Monday, October 03, 2011

Running: From Allergy to Obsession

It's no secret that Vancouver is a fit city. It's a fabulous city for the outdoors and sports. There are beautiful trails, not to mention our gorgeous long stretch of seawall that runs along beaches, trees, and shiny cityscape that is perfect for running. It's a city full of races, runs, and walkathons year round. I remember on my way to church on the skytrain some mornings, seeing people with race T-shirts boasting "Vancouver Marathon". I used to think these runner-people were crazy -- I can barely manage to roll out of bed and onto the skytrain at 9am on a Sunday morning, and they have already finished running 42km/26 miles by that time. Who are these crazy people?!

Well somehow, the impossible has happened. I've become one of them. I somehow still am not comfortable calling myself a runner... I'd rather describe myself as "a person who runs." I'm not sure what's behind my reluctance to just own it, but it really is weird to see that I've come such a long way with this thing called running.

I used to say, "I'm allergic to running." And people would laugh. And I'd say, "No, really, running makes me itchy." And really, it did! When I told my sister this one day many years ago, she enlightened me about this thing called "runner's chafe" and that if you choose the right clothes, it would reduce the chance of itchiness. Turns out she was right.

So I couldn't use that excuse anymore, not using a physical allergic reaction anymore as a copout, at least. But I was still mentally allergic to running. Once a year in high school phys ed class, we would do the dreaded Cooper Run -- 12 minutes of running laps in the gym. We were graded on how many laps we could complete. The more laps you ran, the higher the grade. I don't have a problem with using such an exercise to evaluate fitness, but there never seemed to be any warning, preparation or training for the task. You would just show up one day, and it would be Cooper Run day. As an asthmatic, unathletic person growing up, this was quite the dreaded task.

It was no surprise then, that when I started attempting to add the treadmill to my gym cardio mix last year, that 12 minutes was the mental barrier. But amazingly, using a run-walk rhythm approach, I gradually increased my endurance to run beyond a dozen minutes, one minute at a time. I was happily treading along on my contained cardio machine routines, when one day, my sister upped the anti.

She was renewing her running energies, she asked if I wanted to go along with her to run a 10K race, post Thanksgiving. I blame all my subsequent running obsessions on her! My all-or-nothing personality and way about tackling new interests kicked in high gear. After running that one simple race with her, we egged each other on in our running efforts. I'm not quite sure how it escalated to this point -- but this weekend, we are heading to Victoria. My sister will run her first half-marathon (go Flo!) and I will ahem, attempt my first full marathon. I'm still daily debating with myself if I've officially lost it... what was I thinking when I signed up?!

When I started diving into the whole arena of "race training" and preparation, I anticipated there would be many analogies that would parallel life and the many lessons along the journey.
  • You learn to pace yourself for the long haul, so you can finish the race without burning out too early on.
  • You learn to know your style, not getting caught up in trying to be like someone else. I'm such a bad sprinter and am a better long distance runner, so I don't need to freak out with my sluggish-start before I can really hit my groove past 10km/6miles. True to my form, it takes me forever to start at anything I begin!
  • You learn to listen to your body, to hydrate, rest and recover adequately.
  • You learn the value of having a training goal and plan, how structure and direction provide a good foundation.
  • You learn how a seemingly impossible goal is achievable, one step at a time, slowly pushing your comfort zone bit by bit, mile by mile.
  • You learn the value of accountability and having people to run with. There were some days my sister had to coax my butt out the door.
  • You learn the value of encouragement, and cheerleaders along the way, especially in the really hard parts where you feel you have nothing left.
  • You learn that having people to celebrate with at the finish line is much more satisfying than just accomplishing it by your lonesome. My sister and roommate running on the same day I did my first half-marathon made the euphoria grander, and the pain of laughing more joyful.
  • You learn to enjoy the journey, to look around and see the bigger picture of where you are. I've actually stopped listening to music as I find there's enough around me to take in, observe and absorb, and pray for people and the city as I pass on by.
Speaking of "the bigger picture" while I began running just to challenge myself, I realize that I'd be foolish to miss out on the opportunity that it can be to draw others into my journey for a greater cause. I was inspired by the beautiful and passionate women who recently completed the She-Loves Half Marathon to raise money for our sisters in Uganda who are suffering atrocious injustices.

And so, I'd like to ask you to please give to SA (Servants Anonymous) Foundation -- a local Vancouver organization that works to fight human trafficking of women and children around the world. They are one of few organizations internationally that offers a comprehensive and uniquely designed long-term recovery program for young women between the ages of 16-29, who have been or are at risk of becoming sexually exploited and/or trafficked, including those who are pregnant and/or have children. Read more about Servants Anonymous here. Make a donation here. Please note that while the race is Oct. 9, the giving page will be up until the end of the month, as I was late getting into the fundraising arena.

If you think of it, and if you are the praying type, please pray that I would finish the run in one piece, but more important, pray for the countless struggling and exploited women to be freed to live in the dignity and beauty that God created for them.

Thanks for joining me on this journey...