smirked. I nodded cordially at Billy, and I walked away. I might have jogged a bit, actually. There’s no way I could handle that intensity.

I listened to Smashing Pumpkins a lot growing up. Corgan described the heavy rage-in-a-cage shit I was desperately trying to ignore, while their floating melodies seemed to take me where I wished I could go. Running was actually part of that. Corgan had struck a truthful chord with his astute suggestion.

The first time I ran, it was screaming from my house. I was being bullied pretty hard and I was tired of being called horrible names. I ran as far as I possibly could, which was about 200 metres. But I kept going, stopping, crying, barfing, walking then running again. I ended up going about two miles, and very little of it was actually running, but I felt better. It was a powerful realization: I could make myself feel better by running.

IMG_8887Running plays many roles in my life now. I prefer to run mountain trails with my dogs, Linda and Harlan, instead of roads around the Kootenays.┬áThere’s always a therapeutic underpinning when I run, since that’s how I found it, but it’s grown to give me an immense appreciation for what we’re capable of doing as humans. Interested? You should google Courtney Dauwalter or Kilian Jornet. Running gives me the ability to see the world from immense perspectives. Moving through mountains is incredibly powerful and beautiful. Using your own body to get there via running makes it personal and rewarding.

But it’s also something that we all do. Everyone knows what it feels like to run, whether or not they like that feeling. We all have some frame of reference, whether it’s memories from when we were kids sprinting around playgrounds, or it’s something you loathe because your knees hurt, or you fancy a weekend jaunt up a mountain and want to get there a little quicker than hiking, just like me.

Patagonia-71I went to Patagonia on a running and hiking 40th birthday present dream trip in January (see the slideshow here). I usually run alone but I chose a group trip so that I would deliberately meet other runners. I’ll do a post on the Patagonia trip later, but suffice it to say the experience was life altering and I came home ready to run another ultra marathon.

A couple years ago I ran my first ultra, up and over Idaho Peak mountain (an ultra marathon is anything over the standard marathon distance of 42km). I hadn’t run much in the last decade due to other sporting fun times like playing roller derby for Team Canada, road bike racing and Crossfit, but I’d come back to running as I waited for my second shoulder surgery (again, therapy).

I was doing super good, loving the views, inhaling the forest freshness, totally in a zone of complete satisfaction. Then, as I started the descent after climbing 1600m, I went over a little bump in the terrain and felt unusual. Empty. Quickly, the race got TERRIFYING. I didn’t know at the time, but I had made the incredible mistake of taking a coffee cup’s worth of caffeine midway through the race. My body wasn’t used to that.

By the time I was 8km from the finish line and well beyond any first aid station, my heart palpitations were severe. My  heart rate was bouncing between 185 and 215 (it was usually about 155) for the rest of the race. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I kept seeing stars, blacking out and leaning on trees every few minutes until my heart settled and I could walk again. It was awful, and the only way out was through. A fitting metaphor.

So when I met the people on my Patagonia trip, I figured it was time to try that distance again. I’m comfortable with anything under 35km, but committing to 50km would force me to face the fear I had as a result of my abysmal first ultra. My goal this race? Not to die.

IMG_1009I’ll be running the 50km Wild Horse Traverse on Saturday, June 1. It’s through the hills between Kelowna and Naramata, up and down 2000m of elevation. We get a bottle of wine at the finish. That’s a big motivator for me. I’ll need to be alive if I’m to enjoy that.

So that’s it. I want to see if I can do it. And that’s why I run. To see if I can work out a solution to a problem, to see if I can burn off some troubling thoughts, to see if I can get Linda to ever be tired, to see what the world looks like from that vantage. Simply to see.

I’ll let you know whether I survived in another post next week! And yes, Smashing Pumpkins are on my playlist.

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