Archive for September, 2016


YOU CAN IF YOU WANT TO

09.25.2016

INTRODUCTION: What follows is from Brad Firth, aka Caribou Legs. At the moment he is on a cross country (Canada, that is) run to bring awareness to the issue of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women. It is not the first long distance run he has done to bring attention to an important issue, but it is without a doubt the LONGEST. Frankly, there is no explaining his ability to run the distances he does, day after day. It seems like some magical combination of genes and a fierce spirit where it comes to what he believes. The following was actually written a couple of years ago. I asked permission to reproduce it, unaltered, other than a few words of explanation, the photographs and update.

At this moment, Caribou Legs is in Quebec. After running thousands of kilometers, a rolled ankle caused him to need to take a break, but it seems healing has been rapid and that he will hit the road again very soon. If, after you read this, you want to keep track of his amazing story and mission, you can just follow along on Facebook, like I do:

https://www.facebook.com/bradley.firth1

I have known this amazing person since the earlier times when his transition began. I was associated in a modest way with the work of Benji Chu and Run for Change (as mentioned below). Brad’s heritage is Inuit. Much of his work and effort in recent years has been in the North, working with the youth of the region.

The title is meant to show that there is always hope and that if you believe in a deep, personal and spiritual way, it is possible to overcome the most difficult and horrible circumstances.

THE (ONGOING) STORY OF BRAD “CARIBOU LEGS” FIRTH

Caribou Legs (Brad Firth) as he will look if you see him on the road.

Caribou Legs (Brad Firth) as he will look if you see him on the road.

Some of you ask about my background and how I got to where I am today.

I spent 20 yrs in the violent back alleys and dark cold rainy streets of Vancouver, “running interference” as a hard core drug addict. As a result, I quickly ran amuck by lying cheating and stealing. I lived a reckless existence. There was no celebration of life whatsoever. Nothing but backstabbing, betrayal, spiteful, and scandalous behaviours. Each day on East Hastings I became more vulnerable, weak, frustrated, bitter, desperate, hostile, afraid, hopeless, and extremely paranoid, suspicious, tense, anxious, and nervous from rigorously abusing crack cocaine. Soon, I became a hardened ghost with no spirit, just like everyone else who experiments with hard drugs, the force of the honeymoon effect is just wayyy too strong and very captivating. I instantly became a slave to cravings and urges. I started conspiring ways and means to feed my appetite. I escaped from accountability and responsibility.


Existing on the street was like a slow death sentence. It’s a 24/7/365 day to day struggle. Your like a hyena in the desert, waiting for opportunity. It’s very embarrassing to see the sleezy tactics and desperate manipulations of addicted people, but I guess those behaviours are everywhere. Eventually, I found myself in provincial jail, desperate for a peaceful change of lifestyle; with no options/solutions of resurrecting my spirit, until an elder told me to start running . So that’s what I did, It was my breakthrough moment!


I started jogging every day and slowly broadened my horizons and stretched my legs into the North Shore mountains.
That’s where I reclaimed my spirit! I felt useful, powerful and worthy. Running became my medicine, teacher, and best friend. I ran everywhere in Vancouver and surrounding area.

 

On the road with Benji. Both wearing Run for Change T-shirts.

On the road with Benji. Both wearing Run for Change T-shirts.

I met an ultra runner named Benji Chu and together we ran 11hrs to Whistler on the Sea to Sky highway, We ran 13hrs to Chilliwack, and finally ran 23 hrs non- stop to Hope where I was a victim to a semi truck hit n’run which instantly shattered my left elbow into pieces, shattered my right hand and lacerated my right foot. I was devastated after surgery and thought my running days were over. I was told by Benji that the hit n run was payback for all my wrongful decisions on the streets and that I had also incurred many karmic debts over the years. My Creator had spared my running because I was to share my running in a good way with society. This is why I am very grateful for Benji’s insights and very grateful to be running today! After I was released from hospital I went to rehab therapy and began nursing myself back to running, it took 6 months to get back on the highway and face my semi truck fears, but I over came the fear of running on the highway with all those big wheel trucks!!

Today, I am an elite ultra runner, which means I run super long distances for 7+ hrs @ 10km/hr, averaging 65-75 km/day 6 days/week on the highways and trails. I can also run 100 miles under 24 hrs. I have come along way from the notorious HIV HEP C infested streets in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver. At 44, I am super healthy and disease free. I will run for another 40 yrs tops!

I’ve trained many times with the powerhouse Vancouver Falcons Athletic Club, Canada’s strongest running club and fastest elite runners. Coached by the best running coach in the country, John Hill.

Running in the North, his true home.

Running in the North, his true home.

My 2014 list of ultra running accomplishments include a 750 km 10 day run from Ft Smith to Yellowknife, a 1200 km 25 day run from Inuvik to Whitehorse, and a 3200 km 78 day run from Vancouver to Whitehorse. Plus I’ve run many ice roads in the freezing Beaufort Delta and Yellowknife area as well.

2 of my racing accomplishments I am most proud of include qualifying for the Boston marathon and running a 1:22 half marathon, placing 46th out of 3500 men.

Today, I enjoy running to small NWT communities by ice road or all weather highways, speaking to youth of all grades on the importance of running, fitness and nutrition. In my school presentations, I describe the history of self transport, snowshoeing and how running was used by trappers to hunt, trap, and harvest water, food, and wood for survival.

Brad will talk to all who want to hear. His primary audience is Northern Youth

Brad will talk to all who want to hear. His primary audience is Northern Youth

This is to inform you why cultural running is an important vital activity and lends itself to therapeutic healing . Running each day validates many physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental defects within our culture. Running 5km each day helps people with ADHD and FASD. Running improves our behaviour and offers healthy fitness solutions. I enjoy passing on stories of past runners leading the way when villages followed the herds. It was the runners who followed the herds and allowed hunters to set traps for caribou and buffalo. Runners carried important inter-tribal messages for important gatherings. Runners were always allowed safe passage in enemy territory as well. Runners in the community are regarded highly amongst chiefs and elders.

It is important we cultivate running into our children for generations to come. It is important we live to run and run to live!

Thank you Creator .

Megwiich, Caribou Legs!

TERRY FOX: THE HOPE AND THE DREAM LIVE ON

09.18.2016
Terry Fox Run South Surrey

Terry Fox Run South Surrey

Today is Terry Fox Run day across Canada and in many other places. Once again we joined the many others making this special effort to remember what Terry Fox did all those years ago to raise awareness and funds to fight cancer. The stories, books, movies about his life and his dedication are many. So, as I ran my 10K this morning I got thinking that Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes contains a unique contribution from Doug Alward, the friend who drove Terry’s van during the Marathon of Hope. More than being Terry’s driver though, Doug was a boyhood friend and brings a perspective of who Terry Fox was before cancer and before his amazing project took life. I decided the only thing to do then was to put that contribution up on the blog today as just one more little thing I might do in honour of Terry.

So, here it is, just as Doug wrote it. There are virtually no photographs because that is how the original was published. I want to thank Doug for this powerful and personal story, one that likely could not be written by any other person alive.

INSPIRATION AND DETERMINATION

 A FIRST HAND ACCOUNT OF THE TERRY FOX STORY

Doug Alward

 

“Anything is possible if you try…..

Dreams are made when people try.”

                                          Terry Fox, 1980

Terry Fox and Doug Alward - Where the Marathon of Hope began.

Terry Fox and Doug Alward – Where the Marathon of Hope began.

The Marathon of Hope to raise funds for cancer research began on a cold and foggy day in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Snow covered the roadside as winter still gripped the landscape.

Terry Fox dipped his artificial foot into the icy Atlantic Ocean, then turned landward to begin one of the most historic and inspiring runs ever. It was a run that would take him over 3,339 miles (5,373 km) across Canada through snow, wind, rain, and stifling heat before the cancer would strike again, killing his body but not his indomitable and enduring spirit.

It was a run that skeptics said was impossible. How could a boy who had lost one leg to bone cancer run a 42.2 km or 26.2 mile marathon EVERY day across hilly and mountainous highways, all the way across the second largest country in the world? Such a feat was considered impossible for most two-legged people. How could a one-legged person even think about it? Only one one-legged person, a man named Dick Traum, had ever tried a marathon on the primitive artificial legs available in 1980 and he had to walk much of the way. Terry was going to try to RUN a marathon EVERY DAY for several months. It was a run that would carry Terry Fox into the hearts of a nation and inspire millions of people across Canada and around the world, then and for decades to come.

As Terry’s friend and driver on the “Marathon of Hope for Cancer Research” and as Terry’s best friend from the age of 13, I learned much about his character and dreams. By sharing what I was so blessed to be a part of I hope to inspire you to reach out for your dreams, regardless of your present age, condition or situation.

One step at a time!- One telephone pole at a time!- One Marathon Run on one leg, one day at a time!- Over 5,300km across Canada through 100 km/hr wind, rainstorms, snow, -20°C late winter weather and searing 35°C summer heat; enduring freight trucks and inattentive drivers barreling along the Trans-Canada Highway at him; living in a small camperized van with the world’s worst cook (me) feeding him canned beans and peanut butter and jam sandwiches, Terry Fox ran a marathon a day for over 130 days taking only a couple of days off. Those “off” days were spent doing publicity events, television and newspaper interviews and meeting politicians and Prime Ministers. For Terry, the daily fundraising speeches and interviews were often more exhausting than the run. Miraculously, Terry Fox did it. He proved it IS possible to do the impossible.

When Terry first mentioned to me his idea of running a marathon a day, EVERY day, for 200+ days in a row across Canada to raise money for cancer research I never doubted he could accomplish such an unbelievable feat. Terry was always a possibility thinker. Terry believed in reaching for dreams with the abilities he had, not dwelling on what he didn’t have or what he might have done. I believed Terry could do it. Terry believed he could do it. The rest would just be detail and hard work.

To understand how Terry and I could believe such a feat was possible you have to know something of Terry’s background. When I first met Terry we were the only two Grade 8’s on the school cross-country running team. The school’s huge football coach who was our Physical Education instructor, semi-threatened us into joining the team even though running was not something Terry particularly enjoyed. In the first race of the year Terry came a distant dead last.

Untrained and new to competitive running, Terry was glad just to finish that first race, but he would not quit. With the encouragement and direction of outstanding teacher and running coach Mr. Fred Tinck (five of the athletes he coached went on to make the Olympic Games in various sports), Terry worked hard every day through cross-country and track seasons. By the time Terry was 15 he could run a mile in under 5 minutes. In other words, were it not for events yet to come, Terry was at the threshold of becoming an elite runner. But, as we know, Terry was destined to be not just an elite athlete, but an elite human being.

Similar to his efforts on the track, Terry improved dramatically as a basketball player. By way of a daily plan of training, believing in himself and just plain working his butt off, Terry went from being the shortest least skilled Grade 8 player (possibly in all of Canada), to making the basketball team at Simon Fraser University 5 years later. Academically, Terry went from being a 55% student in Grade 8 to holding an 88% average in Grade 12. Believing he could accomplish each of these goals, then planning and working towards them was the key to Terry achieving his dreams.

When Terry was 18 years old he felt a pain in his knee, a pain that got progressively worse over the next three months. Terry was stubborn. To him, pain was not to be a barrier to achieving his goals. He would not go to a doctor until he could no longer walk. Finally, after the doctors had done a battery of tests, Terry’s right leg was amputated a foot above his knee. Such a drastic measure was needed to try to prevent the spread of bone cancer that had started in his knee.

After surgery, several months of sickening chemotherapy treatments followed to try to kill any cancer cells that may have spread to other areas of Terry’s body. He lost his hair and vomited almost daily.

Terry did not dwell on his amputated leg and illness. He decided to get off his butt and show people what he could do. He said,

“I’m a dreamer, I like challenges. I don’t give up. I go all out…Nobody is ever going to call me a quitter.”

Terry focused on carrying a full course load of tough science and math courses at university. At the invitation of world wheelchair traveler “Man in Motion” Rick Hansen, he began playing wheelchair basketball. The British Columbia wheelchair team with Rick and Terry playing key roles, won the Canadian Championship three times.

After two years of treatment Terry vowed to do something to help all the kids he had seen suffering and often dying in the cancer clinic. He came up with the dream of running across Canada on one leg, doing a marathon a day to raise funds for cancer research. How could he accomplish such a feat on one good leg and a primitive artificial leg that was held on by air suction and a strap? The normal running gait was impossible so Terry invented a motion where he hopped with his real leg and swung the artificial leg through. Some people called it a triple jump and others appropriately called it the “Fox Trot”. One person said his running looked like that of a three-legged horse. To Terry all that mattered was that he was RUNNING. Problem number one had been solved by thoughtful experimentation.

The next problem to tackle was running a marathon a day. Terry had to come up with a training plan. He consulted everyone he knew who might be able to help him. Running and weight training coaches as well as nutrition experts helped Terry develop a plan. The first day Terry “RAN” just a single lap around the local dirt track and collapsed with an exhausted real leg and a bleeding stump, the result of the chafing of his stump in the bucket of the artificial leg. Terry went home with only one thing in his mind: a plan to do better the next day. The next day he ran two laps. After one week he was running a mile. By five months he was up to twenty laps a day. Terry said:

“I had some blisters man. It was like running on coals. I had some sores on my stump where the artificial leg was. They just rubbed raw and there is no protection. Sometimes the sores would bleed right through my valve in the bucket and the blood would run down my knee and my leg. I developed bone bruises. My toes and heel were totally blistered raw and I lost three toenails. I had shinsplints for two months…You have to get over a pain threshold. There were times where it really hurt, but I kept going.”

Then, with my crazy encouragement, Terry decided to pre-register for a 28km race in Prince George, BC on the Labour Day Weekend of 1979.   He still had two more months to increase his mileage and train his body. Slowly and systematically Terry increased his mileage to 18 km a day. Also, three times a week intensive two-hour sessions of strength and conditioning exercises followed the daily running sessions. These exercises worked particularly hard on back, abdominal, and lower leg muscles. Finally, race day in Prince George arrived and Terry ran the entire 28km without walking a single step.

Terry had now made up his mind. He would begin planning his run to cross the country at a marathon a day pace. The run would begin in April of 1980, just seven months later. He prepared a letter to get sponsors to help him in his dream. Terry wrote:

“The night before my amputation I read an article on an amputee who completed the New York City Marathon. It was then I decided to meet this new challenge head on and not only overcome my disability, but conquer it in such a way that I could never look back and say it disabled me. But I soon realized that would only be half my quest, for as I went through the sixteen months of the physically and emotionally draining ordeal of chemotherapy I was rudely awakened by the feelings that coursed through the cancer clinic. There were faces with the brave smiles and the ones who had given up smiling. There were the feelings of hopeful denial and the feelings of despair. My quest would not be a selfish one. I could not leave knowing these faces and feelings would still exist, even though I would be set free from mine. Somewhere the hurting must stop and I am determined to take myself to the limit for this cause…. I am not saying this will initiate any kind of cure for cancer, but I believe in miracles. I have to.

                                                                        Signed,

                                                                        Terry Fox (September 1979)

From September 1979 to Christmas Eve Terry ran 101 days in a row increasing his mileage from 10 miles (16km) per day to 20 miles (32km) per day by Christmas Eve. His mother ordered him to take Christmas Day off. Even when his wheelchair basketball team toured Washington and Oregon in early December Terry kept the streak of 20 mile days going by rising by 5 AM and running his miles.

Terry’s dream gave him amazing drive. He wanted to help kids dying of cancer. This dream kept Terry going through injury, lack of sleep and the pressures of university exams and term papers.

In his speeches Terry would often say that the pain he felt was nowhere near as bad as that of the pain the kids were feeling on the cancer wards. Some kids had tumors growing out the side of their head. Others had tumors throughout their body. Some would be there one week and dead the next. This suffering motivated Terry into action: one step at a time, one telephone pole at a time, one mile at a time. Now the dream was within reach. Running a marathon a day on one leg, across the second largest country in the world was just one step away.

On April 12, 1980 in St John’s Newfoundland Terry dipped his leg into the Atlantic Ocean. He filled a bottle with Atlantic Ocean water and tucked it away in the small camperized van we would share over the next several months. CBC television was there to capture the historic moment although much prodding was needed to convince CBC to have a film crew out to film such an impossible feat. A news reporter recorded the following quote from Terry:

“If it’s only up to me and my mind I‘ve got a lot of positive attitude. But you never know what might happen….I wanted to try the impossible…”

The first day fog limited visibility to fifty meters. The second day it snowed. The third day was sunny but with sub-zero temperatures that Terry said “Froze my balls off.” Seventy kilometer per hour freezing winds in his face made the running extremely difficult. On and on I watched Terry struggle. Day after day he accomplished the marathon goal. Day after day and step after step he captured the hearts of the kids and adults he spoke to at schools, receptions, and by doing countless interviews on radio and television. After three weeks he had run across the province of Newfoundland, a distance of 933 kilometers. By six weeks he had conquered Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. By seven weeks Terry had lost ten pounds, mostly due to my sub-par cooking. By eleven weeks Terry was through Quebec and at the Ontario border. Terry would say:

“I broke the run down. Get that mile down, get to that sign, that corner and around that bend.”

If I could describe Terry in one word it would be RELENTLESS.

Terry had accomplished what doctors, other amputees and skeptics had said was impossible. Terry Fox had proved them wrong. Now news editors hurried to record the story of the miracle boy who was capturing the imagination of people from coast to coast.

His story was simple. He had lost his leg from cancer. He had seen kids dying of cancer. He was determined to do something about it. He was asking people to donate to cancer research. A one dollar donation from each person was his goal.

His day would begin shortly after 4 AM. Before 5 AM he had to be at the spot on the Trans-Canada Highway that he had stopped the day before. In the pitch-black darkness Terry would step onto the highway under every conceivable weather condition. There were no excuses for taking a day off. Pain, blisters, and exhaustion were no excuse. A broken foot “MIGHT” be. Walking was NEVER allowed. He had to RUN every step.

Entering the province of Ontario in mid-July, temperatures soared upwards of 35°C. In major population centers thousands lined the streets to see and be inspired by Terry as he struggled onwards. Terry added several hundreds of kilometers to the run by heading south to Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton, and London, Ontario. Terry wanted to go to large population centers to inspire as many people as possible to give for cancer research.

Terry relentlessly fought onward through the hot summer finally nearing Thunder Bay, Ontario. At mile 3,339 (5,373 km) the cancer struck again. The bone cancer cells that had spread from his knee had grown into tumors larger than baseballs in his lungs, causing one lung to collapse so that he could hardly breathe.   The Marathon of Hope had ended on Labour Day Sunday, exactly one year to the minute that Terry had run his only race, on one leg, in Prince George.

The run was over, but the dream of raising funds for cancer research was not. Telethons and fundraising ventures spread like wildfire across Canada as Terry received treatment for the cancer that was now surely and steadily killing his physical body.

Terry died just before 5 am on June 28, 1981. Ironically, one year before at 5 am on June 28, 1980 Terry ran across the Quebec/Ontario Provincial border. Ontario was the province where the fundraising skyrocketed. It seemed as if Terry was asking us to continue his dream.

I was sad to physically lose my best friend, but relieved he was free of the horrible suffering cancer had caused. Spiritually, Terry’s attitudes and values continue to inspire me. Several times I have thought of giving up running as my aging body breaks down. Three years ago my doctor did a bone scan on my swollen feet and discovered the beginnings of arthritis. Muscle pulls, tendon problems and even a broken upper arm that sidelined me from any running for two months have slowed me down. Due to a modified training program, improved diet, the support of other runners, and Terry’s attitude to take “ONE STEP AT A TIME’, I have been able to achieve some of my best ever running performances. Recently, I ran a 1:17 half marathon at the age of 46.

Do you have a dream? Think of Terry’s perseverance against unbelievable handicaps: bone bruises, shinsplints and severe blister-like cysts on his stump that often bled into the artificial leg. Whether they be trivial or major, physical or mental, let Terry’s perseverance and spirit inspire you through your tough times and personal challenges.

Today, Terry Fox Runs are held in over 50 countries and have raised over $360 Million for cancer research. Terry is still running, still stepping one step at a time, one mile at a time. As Terry said:

“You only live once and if you want to get something done you have to do it while you have the chance.”

Terry tried and his dream to find a cure for cancer lives on.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Boy does Terry’s dream live on! Notwithstanding how we see it now, the early days of the Marathon of Hope didn’t produce all that much hope. Going was slow and so was the fund raising. Compare that to what we were told this morning: “Over $700,000,000 raised” and counting. I could have written 700 Million, but I think for this we need to see those zeros. Terry hoped for $1/Canadian. I wonder what he would think of this. If I understand anything about his spirit and determination, I am going to guess he might be thinking something along the lines of Great start, but cancer is still happening!

WHY DO WE DO THIS THING CALLED RUNNING?

09.08.2016

Why indeed!

Runners Running (at the 2013 BMO Vancouver Marathon)

Runners Running (at the 2013 BMO Vancouver Marathon)

The question is totally loaded. There are probably as many reasons as there are runners. Maybe I’m writing this for all the people who don’t run or don’t know why YOU run. This is a problem, of course, since people who don’t run probably aren’t reading this blog. Maybe I should just stop. Well, no. Little things like this have never stopped me before!

About Half of the Contributors, Victoria, BC at the official launch.

About Half of the Contributors, Victoria, BC at the official launch.

Since the blog is called “Running in the Zone” and comes from the book of a similar name, perhaps I’ll start with the answer I got when I asked this question of the 26 contributors. And, while some were just like me, avid mid-pack runners, many were Olympians and world record holders. All were past their main competitive days, thus the second part of the book title: “A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes“. Seasoned was kind of code for ‘old’, but so much nicer.

I did a little survey about a bunch of things among the contributors and one of the questions was, “Why do you run?” While the words were all a bit different, they all pretty much boiled down to: “Because I love it.”

BJ (Betty Jean) McHugh at the First Half Half Marathon

BJ (Betty Jean) McHugh at the First Half Half Marathon

People start running for a lot of reasons, some start young and never stop, while some start much, much later in life and keep going for years. Just a few examples include the pictured “BJ” McHugh, Ed Whitlock and Fauja Singh (still running at 100 years of age). Usually the ‘later in life’ people start doing it because of weight issues or health. I was certainly one of those. Like many, I had run in school, but then stopped when school ended. Without going into a lot of detail, I picked up again when just shy of 40. I had been quite athletic in my younger years playing baseball, running track and field and the biggie (for my family), playing soccer. I played ‘at’ lots of things, but those three were the real deal. Soccer was the last to go. I played for UBC and only quit after a fairly serious injury and some heavy academic time commitments. Oh, and because I had found my limit regarding skill and ability. Unfortunately, the injury (knee) was something that seemed to linger through the years. Forty was not my first time of trying running. Every time I did though, after a mile or so of what you could call a jog pace, the knee would start screaming. No problem to walk forever or sprint from point A to point B, but that longer distance ‘jog’ pace just wasn’t happening. Finally, I figured that if I could run a mile without pain, I would do that, often. Surely, for health reasons, it was better than not running a mile. After doing this for a little while (few months) I decided maybe I could go a bit longer. Tried 2 miles without problem, then a bit more and a bit more and about three years later, trained for and ran my first marathon. All my PBs came in a period of about 18 months in 1988-89. I was 43/44 at the time. I must admit the competitive side of me wonders how fast I might have been able to run had I tried my ‘mile at a time’ experiment sooner. We will never know. Oh well, I suppose if you really, really believe in age grading, we could estimate some times. And yes, I have done that.

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

Anyway, that is how I came to my (second) running career that now spans well over 30 years. Racing was not always part of it, but for the most part I did keep the legs and feet moving, racing or no racing. Why? Because for a range of reasons, in terms of what it gives me – I love running.

Some of the elite contributors to Running in the Zone obviously started young and kept going. When I said that ‘Seasoned’ was another term for old, I should make clear that the youngest contributors to the book were only about 46 when they wrote their piece, but for unrestricted elite running, 46 IS old. Some continued with age group or masters running to satisfy their competitive nature and some just run and don’t compete at all. In most of those cases, the individual isn’t interested in racing when they can’t do what they used to do, but they still want the running part.

Lead Women - Boston Marathon 2009 - Being Fierce

Lead Women – Boston Marathon 2009 – Being Fierce

For the elites, I suppose a major reason for running is that they are good at it. And, being competitive of spirit, there isn’t much more to say. Knowing a fairly significant number of competitive elite runners, and knowing how hard they work to BE competitive, you also just have to know there is something fundamental driving them. Exactly WHAT it is they love is another matter. Being the very best they can be, winning, delving into the depths of their own endurance are all possibilities for the reason any given individual might put him or herself through what elites and even sub-elites do to be that good.

Double Agent two-fer on Maniacs/Fanatics group membership. (Photo: Courtesy of Revel)

Double Agent two-fer on Maniacs/Fanatics group membership.
(Photo: Courtesy of Revel)

I am a member of Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics, a Double Agent so to speak. There is a whole different dynamic at play in these groups, both of which are now counting over 14,000 members. While there are some fast runners in these groups, being fast gets you nothing. Elite marathoners generally run 1-4 races per year, two being pretty common. Not one of them could qualify to join Marathon Maniacs. The qualifying standard is ‘how many’ in a period of time; same for Half Fanatics. There are ten levels in both groups and attaining those levels depends on running a certain (generally large-ish) number of marathons (or halfs) in a specified period of time. I can say with certainty that members take pride and pleasure in attaining these goals. I am sure that among other reasons for running, they enjoy meeting similar minded maniacal (or fanatical) people. They enjoy traveling to run, because there just aren’t enough local races to run to realize the group achievement standards. And, just as running fast is a true athletic goal, so is running a lot. It is a different form of our sport and the people who do a LOT of marathons often don’t train much. Let’s face it, if you run a marathon every weekend, you don’t need to do a lot beyond loosening the old legs up between races. For those who neither think nor behave this way, if you did run a marathon every weekend for a year (some Maniacs do that) and took not another running step between races, you would cover 1,362.4 miles, or 2,194.4km. Of course, these numbers require that you cut every tangent perfectly, too!

I know a lot of people with busy lives or stressful jobs who use running to dissipate the tension that builds up. Some refuse to race (even if they run a lot and may actually be quite good runners) precisely because competing at running when the rest of their life is filled with various forms of competition, just becomes another stress. Who needs that? But, if running is a stress buster, what’s not to love?  It has certainly been one of my personal reasons, more-so  at some times than at others.

bottomofhill

Speaking of mentoring, this is my grandson, Charlie, and me racing.

One of the things I love about running is being able to coach or mentor others who are just coming to it. I have been involved in leading running clinic groups for at least a dozen years. I know many who feel the same way and find great pleasure in being able to help and support others as they come to the sport for the first time or to improve their performance, whatever that may mean. While I have coached/mentored true beginners, in the clinic group I lead now I am often encountering people preparing for their very first half or full marathon. It is great fun to be able to help those individuals realize that major life goal.

I know many competitively spirited people who still want to ‘win’ in various senses. I am definitely one of those people. Winning has different meanings. I sometimes point out (usually to new runners, just getting into racing, and maybe feeling that they just aren’t good enough) that any race has precisely ONE winner. That is the guy (usually) who crosses the line first. Steve Prefontaine  described being second as ‘First Loser’. It was mostly a statement of his personal standard for his own aspirations, but puts a nice context into this idea. I have had some flack for that statement, usually from people who feel the effort involved in doing something hard makes them a ‘winner’. It makes a good conversation starter though, and gives me a chance to point out that I am really saying the same thing. I just use the shock value to get other people’s attention.

Revel does good 'bling'! Slept with my gold medal the first night.

Revel does good ‘bling’! Slept with my gold medal the first night.

Winning can mean winning your age group, and I know lots who avidly pursue this goal. Often they don’t so much want to beat anybody else (OK, sometimes they do), but rather, like Pre, they want to meet a standard they have set for themselves. Since I’ve never really been that good, I take my age-group podiums, including golds, when they come and enjoy them, but for me ‘winning’ means maintaining my performance either in raw times for any distance or in age graded times or performance. It is inevitable as you start counting off the years, that around my age, you are going to be slower. You can only forestall that slowing. You cannot stop it. So, holding steady on personal performance is a win for me. If that gets me a medal now and then, that is a bonus and gives me pleasure, but the real ‘win’ is being out there and doing it as well as I can. My big (being just a little facetious) thrill and claim to fame just now is that I am the age group record holder at the Revel Mount Charleston Half Marathon. Somehow, I managed to win my age group. 2016 was the inaugural running of the event. I have to be the record holder. Still, I’m having fun for now!

Another rewarding thing for runners can be pushing to some new level – a half marathon, marathon or maybe that first ‘ultra’. Finding yourself able to do something you never thought you could is hugely rewarding. In my opinion, it is also a fine reason to run. Actually, never mind the marathon, the first 5K.  Or, as the Vancouver Sun Run proves on an annual basis, the first 10K completed at any pace, amounts to a wonderful and pleasing accomplishment.

NYCM Expo 2007

NYCM Expo 2007

Parts of running can be a part of the ‘why’ of running. I run marathons in particular, at least partly because of the energy or ‘vibe’ of  such races. There is something about being around people doing a marathon. There is a mix of fear and determination along with anticipation that is not much like any other type of race. There is nothing certain about stepping to the line to start a marathon, not even for the elite runners at the head of the field. You NEVER know how it will go. The best runners have to drop out (sometimes) while the slowest, with dogged determination, finish. To be fair, you really can’t compare those speedy elites at the front with the rest of us, especially if you are running a big race like New York City Marathon, Chicago, London, Berlin, but we all run the same race, the same course, on the same day in the same weather.

Actually, one of the big thrills of those major marathons is that I can run in a race with the best in the world. Name another sport where the mere mortal is allowed to be in the same event as the very best. I play golf now and then, but I can’t just trundle down to Augusta and book myself a tee-time for the Masters. Granted, some of those marathons are hard to get into, but that is a matter of weight of numbers, not restrictions based on ability. Yeah, yeah, I know – Boston, but even Boston only requires that you be pretty good for your age.

Running isn't always about racing.

Running isn’t always about racing.

I have somewhat let myself drift into equating running with racing. It isn’t. When writing/editing our book, Running in the Zone, I was faced with the question of what I would actually write for my own contribution. I mentioned earlier, the concept of stress busting being facilitated by running. I decided that maybe a few words on running meditation would be in order. What I wrote was a bit of a formalized description of what a lot of runners do whether they recognize it or not. I was quick to point out that this may require a certain fitness and ability level that would let a person just ‘run easy’. I mean, when you are first starting out, there may not be any such thing as an easy run. Truly though, it really doesn’t take that long to have a differentiated pace that can be described as ‘easy’. The essence of what I wrote was just a bit of a guide on getting your body and mind into the right place for a very meditative kind of running. It is wonderfully peaceful and rejuvenating. As I said, most experienced runners have probably done this with or without consciously knowing they are doing it. When that sort of option is available anytime you want to do it, what’s not to love?

I suppose I could go on at somewhat greater length, but as with many of my posts the intention is to get the reader thinking. I hope I have done that. I’d love to hear what others hold as their reasons to run.