Yesterday, I did my last 20 mile training run before Boston. Reaching the end of a training cycle before a taper is a pinnacle – at this point, if you haven’t done the training or put in the effort, it is simply too late. The focus for the next three weeks changes to recovery, nutrition and removing stress….much more passive than training and it is sometimes hard to wrap your head around doing less. For this reason, I always like to have a strong last long run to boost my mental game going into the taper.
The route I chose was an out-and-back from my house in Kits to Dundarave Pier in West Vancouver. This route is a “greatest hits” album of what Vancouver has to offer a runner…a quick tour of Cornwall past Kits beach, jaunt over Burrard Bridge, sweeping views over English Bay, throw in some Stanley Park trails, over the Lions Gate and then a nice long stretch in the middle past Ambleside out to the Pier. It is not an “easy” run, with Prospect Point looming in the first third of the run, but I find it really soothing.
Since my first marathon in 2005, one of the things I have learned is to embrace the long runs in training. It is so hard to explain to a non-runner the joy that I find in the solitude of a 32 km run….but there is just something so peaceful about concentrating on nothing but the next step and reveling in the gorgeous backdrop that the North Shore mountains and English Bay provide.
Admittedly, running can be a slog sometimes, when you are tired, when the wind is howling or the rain is driving in your face….but not yesterday. Passing English Bay beach, the water was barely rippling. The temperature was perfect – not hot, not cold. The sunshine even popped out from behind the clouds a few times. I marveled at the scenery, thought about how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful city and reflected on how fortunate I am to be able to run.
Novice runners and non-runners will inevitably tell you that they "can't run" or don't enjoy it because it hurts. Yes, yes it does hurt. But you gradually learn how to embrace the pain a little….and learn to trust in yourself to push a little harder. You learn to differentiate between the good hurt and the bad hurt and you learn when to say no, and when to keep pushing. You can choose….every section of every run can be made into a challenge or you can slow down and coast through. Yet, persevering through adversity always results in a little revelation about yourself. You can do it.
I hauled my tired legs up Bridal trail even though my legs and lungs were screaming at me and taunting me to stop….each step telling myself, No, Mr. Hurt…you will not prevail today....I am going to embrace the challenge in front of me and work through it. And soon, the laboured breath, self-doubt and pain peeled away as I crested the hill…. a short pick-up over the arch of the bridge and I found myself joyously stretching out my legs and pacing down the long, gentle incline of the Lions Gate while marveling at the gorgeous backdrop. Waving and saying good morning to the other runners…with a smile on my face. Heading down the stairs and back to sea level, I sped up to race pace for the out-and-back to Dundarave Pier. Five years ago I would not have done this because I didn’t believe I could do it. 10k of race-effort sandwiched in the middle of a 32k run…are you crazy!? Cannot simply does not exist. I can.
Finally, 32k later and 2:40 after I set off, the feeling of bliss….returning back to Point Grey Road knowing that I accomplished what I set out to do. Legs tired and a bit winded from a last kilometer sprint, I was completely done, yet in an exhilarated and happy way because I know I put the effort in and succeeded. Five years ago, I struggled to finish my first marathon at a pace slower than what I run my training runs at today. Even better, I have no blisters and I can walk today without any pain. It’s a quiet little revelation for me, especially on my last long run before Boston. It will not win a race or change the world….but I know I put in my best effort, and that counts for something.