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WOOHOO… Way to go!!

The crowds lined up behind the fenced barriers are cheering, clapping loudly, happily for the ragtag mixture of runners:

  • the hangdog ones scraping their exhausted feet over the pavement
  • the energetic gazelles with beaming smiles
  • the coolly oblivious with their iPod buds firmly affixed in their ears
  • the proud Moms or Dads pushing their sleeping wee ones in jogging strollers

The FINISH line banner arcs across Vancouver’s West Pender Street like a welcoming Pot O’ Gold rainbow.

Hallelujah!

This is my favourite time of the year.

Spring.

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Candy-scented pink and white fruit blossoms unfurling like little cocoons releasing their multi-coloured butterflies everywhere.

Leaves laying a carpet of emerald green across the sky overhead.

Furry tan-toned marmots along the side of the road tilting their heads upwards to their gods seeking the warm sunshine after their winter nap.

Even the backyard chickens look like they have bigger Disney smiles on their beaks at this time of year.

It’s also the time of year where I start out once again from near zero.

I’m talking about my drive to exercise – to sweat intensely.

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In mid-winter I’ll sweat in the gym most days, but my levels of enthusiasm and drive drag and slow, as if the plow blade is digging into rocky soil making the workload heavy and cumbersome.

I manage to continue because it’s become a well-ingrained habit and part of what makes me, well… me.

But the fitness peaks I attain each spring and summer begin dwindling bit by bit over the autumn and winter. The daylight length shrinks in concert with my muscle strength and stamina.

And even though I rarely think about it, the inner knowledge of my parents’ relatively early deaths (ages 61 and 73) from heart disease spur that internal drive; the drive to do the things I can and am able to do to stave off the Grim Reaper for one more day, one more year play quietly but insistently in the back of my mind.

In early spring, my physical activity motor revs and builds more and more until it crescendos like an orchestra reaching the climax of the symphony. My energy levels and desire to push myself grow Viagra-like day-by-day in concert with the lengthening of the daylight hours. I love it.

Every year for a long time, I’ve entered running or triathlon races of varying distances… the shortest would be 5 kilometres but I’ve run lots of distances … 5 k, 10 k, 15 k, half marathon, full marathon.

Running has taught me lessons about life. There are lessons to be found everywhere we look, in everything we do for pleasure or for work.

Akin to looking out over the flat prairies and thinking that there’s nothing to be seen, some things are just more subtle and require a closer examination. The prairies are teeming with activity and life and visual excitement when observed more intensely, and so are the days of our lives.

And one of those lessons is that every race is just as tough as the next, no matter the distance.

Every running race – like all of life’s real challenges – is difficult and demanding.

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People say to me, “oh, it’s only a 5k, that should be easy”. Yeah… sorta. On the surface that would seem to be the case.

Shorter distance, easy. Longer distance, hard.

Makes sense, right? Not really…

It’s all about pacing.

A long race (eg. half marathon, marathon) means a slow steady pace, carefully doling out energy in small measured dollops so our legs can carry us the full distance. It takes conscious thought and self-knowledge to make it to the finish.

Too many flame out and “hit the wall” (I should be embarrassed by the number of times I’ve “hit the wall”) from over-confidence and endorphin highs that trick us into believing our superhero capes will magically carry us through.

Shorter races (eg. 5 k, 10 k) call for a different strategy where speed-work and mental toughness play major roles. Running at a near breathless pace for just 20 minutes to 1 hour  demands a huge mental effort and inner strength. It’s like running on a tightrope where a tiny excess of running speed will knock you down hurricane-like, wind rampaging through a forest. It calls for fine-tuning and finesse and a willingness to tolerate a taste of blood and vomit mixing in your mouth.

All of life’s “races” demand inner strength and stamina and self-knowledge.

Sometimes we succeed in measuring out the perfect amount of energy required. Heavenly exhaustion.

Sometimes, we push too hard and burn and crash, learning harsh lessons about ourselves and what we might do differently next time out. Devilish curse.

Sometimes, I might even add often, we grow cautious and move too slowly and underestimate our ability and strength and never accomplish the higher possibilities that lie inside us. Zootopia Slothdom.

Two Sundays from now, I’ll be lining up in Queen Elizabeth Park alongside 15,000 other nervously hopeful half-marathon and marathon runners.

The light embracing scent of a hundred well-used Porta-Potties will waft delicately in the early morning air. We’ll all sing O Canada together and anxiously listen for the sharp bang of the starter’s pistol.

And two hours later when I see that beautiful encouraging FINISH banner, then feel the weight of the Finisher’s Medallion around my neck, I and 15,000 others will have learned a whole new lesson – whether starting from Zero or Superhero – about ourselves.

Life's race

 

 

 

 

 

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