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Is Finishing The Race A Good Enough Goal?

26 Sep

When I came back to running two and a half years ago, I came back from a zero-level of physical fitness. For several years my body had been completely devoted to growing babies and then nursing them. My mind had been devoted to trying to survive post-partum depression, the loss of my father, and my son’s autism diagnosis. With everything that I had going on, physical fitness just wasn’t on my list of priorities.

Therefore, when I started running again, speed was not an issue for me. My only goal was to simply get out there and complete whatever distance I was aiming for. Standing at the start line of my first half-marathon for autism, I was realistic enough to know that I wasn’t going to be a speed demon. I did not aim for any particular time. I just wanted to finish the race; I did not care how long it would take me.

Since that first half-marathon, I have run 12 more races. My approach to each of them has been the same: stumble across the finish line in whatever time I can manage. I have looked at my races not so much as competitive events, but as training runs with added zing.

Two weeks ago, though, I came to within a minute of my 10K PB (personal best) at the Energizer Night Race. This was a race run at night, on narrow park trails, with this weird headlight thing on my head. Most amazing of all, I actually had energy to spare when I crossed the finish line.

That race was a turning point for me in two ways. The first was that it made me re-evaluate the role of music in my runs. The second was that it made me ask the question: if I can put in a performance like that without really trying, what will I able to accomplish if I push myself beyond what I am used to?

I have been a somewhat complacent runner, being happy with just finishing the race. I still advocate that approach very strongly for beginner runners. But I am not really a beginner anymore. Perhaps it is time for me to start pushing the boundaries a little.

Tomorrow: read about how a change in race strategy this weekend worked out for me.

(Photo credit: This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

Night Running: Tuning In To Myself

16 Sep

It was like a scene from Alien. A park at night, full of people with red lights on their heads talking to an oversized bunny that was Pepto-Bismol pink.

OK, maybe it wasn’t exactly like Alien. There are people, though, who regard runners as a strange breed – particularly runners who voluntarily pay money for the privilege of running on narrow park trails at night when the mosquitoes are out in full force, while wearing strange headlights on their heads.

I arrived at last Saturday’s Energizer Night Race about an hour before the designated start time. As I stood in line at the bank of Porta-potties (race day means epic hydration, which results in, you know), I suddenly realized that I had forgotten an essential element in race preparation.


I had forgotten to eat my standard pre-race snack. I gave myself a mental slap in the head. I can understand people forgetting to turn off a light or mail a letter, but forgetting to eat? How do you even do that?

What this meant was that I would have to run this race fuelled by a ham sandwich hastily consumed almost eight hours previously.

I headed over to the water table and drank a bottle of water as well as a couple of cups of Gatorade. I’m not really big on Gatorade, but I reasoned that I needed calories in order to run this race, and Gatorade was my only available source. I resigned myself to the idea that the race would be a tough one. But it was only 10K. I could handle it.

Before I knew it, I was standing at the start line switching my headlight from the red-light Alien setting to the spotlight see-where-you’re-going setting. And then, cheered on by a cheerfully waving Pepto-Bismol pink Energizer Bunny,  we were off.

The first few kilometres were fairly slow, not because I wasn’t feeling good, but because we were on narrow park trails and there were more than 700 of us. This enforced pacing meant that, when the runners became more dispersed, I had plenty of energy reserves to run the second half of the race strongly.

During this run, I rediscovered the art – lost to me a long time ago – of running without music. My MP3 player is loaded up with playlists of music that with a beat I can run to, and I have been more than a little reliant on this in my training. For safety reasons, participants in the Energizer Night Race were not permitted to wear earbuds or headphones. Not only did I not miss the music, I believe that I ran better because of its absence. For the first time in ages, I had to pace myself not according to the beat of the music, but according to what my body was telling me.

In fact, all of the conditions of this run resulted in the need for me to be completely aware of every little thing around me and within me. Navigating the narrow trails among hundreds of other runners in the dark – albeit dark that was broken by headlights – put me in tune with my body in a way that I don’t think I have ever experienced before.

In the end, my time was 1:06:14. Considering all the ways in which this run was so different to the norm, I am very happy with that time. It is a mere minute off my personal best time.

At my next race, the Oasis Zoo Run 10K, I am going to try and reclaim that minute and get myself a new personal best time.

Thank you to the organizers of the Energizer Night Race for creating an event that has, I believe, helped me become a better runner.

(Photo credit: André Van Vugt)