I just spent the last forty eight hours of my life in bliss, hanging out with a bunch of amazing humans in a secluded beautiful oasis of coastal temperate rainforest called Brew Creek Centre which is just south of Whistler. We were gathered together by the regional Lululemon team who run the Ambassador program as a way to grow, connect, brainstorm and learn. Learning to hug properly (left arm up and at least 8 seconds long), eating amazingly clean local and organic food, and falling asleep to the sound of the creek was also part of the deal. In this group of so called ‘Am-Badass-adors’, were a varied and vibrant selection of people living incredibly passion filled lives, with huge hearts. In between eating the delicious meals and deep conversation, we practiced yoga and powerful meditation, participated in workshops and games and had a lot of laughs. The workshop activities were filled with spontaneous movement, and sharing, open communication and honest talk. The laughter and jokes bubbled up from the positive energy present, and every single person was tuned in and switched on, making for a vibrant and electric environment of potential.
For our last session we were asked to bring an ‘Artifact’. Something that was meaningful to us, something with a story we could share. I brought a rainsuit that I have owned since 1985. Standing up in front of the group, in the centre of the wood coloured warmth filled room, I donned my retro groovy running suit, showing off the jacket and pants, which are ridiculously loose now, uncool and unhip by today’s fashion standards and which doesn’t fit anything as nice as my Lululemon tights and jackets.
When I was about 15 or 16, after I had been running and training for about 5 years, I began to hit my stride over the 10k distance in Halifax. I started catching the women in front of me and winning races out right. I went from winning shiny school cross country ribbons that said ‘midget’ and ‘junior’ on them and little gold medals, that hung on red white and blue ribbons, to winning trophies and prizes. I don’t remember ever focussing on the prizes or the outcome of races, but of course I liked it, being competitive and all. And when I did win, I worked for it, worked in heart beats and by denying the hurt I would feel in my lungs and legs, and the cramps I always got in my side or my shoulder. Pain so intense I would be sore in my side for hours afterwards.
Going up to receive an award as a teenager was the ultimate reward and affirmation of my skill and passion. It was not the outcome that mattered so much over time, but that ‘going for it’ or ‘giving your all’ was worthwhile and someone cared enough about running and runners to organize races and donate prizes. When you are 16 and on a mission, your self-belief can waver and stutter with your hormones and all the powerless tension of being a teenager. Having an adult in your corner, a coach that believes more in you than you do, and having mentors is important for the journey.
My road racing days started in Nova Scotia, through the Run Nova Scotia series. I would travel around the province during the spring and summer and fall with my dad, who had started running again when I was in junior high. On those race day Sundays, we would rise early for porridge and tea, and sometimes my courage would falter and I wouldn’t want to go. I’ll never forget those first moments when I woke up and remembered there was a race that day. This trickle of dread, and that slightly sick feeling creeping into the pit of my stomach. In those sharply anxious pre race hours, I often wanted to be able to avoid the race while simultaneously knowing that I could not. Dad would always talk me through it, with the same five words: You’ll be happy you raced. And, because he was always right on this one, I couldn’t say anything against that. At the end of the race, the moment it was over, and most importantly, on the drive home after the race, I knew I would be flooded with a feeling of joy and satisfaction. If I can still feel that palpable pre race anxiety, I can also still feel that wonderful peaceful and comforting feeling of having raced: the deeply personal knowing of a job well done. I’ve written often of the gifts and rewards of my very long running career. I’ve always implied this satisfaction, but perhaps this is the greatest reward of all. Very early, I learned to talk myself out of fear of failure, as uncomfortable as it was, and very early, I learned that the process of personal effort was always satisfying no matter what the outcome.
Races were all over the province and in those days I remember winning things like boxes of apples from the races in Annapolis Valley, and a carved wooden mirror from Bridgewater. It was after one of these races, that I received my prize on stage and it was a white paper envelope. In it was a sheet of paper, a gift certificate, from a local independently owned running store in Halifax called Aerobics First. I can’t remember the amount, but my guess is that it was 25 dollars, a significant amount for a 16 year old girl whose only income was babysitting money.
When dad took me to Aerobics First to spend my money, I looked around the racks of shiny nylon wind breakers and pants, the lightweight tops and shorts that would eventually replace my cotton Canterbury rugby short and cotton t shirts. This was the 80’s and technical running apparel and footwear was only just starting to make its dent in the market. We were wearing Lifa long underwear, in the winter, and my winter running clothes, consisted of long underwear under my grey Russell sweat pants and a hoody that I wore for Basketball warm ups. I had a K-way, but it was like wearing a plastic bag, so in the winter you’d actually get colder as you would sweat like crazy and the sweat would freeze against the jacket, like condensation on a tent. All I could think about was getting a rain suit. The serious runners had rain suits.
I felt like the luckiest kid alive, to have been able to use my running speed in order to win a gift certificate that I could use to buy something I needed and would use for training. The sense of freedom in that transaction--not that I won or beat anybody, but that I worked so hard during training and set aside all feelings of hurt and pain during that race and that the win came entirely of my own volition—was incredibly powerful. I didn’t have to ask my dad for the money, and I didn’t have to empty my bank account.
And so I became the new owner of my most advanced and technical piece of running clothing to that date. I was so thankful to Aerobics First, for supporting me, for handing me this gift. My suit was exceptional: lightweight and shiny and smooth and while it didn’t really keep out the rain, it kept out the wind, and it was breathable, and that counted for a lot in cold Nova Scotia winters. I would layer my long sleeved Lifa top and my running tights under that suit and, feeling like a bona fide serious athlete head off for my training runs with all the grace and lightness of a gazelle (in my mind). I took such great care of that suit, that I still have it to this day. I don’t wear it anymore. I stopped wearing it at 18, around the time I received my first sponsorship with NIKE and entered the very long era of being a one brand runner, loyal to my sponsors and partners. NIKE became New Balance and then that became Lululemo,. I pulled it out today and put it on for the first time in decades, was amazed at how baggy and shapeless it was, and we all broke into laughter when I found the tiny little hood folded in the pocket, like a handkerchief. It had strips of Velcro to attach it to the collar of the jacket.
But that burgundy and silver rain suit is an artifact of a very formative time in my life, a time when I was learning the lessons of hard work, work ethic, and enduring hours and hours of training because I believed, without knowing any better, that it would all pay off on race day. Of winning, not to prove that I was greater, faster or better than anyone, but winning because the opportunity was there for me, because I trained for it, and because I could run fast. Prizes and prize money became inextricably linked to the stubbornness of sticking with it, and to the persistence of training through injuries and plateaus. I didn’t always win races, very often didn’t, but the lure of the prize was always there, the idea that it existed for someone to win. We all raced for the prize, and there were hard uncomfortable battles but at the heart of it was the unspoken knowledge that it was ultimately hard work and personal will that would win it.
That rainsuit represents one event in a long list of positive transactions that played out during the course of my career. Transactions where my skill and hard work were valued and affirmed. Transactions where I would be connected to people who helped, who opened doors for me, or encouraged me to grow. At the heart of these transactions or exchanges, was the essence of connection and the human spirit.
I left the Lululemon Regional retreat centre on a snowy January Day, heart full of gratitude for the chance to connect, once again, with humans who love the journey.
Common sense and a sense of humour.