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Imagine 100 people signing up to participate in a 10-week Learn to Run Clinic during the coldest, wettest months of a coastal Canadian town. Many were absolute beginners, who had decided that this was the year to make a change. Many others were the repeatedly injured who chose to finally take advice from experienced volunteers. Some others sign up annually, as a New Year’s resolution to try to get fit again, in hopes of squeezing into that bikini for spring break. Some (like me) just wanted company and extrinsic motivation.

Then imagine 64 of those participants toeing the start line 10 weeks later. And then stand back and be amazed that 63 of them finished the 5km race! A great day, indeed.

For me, the goal was to pace myself right from the start. I always start off too quickly, even when I run by myself, and the reason is that I am usually cold. So today, I had a nice long, slow warm-up run in my sweats and gloves and made sure that I was starting to sweat before the start. I peeled off the layers and headed to the start line. It made all the difference! Can you believe it? I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks!

The course was a straight-forward out-n-back, with a gentle incline all the way out and a slight headwind all the way home. Once I found my own space, I stayed focused on going gently and trying not to get caught up in anything else. As we came to the 2km mark, the incline increased and I started to think a lot about my breakfast. (Did I eat too much? Too late?) I was keeping an eye on the turn-around cone, knowing that I would feel a lot better once I hit the sweet downhill.

I started to count the runners as they turned. 6? 6 runners ahead of me! Well, I’ll be dipped. And only one was a woman! Hee-hee! In the few 100 meters after the turn-around cone, I opened up a bit and managed to pass 2 more close-by runners. I could see that the others were too far ahead to catch so I just had to maintain what I had gained.

As I headed back into town, I had the lovely treat of seeing all the people I have met over the past 10 weeks. It felt like I was calling out names and encouragement to each runner. I saw the true learn-to-run participants who were actually running the whole distance. I watched the walk/runners who would dutifully begin running again when someone’s watch beeped. All their happy faces on a sunny Saturday morning made the second half fly by.

And, just like that, it was all over. I crossed the line in 23:30 – 5th overall and 2nd woman (not that anyone was actually keeping track of these things).

As I finished, they handed me a popsicle stick, a ‘participant’ ribbon and a tottery older gentleman. He offered me his arm and I happily obliged, as I was pretty wobbly for those first few steps! As soon as I was steady again, I headed back to watch the others finish. I was struck once again by the enormity of this run for some. Entire families were gathered at the finish with bouquets of flowers, videos filming the finish and children joining parents in the finish chute. Fabulous, indeed.

I think I’ll do it again next year!

Now I can truly say I am a member of the Comox Valley Road Runners and an official participant in the 5km Fun Run! I have the proof!

For 10 weeks now, on Saturday mornings, I have dutifully headed into town to learn to run. Each week, the clinic began with a speaker who shed light on some aspect of running – from stretching to injuries; from nutrition to clothing. After 30 minutes of listening, we participated in a group warm-up and then split off into our levelled groups. In my group, titled ‘racers’ (rather than walkers or walk/runners), each week’s run introduced us to a strategy to help us improve our racing technique. We ran fartleks, did track work-outs, ran hill repeats and ran at tempo. We did it all and we are now considered ready for the big race.

Tomorrow morning is the 5 km Graduation Run. I am trying to take it seriously but it feels a little silly to me. I ran 20 km without batting an eye last weekend and ran another 11 km this afternoon. So much for tapering! I even considered running to the race and from home afterwards (8 km each way) just to make the day worthwhile.

I guess I need an attitude adjustment. This is a BIG deal for some of the participants and I should be more respectful of that. When I think back – way back to 1995 – I remember my first 8 km race.

It was a Women’s Only 8 km run, held at Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver. With a downhill profile, it was a race with guaranteed success. I trained hard for it, on my own, and I pushed myself to my limit. I remember feeling so proud at the end. Bruce, who rode his bike to sections of the route, had miscalculated my finish time and missed me completely – mostly because I ran way faster than my ‘best case scenario’.

For me, tomorrow marks my graduation to a new social group of runners in the Comox Valley and my re-entry into road running. For so many others, tomorrow marks a change of lifestyle and an “I Can” attitude about setting and keeping goals. Best wishes to all of those who dared to get off the couch and give running a whirl!

I have one speed that I comfortably fall into when I go out for a run.  It’s a nice, easy, sight-seeing pace that allows me to run with minimal effort for hours and hours. I don’t believe in listening to tunes (although I have been known to sing out loud) so my pace is genuine – something that comes from within me, like my personal metronome.

But, as I have lamented of late, I am in a running rut and I have begun to take action to dig myself out.  As part of my Learn to Run 5km clinic, the group leaders have begun adding fartleks into our group runs.  Simply, we go out for a slow, casually-pace run and, on the call of the leader, we all put in a 30 to 45 second burst of speed and then resume the casual pace.  These bursts are not supposed to be your flat-out fastest sprint but merely a faster-than-tempo spurt. During our weekly runs, we have been doing 3 or 4 fartleks over our 45 minute run.

Did I mention that this Learn To Run clinic involves weekly homework?  Well, it does.  We are encouraged to complete 3 other runs each week and they should involve the same casual pace and fartleks.

Being a good little school girl, I headed out yesterday to run my favourite close-to-home trail loop and, for the first time, I added in 4 fartleks. What I learned is – it is hard to be honest and truthful about your running when you are on your own, on familiar trails.  I found that I was putting off the speed work because an incline was coming up. Instead, I would cheat and wait until the trail began its downward slope before I decided to pick up the pace.  Is this cheating? Or is this smart?  I never seem to know the difference.

The other aspect that I found easy to fudge was the timing.  I am a bit old-school, in that I don’t carry some techno device that will calculate my minutes per mile or my gps coordinates.  For pete’s sake, I don’t even where a watch!  So how long is 45 seconds, when you don’t carry a time-piece?  Somewhere during my first fartlek, I decided that four footfalls took a little more that 1 second, so I would count every fourth step until I reached 30.  I have NO IDEA if this was accurate.  Each fartlek could have been anywhere from 20 seconds to 3 minutes.  Who knows?

But, in all honesty, those little speed bursts kept me very aware of my pace throughout my run.  After each fartlek was done, I was gasping and almost staggering along, trying to keep out of the salal and huckleberries at the trail’s edge.  I consciously tried to run relaxed and slow right up until the urge to ramp up my pace came through me again.  And then I worked on my recovery, both in breathing and in pacing.  That has to count for something, right?

Today I joined the local “Learn to Run” clinic in town. Our goal is to train over a 10 week period towards a 5 km race in mid-March. No, I am not leading the clinic.  I am a participant – a paying participant.

My loyal blog followers are probably double-checking that they followed the correct link to this address. In fact, I can almost hear Marie saying, “What the f*@# are you talking about?” But, I have heard that the biggest part of any problem is recognizing that a problem actually exists. In enrolling for this clinic, I am addressing a problem.

Moving to a new place has had a lot of perks. I could go on forever, recounting the joys of the 10 minute commute, the sound of silence, the pleasures of small-town people, but I have another blog that tells those stories. But there are downsides to moving. I know about 10 people and none of them run. I hear about many trails and routes, but I only know two of them well. I still consider myself a runner, but I am lacking the motivation to truly train or set a goal. My running hasn’t stopped, but it has stagnated.

So, when the admin assistant at my school started talking about this learn-to-run clinic, I listened. With a chuckle, she admitted that she was signing up for her 8th year in the clinic since it helped her jump-start her running after Christmas festivities ended. She raved about the social aspects – the post-run coffees, the peer-pressure to run on crappy days, the friendships that extend beyond the clinic. It made me remember the old days of being a regular member of the Semiahmoo Sunrunners in White Rock about 18 years ago. She emphasized that it was a clinic for all people interested in running, no matter what their background or ability. She told me to come out.  So,I did.

Day 1 – I joined level 4, the highest level, which consists of people who can run 5 km already. There were about 15 people (almost all women) and 3 leaders in the group. We ran for a grand total of 34 minutes at a very slow pace. As we chatted and compared stories, the leaders kept the pace casual and didn’t allow any jack-rabbits to go off the front. When we were done, I had not yet broken a sweat or had begun breathing heavily.

But that’s not the point. I chatted with about 8 people and even met  the women who lives across the street from me.

Things are looking up.

The Happy Wanderer

My Paths on Strava

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