Monday, December 12, 2011

The Year in Rearview

Before starting on today's topic, a brief update...

Took xray's of my good knee.  On January 23, I see a sports doctor in Collingwood (actually Cranberry Village, for those who DH ski) who will look at xrays, then give me the good news.  I'm pumped!

This is not a review of the year, which I hope to complete early in the new year.  This is more about the social side of running and the amazing people in our sport.  If you are reading this, most likely you are on the list.  Unless you are my mother.  Of course, she's dead, so it is unlikely she is reading this.  Yes, I dabble in the macabre, if you have not noticed so far.

Every aspect of running (I don't want to limit this to trail and ultra running) is positive.  I think if everyone knew how many positives there are in running, our sport would be saturated.  It is trending that way for good reason!  How many of you have run a race (I know, easier to ask how many have not run a race, but humour me)?  We pay good money to throw our bodies against impossible terrain, heart-churning distances and, as 2011 pointed out, some seriously nasty weather.  What is our reward?  Even those chronically astride the podium suffer in this sport.  In fact, those on the podium are the few that suffer the most.  What we take back from a race cannot be bought in a store.  Being familiar with the challenges of the Creemore Vertical Challenge, I most noted 2 runners (Chris and JD) who passed each other at the 35/40K point of the race and both wrote in their blogs about the anguish on the other runner's face.  Both were having an epic struggle and both KNEW the other running was in the same mindset.

We learn at races.  We learn how to overcome obstacles, why nutrition is important in a race, the cute effects of starting too fast and the euphoria of touching the perfect race.  I call it "touching" because there is no apt description of what happens when your training, nutrition, pace and mental state are all in balance and the only disappointment is when the race is over.

The appeal of volunteering at a race is another aspect of running that is hard to explain.  Handing out water in beating down heat or freezing rain, to people too far gone to enunciate a simple statement is fun?  How much am I getting paid for all this?  Yet the expressions on people's faces when you hand them a coke with ice on a hot day is indescribable.  They are too overwrought to figure out what would stave off death to the next aid station and you have delivered them manna from heaven.

I would dearly love to espouse on the camaraderie amongst the aid station volunteers, but unfortunately, what happens in the aid station, stays in the aid station...

Pacing is an entirely different arena.  Many blogs have dealt with how the pacer does everything the runner does, but does not get a finishing medal and deals with a cranky three year old for hours on end.  Sign me up!

I have limited experience pacing people.   One of my first such attempts was to pace Charlotte on her record breaking run of the Bruce trail.  It was an incredible learning experience.  Picture the rabbit on the rail, trying to keep exactly 5 meters ahead of the runner, on a trail that is technical enough to make turning around too often a big mistake.  Then horror struck!  Although still on what looked like the trail, I had not seen a blaze for 200 meters.  Asking Char to stay put while her legs where killing her (she had been running for 15 hours at this point.  Oh! on her 9th day of running 50 - 80K...) then racing around trying to find a blaze...  Not pretty.  I finally found a blaze more than 130 meters from the last blaze.  I think one of the blaze posts must have fallen over.

Or pacing Lee Anne in her first attempt at 100K.  We had almost crested a small hill (sorry Stephan, a MOUNTAIN) when this orange rat attacked us.  I wish I was making this up, but other runners saw the orange rat!  The runner can stop worrying about a plethora of racing details and logistics; leave them to the pacer, and just run.

Organizing a race is also rewarding, perhaps the most so, but requires an order of magnitude more time and committment.  This is not intended to discourage people from organizing a race, but be prepared to invest heavily of your time and capital.  The result of poor planning in a race is different than forgetting to bring your shoes to a race!  Again, there are aspects of being an RD that don't add up.  In a quaint little race like Creemore, prepare to spend 5 - 8 grand before any money trickles in.  If it trickles in!  And regardless of how much insurance and medical staff you have on site, why don't you gamble on losing your house and assets in a lawsuit?  Yeehaa!

But being an RD has incredible rewards.  Like the runner in 2009 who approached me after finishing the 25K, shook my hand and stated "I don't like you".  Then he walked away and poured himself a Creemore Springs beer!  I appreciate that for close to 20K of the race, he had this image of the ##$&^ who designed the course that had punished his body.  He was back in 2010...

So by all means, continue to push yourself in the races.  Here in Ontario, we are the envy of much of North America, with our "normal" 5K, 10K, half and marathon races, but also depth in our trail and ultra races.  Try a few you have not done before.  Not experienced on trails?  Try racing Pick Your Poison.  I guarantee it will open your eyes!  Or jump to a 50K or 50 mile race.  It only costs cents per minute (you will want to hurt me for this once you figure it out...)

But also try pacing, volunteering or crewing next year.  You will learn so much, that can be used in your own races!

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