Sunday, August 17, 2008

The shedding of shackles

The last two weeks have been nothing but fun and excitement, coupled with a feeling of accomplishment, peace and happiness.

Something happened at that Death Race. Maybe it was the gruelling 22 km leg. Maybe it was being in the woods, often alone, in the dark. Maybe (and I suspect mostly) that I had no idea I was going to do it and I pulled it off with about 24 hours of prep time.

I expected to feel a sense of having done well after it. What I didn't expect was that it would become an experience that would mark my life in a way that only select other experiences have.

In the past two weeks, and particularly this past week, I have smashed so many personal barriers I have astonished myself.

On Monday I went hiking with two co-workers. As we were driving there, we saw a grizzly on the side of the road, which was kind of cool. Then we started on our hike and saw another grizzly on the trail! I've never encountered a bear before. I was more startled than anything. The bear, an adolescent we figured, was enjoying a breakfast of mountain berries. We made noise. The bear ran off. We made more noise and waited, going back up the trail after a few minutes.

The bear had returned. Although it was more interested in Mother Nature's buffet and not us smelly humans, we took it as a sign that it was time to turn around and head back to the car. On the way home we saw two more bears, a cub and a mama, also feeding on berries. Here's a picture (taken from the safety of the car, of course) of one of the bears we saw.

We all agreed that we were probably a little less scared than we really should have been. Despite the noise we made and being a little taken aback, none of us had panicked. I never felt like we were in real danger, though the situation could have turned out very differently if the bear had been spooked or felt threatened. I was amazed by my own sense of calm under the circumstances.

The next day, the first time in over a year of being a member of a local running club, I actually made it out to run with them. This past Tuesday I went for a run with the Calgary Road Runners.

I've never run with them before. Despite loud and emphatic claims to the contrary, I always felt I was never good enough to run with a group; that I'd hold someone back; that people would silently grumble about how I was too slow. Members I knew tried to drag me out, kicking and screaming. I'd never go, opting instead to pound it out on the pavement alone, where I had no one to disappoint but myself.

The block was mental, of course. I went out. I ran mostly with Karen, whose pace is similar to mine. She was high off her first triathlon experience a few days prior and her usual exuberance for life was at full throttle. Running with her was thoroughly enjoyable. We ran. We walked. We chatted. We laughed. I had a spectacular time. I will do it again soon.

I had run from my house to the meet-up spot with the group, which meant I had to run home. On the way back, I had another small victory. To get to my house from Edworthy park involves a choice of hills, either a super steep foot path followed by flat parking lot or a hilly road about a kilometre (0.7 mi) that causes many cyclists and runners alike to pant. I've never been able to run up either without stopping. That night, I ran up the road without stopping to walk once. It was slow. And it was victorious.

Yesterday I went to Canmore to check out the route for a half marathon I'm toying with the idea of doing. I ran with a girl from work who is a varsity track athlete. She offered to run the course with me. I wanted to go with her, as I enjoy her company, but I was intimidated. She's very fast and I didn't want to hold her back. She was nonchalant and said she didn't care if we ran or walked, that it would be fun.

She was right. We did start out way too fast for me, even though it was very slow for her. I ended up with a grumpy gut (solved by a quick trip to an out house along the way) and we walked a lot at the end, but never mind. It was a beautiful day in the mountains and I enjoyed myself immensely.

And so, I topped out the week with record high mileage. I have never been able to make it to a 30-mile /50 km week before, despite sometimes having long runs as much as 15 miles / 24 km. I woud either bonk, miss a run (or two) or just somehow didn't make it. Deep down, I was totally intimidated by such distance, despite the fact that in the distance running world, that's not exactly high mileage and really, if I want to do a marathon one day, I should put in weeks like that on a regular basis.

But mentally, I just had a block. I couldn't. Not capable. I'd get injured. I'd vomit all week. There would be too much pain. Too afraid. No. Couldn't.

I was wrong. I could. I did. I will again.

Yes, my knees are tired. And one Achilles needs a bit more rest than the rest of my body, but I didn't get injured. And I didn't get sick once.

In fact, I can't remember the last time I had a week full of so much fun, socializing and good times during my training. Those barriers were real. And now they're gone, dissolved quietly and unassumingly by confidence that burst forth from somewhere deep inside. Confidence that was not there before the Death Race. I am sure this high will not last forever, but I will ride the wave as long as it lasts.

And in my non-running life, I have hammered through the draft of most of a chapter of my thesis since returning from Grande Cache. It is only a first draft and it needs a lot of work. But it'll be done by the end of next week, ready to send to my supervisor for review. Success in one area feeds success in the other, I have found.

In case you're wondering, I have not let my ego go on a complete rampage. I'll have an easy running week next week, giving the knees and Achilles a chance to rest and allow my body to adapt the demands I placed on it these past couple of weeks. I will spend the extra time focussed on my thesis, polishing it as much as I can.

It would appear that the Death Race gave me somewhat of a new lease on life.


ipm said...

fantastic!!! this was a fun post to read...

keep on with these new directions... a death race seems to have opened a big door!

Backofpack said...

Somehow, I'm not surprised. Or if I am, it's by the barriers, and the fact that you had them! Would it surprise you to know that I thought your entry into the Death Race was your usual, calm, cool and collected style? I thought you were so brave, setting off in the dark for your first run, but I also thought that, though the event was atypical for you, the challenge wasn't. In anycase - I'm glad that death=life for you and that you've taken on those barriers and busted right through them! Go Death Racer, Go Sarah!

robtherunner said...

I loved reading this Sarah and so happy for you in the process. I imagine many more barriers are bound to be broken along the way.

P.S. Thanks for the jerky! I ate nearly the entire bag at 6500 feet in the mountains at nearly 100 degree heat. I did share a little ;)

She Who Makes Waves said...

Your posts are like little mystery novels that grab my attention immediately!

I am curious to know, the half marathon you are toying with, would that be the Rocky Mountain Half on September 7th? Is that the route you ran on the weekend? I am doing that one and would be interested on your thoughts of the course, if that is the one you ran!

What a wonderful life you are living!


Journey to a Centum said...

You are a Death Racer! Go Death Racer!

That jerkey was good! Rob carried it with him on our Plain run to attract bears. Little did he know that I'm the human equivalent of bear repellant. The only thing we saw were squirrels and the occasional MAD MONKEY!

Turtle Guy said...

What a liberating feeling... something of almost three years in the making, yes?

You deserve every victorious moment.