‘Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name’.
I have no doubt in my mind that the TC 10k is my ‘Cheers’. It’s the once a year reminder that we are all in this together, and that running is the place I go to get away and be with friends. And Sunday, during the Times Colonist 10k, it really hit home for me: this is literally where everybody knows my name.
It seems that on every corner and every intersection, I heard someone calling my name as I raced. People called from balconies and porches as well: some voices I recognized and some I didn’t. All the support gave me energy, and made me realize how lucky I am to do what I do.
The 10k was the second 10k in a row for me, completing the Road Racing Dynamic Duo of the Sun Run 10k and TC 10K that I love so much. The end of April is my favourite racing time of the whole year. With the two races brings some fun public speaking, a buzz of sport excitement, and many visits with running friends and the whole running community.
While some of the goals of racing have changed for me (mainly from being contender for the overall win, to putting my best out there for the day no matter what), so much of what I love about racing endures season after season. I am not sure I will ever tire of getting on a start line, the thrill of the moments before the start—a feeling that you can’t replicate in training—and the simple challenge of getting from A to B as fast and as expertly as possible.
The farther I get away from the intense side of my professional racing career, where goals were measured in seconds and finish order, the closer I get to loving all of this sport. I used to write race reports, and re caps. Writing down all my thoughts, frustrations, reflections and success was pretty important at the time and after twenty years of step by step analysis of racing, I can pretty much execute a race in my sleep. So what is left to write about when you are still racing strong at 48?
I think this can best be summed up as ‘How to have a fantastic day and appreciate the ride’. And here is my personal take of how I have learned this from my career. I couldn’t have got here now if I didn’t learn the hard way—through hours and years of practice.
1. The world is a lot more grey than it is black and white. I used to believe that things had to be perfect for a race to be perfect. I had to eat a certain meal the night before, wear the exact right pair of lucky underwear. If I followed a specific order of pre-ordained steps, the race would go awesome. The warm up had to occur at exactly the correct moment before the start, and I had to put my racing flats on and do strides at the right moment pre-race. This attention to detail, this focus on order, it held a necessary function in my path to success. It held my attention to developing expertise, to being focussed on the task at hand as it related to my goals, and to establishing and practicing good habits. I rarely made mistakes in my pre-race diet, and was almost always ready and warmed up when the race was ready to start. However, what I now know is that there is no perfect. Perfection is unattainable, but what is do able is the pursuit of excellence and the willingness to strive. In the end, there is no lucky underwear, just as there is no tooth fairy, but there is magic to be had in the believing that you deserve to be great. Nowadays when I get ready to race, I use all the common sense habits that I have learned and there is a sense of calm in knowing that this is going to be good enough.
2. Look for the Good. When we are stressed and anxious about doing well, the human brain seems to have a negativity bias. We magnify the bad and minimize the good. For some people, the tendency to focus on a negative, helps them deal with their nerves. If they imagine the worst thing that can happen, then no outcome can be as bad as that. The problem with this mind set is that the focus on one negative thing—not enough porta potties at the start line for instance, or feeling like you didn’t get enough sleep—crowds out a lot of the positive things that are going on around you. I see this a lot before races. The chatter revolves around people not feeling 100%, or the imperfect conditions. Imagine for a moment, showing up and focussing only the good. For me, this is manifest perfectly in a race like the Times Colonist. All I can see on race morning are the fantastic volunteers, or the beautiful setting in front of the Legislature and the Fairmont. Even while racing, I focus on what is going well, including the awesome Marimba Bands.
3. Everybody is important. Understanding that every single person at the race is a deserving human being sure brings the joy out and takes the pressure off. While running can appear to be a solo effort, it really is a team event and the more you embrace the energy of the team, the more you are lifted by what is essentially, an outstanding and limitless amount of positive energy. I do a lot of training solo. I absolutely have an introverted side and am totally in my bliss, happily skimming along the empty trails listening to birds, emptying my brain from all random thoughts. I also love races, the atmosphere and the excitement, and the feeling that so many people are there thriving together.
4. Embrace Self-confidence. The more you believe you have the ability to accomplish a task, the greater the chances of success. Which leads to improved self-confidence. Why can I get on a start line these days with such joy? Is it because I know I can run fast? I do know that I can run fast, but the gift of fast running genetics would be lost on me if I didn’t actually believe I could use them successfully. Years and years of practice has led me to a very strong and powerful feeling of confidence in my ability to race. Confidence is a practice and it is specific. It is the result of setting attainable goals and mastering them. I love coaching kids because when they show up for the first practice, they talk about who is fastest. They all know who is the fastest runner in the school. But I show up to coach all the runners and by the end of the first day I have given every single child a skill that they decided to master that day. THAT is confidence.
The TC 10K was once again an amazing event. Thank you to the 10 000 runners, the 800 volunteers, the police and traffic marshals, the paramedics and doctors, the multitude of friends, fans, and families out cheering, the bands and entertainment, the race committee and the City of Victoria for supporting active communities. I am proud to be a part of this community, and an Ambassador for Lululemon Johnson Street who have, hands down, the best cheering section!
I could work on this new website forever. I could literally NEVER publish it until it is just so, just perfect and exactly some vision that I don’t even know that I can define. Or I can put it up there now, under the peak of the mountain which is still glowing in the late day sun. Spell check tells me I am ‘good to go’ and it’s time I listened. If I had acted this way in my professional life as an athlete, I would never have raced. In fact, I studied the idea of perfect, perfection and good enough many times during my training. It became my mantra that every training session served a purpose and every training session was ‘good enough’ for that day. Perfection doesn’t exist, except in our minds, and it is based on what we think other people will think of us. After a few years of training and listening to the negative chatter and self-talk that athletes can literally heap upon themselves, I decided that I wasn’t going to be that person. Living my life wishing I was better, faster or stronger was not going to work for me as it took me away from the here and now of the pure beauty of sport. I challenged myself plenty, I failed often, but always, that knowledge that I had strived for success and tried my best was the river running through my career. Sometimes I didn’t strive and I actually did give up. This did not happen often, but when it did, I knew it deep in my bones. I felt a sense of let down on those occasions, and there were times when I wished my hardest I could take back what happened and do it all again. AND I did get to do it all again. And again. The best part of training and racing is that you get to practice it frequently, twice daily even, and strive to be better, to make positive changes and grow. The process of actually striving to be your best can be one of the most rewarding things you ever do. This process requires courage, vulnerability, confidence, trust and hard work. (None of these things are available electronically, by the way.)
Today I was riding along a trail in Whistler. I was scouting out running routes for my Wanderlust clinics and I encountered a couple with two small children. When I see parents and toddlers, I feel immediate empathy towards them and remember my own - not that long ago- days of shoulder rides and strollers, melt downs and how a simple walk can be so full of adventure and wonder. The father had a three year old boy on his shoulders, and the mom was farther back, watching her 5 year old daughter who was engrossed in waving a long stick around (as children are wont to do). I smiled at the dad and he laughed and said, “We are almost there!”
I rode on with his words in my head and, since I have been thinking about my new site, and this blog post, I thought to myself: You are there! You are exactly here! (I know, I know, I have read a lot on mindfulness and a lot of Eckhart Tolle). But that is exactly what that family was. Putting aside the assumption that they actually had to be somewhere, they were simply there, on the trail at that moment, and the little girl playing with the long bendy stick, she was doing what children do best when you let them. She was BEING.
I rode on, not exactly knowing where I was, which is a great way to be sometimes. I came across the cross country ski hut and was looking at the map when a guy came riding out of a side trail. This was not a typical ‘Whistler mountain biker’. This was a young guy on an old school no suspension steel Rocky Mountain bike that he had likely borrowed from the condo and was too small for him. He was wearing tennis sneakers and jeans and not wearing a helmet and he had the biggest grin on his face. ‘Do you know that trail Tin Pants?” he asked me. I replied that I did not, that I didn’t know any of the trails. His face lit up and his smile got wider and he shared his excitement that he had just rode it and it was the best ride he had ever done. He said this several times so sincerely that his enthusiasm was literally awesome. He pointed at my cyclocross bike and said, “You could do it on that bike too!” So I did it. Tin Pants, here I come. He was right. I am not a hard core mountain biker, I love flowy easy trails, and this was on the easy side of easy for me, which felt just fine the morning after the Sun Run 10k. I rode it with a smile on my face, happy to just be there.
‘Happy to be here’ is what this site is all about, and why I have always called my work Run For Joy. I have had many happy moments in my professional life. Happiness was winning two silver world championship medals, recognition and awards, and getting to see somewhere new. I now see happiness as a feeling: I feel happy when I complete an awesome run, when I have one of those floating, flying days of effortless biomechanics. JOY is what inspires me now. Joy is something that I practice. Without knowing it, all those years ago when I decided to be kind to myself on the tough days, I was practicing positive habits: I was choosing joy. Joy is a decision that deep down inside you love what you are doing, because it is your passion and it feels good to do it. Joy is something we can all practice, especially on the tough days, when you don’t feel happy with the way things are going. And you know what? I rarely have tough days anymore.
On my first website I had a personal statement that is still true: "If I hadn't discovered the way to infuse my running career with joy- an appreciation for my experiences and what I can accomplish-I would have stopped in frustration years ago. Over time my career has come to mean less about winning and external rewards and more about the path to learning, friendships, life priorities and celebrating pure human potential through the medium of running."
Run For Joy is about the why of running. It is about finding a clear sense of purpose and joy in your active life. After 30 years in the sport, after my elite high performance career is said and done, what remains for me is the pure joy of being able to do something that I really love. When you can identify why you like to run or work out, you are in touch with a fundamental and authentic truth. It is through that truth that you connect your physical and emotional well-being and create and sustain positive habits that transfer into all areas of your life.
This is especially true for me now, where the responsibilities of parenthood, schools, after school activities, work and housework play a much larger role. Balance is really only about perspective and even 30 minutes of purposeful joyful running can sustain me for 24 hours.
I am excited to start sharing my experience again. In the coming months, I will start putting out new stuff, and will find and post my old favourites that are currently not online anymore. I will talk about courage, and vulnerability, and striving and failing and all the things that make us truly human. I still love the practical stuff: how to race, how to train, what to do when you are injured, sports psychology and nutrition. I will talk about women and girls in sport and how to encourage a healthy love of physical activity in your children. I will probably share some stories of my racing and training days and I may even talk about training in pregnancy and training in menopause.
Because running is about you too, I welcome your ideas, suggestions, comments and questions and there is a spot on this site for that too.
My guiding values are lightheartedness, wholeheartedness and common sense and I hope you enjoy the journey!
Run For Joy
I would like to thank the Four Seasons Whistler for donating a room prize to the Seawheeze Half Marathon. I won that prize and have used it to seclude myself in order to put the final ‘perfect enough’ touches on my new site.
Common sense and a sense of humour.