Yesterday, June 4th, was National Running Day in the United States and I was happy to hear from my running partner, Andrew, that members of the Genzyme Running Team were out again and even more exciting, the rumor of new runners joining. I even managed to take part in the day, with a bit of speed work on the track in the afternoon, one of the final opportunities before a full taper in preparation for my upcoming 100km night ultra-marathon.
I always feel like a real professional doing loops on the track, especially sprinting to the finish line, but in reality, I’m no professional, even though I take my running (too) seriously. I’m actually sometimes a bit embarrassed to admit how much time I spend training. This is especially the case over the past five months getting ready for the ultra, where my pace has been slow and the distances covered long, never mind the warm-ups, stretching, strength training and cross training on the bike, in the pool and on the yoga mat. Running can certainly take a heavy toll on family life, as it is not only the runner who has to give (-up) a lot to meet their goals. Only my husband really knows the full extent of which my preparation has involved, as so often he waits patiently while I complete my routine so that we can finally enjoy our time together.
As hard as I work, I hope I don’t ever lose sight that running is truly my privilege. I have also discovered how having this steady focus in my life contributes to my overall well-being. It’s just running after all, but it’s my time to dream, to reflect, to brainstorm, to problem solve and even to write. It seems my brain blooms with running. It’s just running, but out of it I’ve come to breathe, eat and sleep better. I’ve learned to listen to my body and be more appropriately responsive, versus over doing it for no long-term gain. Now I recognize when pain strikes but also relish the times of comfort and ease that have come from building a stronger base. Setting running goals give me a sense of control while living on a chaotic planet and the personal (small) successes that come from running help make my broader life goals more achievable.
If you were to look on my eReader, you’d see that I’ve had many great guides on this journey. I’m currently even exploring meditation for runners! Another great help came from reading, The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive, by Jim Afremow. It offers the premise that, “if you can spot greatness in someone else, then you already have some of that greatness within you”. As if physical training were not enough, Afremow’s book is all about building the mind and with it a number of mind strengthening exercises, including identifying our athletic heroes/role models.
I will conclude by sharing my personal picks with the hope that other runners out there may also benefit from my guides:
The first person to come to mind was the beloved Canadian athlete Terry Fox, who began the Marathon of Hope with his heroic attempt to run across Canada, to raise awareness and funds for cancer research. Despite an uncomfortable prosthetic leg, he ran the equivalent of a marathon every day for 143 days before he was tragically forced to stop his quest, due to the spread of cancer to his lungs. He later passed away at the age of 22 but his incredible legacy and spirit lives on and every year in September, hundreds of people, especially school children, participate in the Terry Fox Run in Canada and around the world.
I would also like to acknowledge Phillip Maderia for first introducing me to the Running for Rare Diseases Team, then to the crazy concept of ultra-marathons. We ran together in the 2013 Rare Disease Day Relay and I can still hear Phil reminding me to, “slow down Emma”. Whenever I lose my pace I hear Phil’s good advice and re-focus on my breathing. Phil is by far the runner with the biggest heart and his leadership example, always running for the cause, a motivating force on my own running path.
After reading Phil’s original ultra post, I just had to learn lots more. I had mistakenly thought that ultras were mainly for men. This all changed when I discovered Krissy Moehl’s TEDx talk of her lessons learned from being a top-level ultra-marathoner, especially her recounting of running Mont Blanc (my personal favorite hiking adventure) and the value of being present in the moment. I hope to run with at least a touch of Krissy’s grace, power and attitude.
In the lead up to the 2014 Boston Marathon, the weekly virtual running sessions with my running partner Andrew Scholte kept me together when I wanted to quit my ambitious goal, especially after injury. It’s a life changing experience to have someone run a marathon for you and it gives me great confidence to know that Andrew and I will continue to run together.
There’s also the mind-blowing longevity of Olga Kotelko, the 95-year-old current Canadian track star who keeps jumping, throwing and running. Since reading the new book, What Makes Olga Run?, I keep Olga’s unassuming image in focus as a reminder never to underestimate people’s abilities or my own. True athletes come in so many packages.
Elaine Benton is the person I will be running my ultra-marathon for, starting the night of June 20th, and she is certainly an inspiration. In her book of poetry, Elaine expresses some of what it is like to live with Parkinson’s and rare disease Gaucher. I was particularly struck by the sixth verse in her poem, Each Day:
And finally once exhaustion, takes over me,
Into the land of dreams, from my body I am free,
I can climb walk and run, or swim in the sea,
Without pain, till awake, I can blissfully be.
At night we shall run together then, the rose petals from your garden Elaine traveling safely in my pocket.