Monday, January 17, 2005

Sunday Morning Social

I have to admit that I have long since evolved past the point where running marathons is about setting personal goals or a new personal best time record or, something as truly unimaginable as a podium finish or even a best in class. No, I have become what the ubiquitous, ‘they’, call a ‘lifestyle marathoner’. I would no sooner miss my Sunday morning long run than the Pope would miss his Sunday Morning Service. Sunday mornings are the social highlight of my week. It’s where I get caught up with some of the best and most enduring friends I have made in the past few years.

This latest burr under my saddle blanket, qualifying for Boston, has had a few unforeseen consequences. As I have stepped up my pace appreciably, I am no longer running surrounded by familiar faces, even on the long, slow, distance (LSD) Sunday mornings that I cherish. My good friend Seymour is a prime example. Seymour and I have trained for at least four and possibly five marathons together. This discrepancy in my memory would have been perfect fodder for a protracted discussion on one of our four hour pace group jaunts on Sunday morning. At least ten or fifteen or maybe even twenty minutes would have been spent in recalling the whos, the whens and the wheres of our recent marathons. And before you know it, miles would have passed by under our feet. I can’t recall the number of times that we have run for three or four hours and then been astonished that the run is over because the time has passed by so quickly.

One of the great things about training for a marathon and in running out of Denman Street is the people I meet. I will often run with a cardiologist, Dr. John who is every bit as bitten by the gadget and technology bug as myself. There are doctors and lawyers and artists and executives and students, all of them who find that running a marathon fills some need in their lives. It’s a healthy lifestyle, a lifetime goal, an opportunity to get away from what it is they do, leave their worries behind and just get lost in the miles. The Sunday morning runs go on for so long that everything that happens in the world and in people’s lives becomes a topic for discussion. The stories are often as meandering as the trails we follow. And often times very personal. When you run marathons with someone over an extended period of time it’s as if you’ve been in boot camp with them or done time together.

Now, on Sunday morning, having stepped up in speed to lead the 3:45 marathon group, I am surrounded by new faces, some I recognize, some that are running their first marathon. And of course at the start of every new marathon clinic, as a pace group leader, it’s exciting to see all the first time marathoners. They are the main reason I love being a pace group leader. There is nothing quite like being in the holding pen that lies just behind the finish of a marathon race. It’s the area where the volunteers hand you a cup of water, wrap you in a plastic sheet, drape that coveted finishers medal around your neck, cut your timing chip off your runners, and guide you to the tent where the food and refreshments are laid out.

As a group leader I always hope to finish the marathon in the vicinity of the people I’ve trained with. If you finish close together there is much hugging and falling about as if you are all comrades in arms and of course you are. The faster runners waiting ahead of you will tell you that so and so has finished but that others are still out on the course, still doing battle. So you wait in the holding pen for them to cross the finish line because you want to see them and you want them to see a familiar face. And they come in, a few seconds and a few minutes apart and it is wonderful. Finishing your first marathon is a magical thing. People are astonished that they actually managed to achieve the goal that they set for themselves, “I never thought I’d finish, Vince!” And when the full weight of their accomplishment hits them, there are often tears mixed freely in with the sweat. Having been a tiny bit of helping them finish is like running my first marathon all over again. I have yet to get tired of it.

Now I see Seymour mostly on the periphery of the clinic and the coming to and fro from the Running Room on Denman Street. Fortunately our tradition of Sunday breakfasts after the run has held and this is where I will get caught up with old friends. And bring new ones. An indication of just what a social group we are is illustrated by the fact that we have already begun planning our dinner for the end of the clinic and our celebratory dinner where we hand out little awards AFTER the marathon. At Denman Street an awful lot of eating and drinking accompanies our running!

This Sunday our clinic goal was to run 13K. I always add some optional mileage and was planning an extra 3K. Unfortunately there was a communication fritz and the 13K route was more like 16K and by the time my group had finished our add-on, we had run 19.6K! After doing 10 and 1s for the regular mileage, I switch to 5 and 1s and decrease the pace for the extra distance. Still, it was a bit of a stretch!

Vancouver has been going through an unseasonably cold stretch of weather. So much so in fact, that the city that prides itself on being green all year round has been white for the better part of ten days. And bitterly cold. Late Saturday evening I watched out my front window in horror as great white flakes began tumbling from the sky. I thought there would be no way my Miata would ever get through any kind of snow to get to the clinic first thing on Sunday morning. Then, sometime after Midnight, it began to rain.

The running conditions that faced us the next morning were nothing short of treacherous. So for almost 20K we had to gingerly run through slush, on compacted snow, and on ice made slick with surface water. No one in my group fell but we had a few close calls. And everyone commented on the fact that running on such surfaces was particularly fatiguing as you were running almost on tippy toes trying to find safe traction and grip. We ended up using lots of peripheral and core muscles to keep our balance and those muscles definitely got more of a work out than they’re used to. Still, it's hard not to feel as sense of satisfaction at getting in 20K and feeling great afterwards.


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