Saturday, March 12, 2016

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running for 90 Minutes

I am currently trying to get myself in shape for my first running event of 2016, the venerable Around the Bay Road Race. It’s a 30k run through the streets of Hamilton Ontario, and it takes place either at the end of winter or the beginning of spring, depending on the weather that day. Last year it was a cold, sunny day with a bitter wind, so I was glad I was bundled up. Other years it has been almost balmy.
The Old Man and the Bay
Until recently our winter here was very sparse snow-wise, but I still do most of my off-season running on the treadmill. That way I can watch TV and stop and fill my water bottle when I want to. The atmosphere is more Family Guy than Chariots of Fire, but at least I get the workout done.
One of my favourite Sunday workouts at this time of year is my 90-minute run. Although the long run of the week is supposed to be long-slow-distance with no thought to speed, I do try to keep an even pace. I have found that my run divides itself into three roughly even sections; each has its own characteristics, challenges, rewards.
The first thirty minutes of my long run are always the hardest. Each system in my body protests the transition from stillness to motion and my mind is overwhelmed by how far I have to go before I am finished. When I’m outdoors I really don’t take a lot of time to notice my surroundings in this first half hour. I am too busy trying to remember how to run.
My thoughts during this first third of my run are mostly status checks of my body. Although I haven’t had as many injuries as some of my friends, I am aware that I should expect different things from my physical self at 64 than I did at 34. It is only as I approach the half-hour mark that I come to accept – as if for the first time – that I am a runner.
The second 30 minutes of my run are always the easiest. I credit myself with the distance I have travelled so far and my mind is less preoccupied with how far I have yet to go. My muscles are warm and fluid and strong and my stride lengthens. If I started my run out of breath and feeling lazy, that mood leaves me and is replaced by a calm rhythm.
It’s funny how I can never really forget that I’m running. I rarely drift off into a daydream and wake up to discover that I’ve covered another couple of kilometres while dozing. Running is likely the most present thing I do. I am always aware of my arms swinging, of my feet hitting the ground, of my breath filling my chest, of my legs pivoting forward in turns to catch me just in time to stop me from falling. I find myself surprised and grateful every time they do.
The final half hour is when I start to feel like a distance runner. Because I have suffered through my share of injuries over the past 30 years (most of them in the past 10), I am always relieved and energized when all my moving parts have worked together through thousands and thousands of repetitions to carry me this far. Nothing about me ever feels as perfect as it does at this time.
I tell myself I am picking up the pace, even though I know that I’m really just working harder to keep up the pace I started at.  By the end I usually feel the way I wanted to feel: ready for more. I am grateful to have run and finished, not because I finished, but because I ran.

Ninety minutes is less than half of what it will take me to run around Hamilton Bay in a few weeks. But it translates into a good distance for me: more than a 10k and less than a half marathon. A useful workout that doesn’t leave me too wrecked to do anything else for days. I like the synergy of the three sections; none would exist without the other, and together they dare me and test me. And then they recreate me.