One Part Perspiration, One Part Inspiration

It’s Sunday Runday and I slogged out another solo ten kilometer run this morning as I await the official lifting of a few of those pandemic restrictions later this week.

And though I should have spent yesterday afternoon running twenty-five klicks through some local trails, I found I struggled more than usual this morning just knocking off ten.

All my training, it turns out, is as much about inspiration as it is about the actual mileage.

How to Get Inspired To Run

Set a Race Goal

And even though there is not much left of this racing season save for a long list of virtual competitions, I find myself wondering if I might have been to hasty in declaring my reluctance to enter any of these. In fact, my next door neighbour (someone who is not generally a runner) stuck her nose over my fence last week to let me know that she’d signed up for the our city‘s annual ten kilometer run, and all weekend she has been logging some of her own solo mileage around the neighbourhood. She’s probably logged more than me, to be honest. A race goal marks a very specific X on the calendar with a clear objective. Virtual or not, this gets a lot of people off the couch and onto the paths.

Set a Mega Goal

Back when I wrote a more personal blog I used to try to give some additional context to my readers (mostly friends and family) about the kinds of distances I was clocking. I called these my mega-goals, as in I was going to run from Edmonton to Vancouver, a distance of about eleven hundred and fifty kilometers. I was going to do this “on paper” as in, I would incrementally log my distances day by day and week by week, plotting them out on a map and updating my blog readers with posts, maps, and explanations of how far I’d run. It was also a huge personal inspiration, knowing that I was only twenty klicks away from crossing that border or five klicks away from such and such a town.

Of course, you can combine this with a virtual race such as a couple of my friends did recently competing in the Great Canadian Crossing each logging a mega fourty-eight hundred kilometers over the last twelve months.

Write it Down

Or post it. Or blog it. Or Instagram it. I put all my runs on Strava which is a great big fitness social media network for athletes of all ability. I also previously posted a spreadsheet that I use to track all that stuff. It works. Accountability to a formalized accounting of all those numbers can inspire us to do all sorts of things whether we do it to log a streak, get the virtual badge or not be left out of showing up on the activity feed on a Sunday morning.

Run with Friends

And last, but definitely not least, the one that keeps me most inspired is having others to run with. Just this last week I was sitting at my desk feeling sorry for myself as work was wrapping up for the day. My phone chimed and one of my run crew’s name showed up on my phone with a “I’m working in your neighbourhood. Up for a short run?” I replied in the affirmative and had my gear on ten minutes later. He got off work. I got off work. We ran a solid seven klicks before supper, and probably seven klicks neither of us would have run alone that evening. I often say one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life is take up this running sport, but half the reason I say that is because of the people I’ve met signing up with a running crew. I’ve run a multitude of races, logged thousands or tens of thousands of kilometers, and kept in great shape. A year of solo-ish running has made me realize that’s in no small part to having other people to inspire me onward.

Intersecting Lines and Paths

Sunday Runday and on my nine kilometer trek through the asphalt ribbons of my neighbourhood I once again ran solo through the spring sunshine.

Except I didn’t, not really.

I kicked off along the long curved edge of the park near my house and dodged and passed a familiar face walking her puppy on a Sunday morning. We’ve chatted in the past when our dogs greeted each other on walks.

I ducked into the short connecting trail that squeezes between the two rows of houses, and waved to a neighbour I know biking with his kids in the opposite direction.

I turned onto the asphalt trail climbing up to the footbridge over the freeway and paused for half a minute to talk to one of my running crew friends descending the same path and making his way toward the river valley.

I sped along under the power lines then turned back onto the south-bound road, passing the house of one of my old running pals who was sitting on a bench on her porch and waved to me as I ran by.

I crossed at the traffic lights, and started the third long leg of my run down the path leading beside the main road and waved to another runner who was wearing the same race t-shirt as I had on.

I looped around the lake on the final leg of my run and shortcut across the field to catch up with a woman with whom I frequently run, out on her own Sunday runday run, and we walked the last hundred meters to my house as she waved goodbye.

In a week or so I am hopeful that we can start to put the long list of mandatory solo runs behind us, but while I may still be running alone as of this morning I’ve already had to stop claiming I’m lonely. All these intersecting lines and paths have made short work of that.

Backyard: Start Line

In recognition of yet-another-local-lockdown due to the ongoing pandemic, I'm doing a week of feature blog posts about living in the backyard. From May 10th through 16th, my posts will be themed around life outdoors but as close to home as possible, a few steps out the back door.

Sunday Runday and my usual social weekend run date has turned into a solo expedition from my backyard.

But training calls, and has little respect for blips in the calendar like global pandemics and provincial lockdowns and excuses about being stuck in one’s own backyard.

Knowing a convincing distance run (by which I really mean a modest ten kilometers these days) was going to take some additional motivation, I gave myself a mission: I would visit the graffiti tunnel.

While I can hardly claim to had discovered a concrete underpass painted thick with years of graffiti, I’d like to think I may have seriously helped popularize this local off-the-beaten-path bit of culture.

The construction of a highway ring road around the city completed construction of this leg just over a decade ago, and in planning for future southward expansion of the park system, the designers incorporated a culvert-style concrete tunnel with a suspended walking path to accomodate the local creek and pass everything under the roadway above. The catch: the footpath was connected to nothing. It was little more than a bit of infrastructure for the future.

For years few people noted this as anything more than a strange sort of bridge on the highway passing over a bit of wilderness.

Then about five years ago I got adventurous. I went out on a long run (very much like I did today) and followed an old stretch of closed off road, went down through the trees, climbed down a grassy bank along the highway, and found myself in a graffiti-filled wonderland.

Obviously the countless people who had decorated the place had known about this secret for a while.

After sharing my photos on the socials and telling my run crew, I spent that summer leading multiple adventure runs into the off-trail wilds that led to the secret Edmonton graffiti tunnel.

The next year other run groups, led by runners who had been along on my previous adventure runs, were posting their own shots from their own treks with larger groups of people, and the summer after that my feed was routinely populated by people who had driven from across town or from different cities to run down to this photogenic secret spot.

By the summer of 2020 I started seeing the graffiti tunnel appear in semi-pro photo portfolios of local photogs I follow, blogs writing it into their local attractions guides, and even the radio stations promoting it as a hot thing to check out on a weekend.

It had become mainstream, even to the point that it’s not unsual to see cars (illegally) parked along the aforementioned highway as their occupants take the shortcut down the ditch path to check out the tunnel.

This morning, five klicks into my solo long run, I was the only one wandering through the graffiti tunnel, kinda like my first trip five years ago.

Very solo.

And if I couldn’t run with friends, at least I could visit an old favourite spot.

Addendum: as I was writing this, one of my running crew with whom I have been running cohort through the pandemic posted the update from her Sunday solo run. She had run from her backyard too, and made her way to the same tunnel. We’d missed each other by less than ten minutes.

On Streaks and Inevitable Solo Runs

It’s unlikely that you’ve been following any of the specific news emerging from my little corner of the world, but as of midnight tonight we go into yet another wave of increased pandemic restrictions.

My region is considered one of the world’s COVID hotspots because … um, human stubbornness.

I had spent last week trying to rebuild some of the stamina I’d lost over the last fourteen months.

I find when the yardstick by which I measure these things, my ability to keep up with my running crewmates, measures up short there are a couple efforts I can make to quantitatively improve.

One of those efforts is a running streak: run every day for a set number of days. Daily running pushes the body in mysterious ways to react and adapt, and somewhere in between burning oneself out and a string of epic training runs there is a gradual increase in endurance.

So I ran a streak last week.

I ran seven days in a row, running every day no matter the weather or how I was feeling, and somewhere between exhausted burnout and that epic feeling of accomplishing something, I think I moved my stamina a wee bit.

Tho those runs were mostly solo. Alone. Because not everyone wants to run a streak.

This morning I had that chance to again compare myself to my yardstick as the crew and I (all vaccinated) ran a casual ten kilometers through the river valley. Just five of us. Trails. Sunshine. Fresh air. And a hot coffee at the end.

Yet like a finish line, it is the end … at least for a few more weeks.

No more meet ups.

No more group runs.

No more running crew.

That streak training improved my speed but what I think I might have really been training for was solo running again, this time for three weeks or until this third wave washes by and we can run together again.

Deep breath. Here we go.