My running crew

My sister and I are creatures of habit. We know if we want to run our best we need to do an interval workout at least once a week. We live near each other and have similarly busy lives, and since misery loves company, we started doing these workouts together every Wednesday morning at 5:30 a.m. (the only time we had). This was about three years ago. Once we started we just kept up our pattern. Every Wednesday morning – rain or shine, even through the darkest, iciest, coldest winter mornings, we would meet and run hill repeats or hard intervals together.

My loyal workout buddy doing hills at 5:30 a.m. in January

My loyal workout buddy doing hills at 5:30 a.m. in January

One day we thought it would be nice to have some more company. So we started telling people it was fun. If we heard that someone was a runner and lived nearby, we immediately tried to sell them on the idea of joining us at 5:30 a.m. We got a few out – one very consistently, so we became a bit of a trio for a year. Sometimes there were four of us, so we started calling ourselves a “running crew”. Then we used the warmer months to bring more people in. More stayed on. Amazingly we went through the next winter with some freezing workouts bringing as many as six runners out.

It has now been just over two years since we started our “running crew”, and we have a group of up to sixteen runners (we average about 8-10 people per workout) who meet to do hills or repeats ranging from 400 m to a mile every Wednesday at 5:30 a.m. Bodies converge at our meeting place in the dark, a few pleasantries are shared, we wait a few minutes for those we know are making their way over, I go over the workout and we jump in. We don’t talk much – there’s not usually enough time or oxygen for small talk. We bond through the shared experience of waking up in the dark and working our butts off to get faster. We’re all moms and dads, although that’s not a prerequisite for our group. There are no prerequisites, running credentials or membership dues required: you just have to show up and run. However, we are the ones for whom 5:30 a.m. seems like a great idea, because it’s the only window which works. Once we’re finished, we don’t hang around and enjoy our post-workout buzz. We hurry home quickly to start our busy days. Our crew contains teachers, a firefighter, business VPs, directors and managers, a doctor, sales and marketing executives, entrepreneurs. Some of us have gotten deep into professional careers and are now focusing on raising families (I suspect these are the busiest amongst us!)

Definitely not making small talk at the top of a hill repeat

Definitely not making small talk at the top of a hill repeat

We’ve managed to get together for a few social events and sometimes a few of us can even coordinate busy weekend schedules to do long runs together. It turns out I really like these bodies in the dark who run, sweat, grunt, gasp and spit beside me on early Wednesday mornings. Who would have guessed? I’m glad my sister and I told them it was fun – I think some of them may now actually be starting to believe us.

Enjoying a mid-morning pint together after the STWM Half Marathon

Enjoying a mid-morning pint together after the STWM Half Marathon

I’m a tapering cliche

I’ve turned into a cliche. I know all about “Taper Madness” but it’s not me. I love tapering. As much as I love running, I also sometimes love not running. I’ve raced hundreds of races in my life, and I know how to get to the starting line ready to go. So what’s this? I’m running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon this weekend. And suddenly …

– I’m stressing over little aches and pains that have suddenly popped up
– I can’t tell if I’m eating too much or not enough
– I can’t seem to focus on my work and keep flipping to the race website to double-check details
– I’m not sure if I’m running too much – or not enough
– I go out with a friend and have two glasses of wine. Wait – was that smart 3 days before my race?
– I’m not as tired as usual with less running, so I’m not going to bed as early. Am I getting enough sleep?
– Should I stop doing core exercises 4 days out? 3 days out? At all?

Good grief! I didn’t know I cared that much about my performance here. Truth is I’m going for a PB, but I always am and will always be disappointed with less than that, even if it’s not realistic and I haven’t put in the training (which may be the case in this one.) Logically I’ll fall anywhere between my goal time (1:21) and 2-3 minutes of it. I’m straddling the line between being logically realistic and being optimistically confident – the two are not perfectly aligned. I know I’m over-thinking this and there’s nothing I can do now but show up on Sunday ready to give it my all. A glass of wine and 25 sit-ups aren’t going to make a difference either way. Deep breath, stop thinking, … here we go!

Let's just try to relax and enjoy this

Let’s just try to relax and enjoy this

Are you running for times or for your body?

The other day I was having dinner with a friend and I was contemplating my feelings about coming up on 40. It will happen next summer. I said I’m pretty happy with most things about getting older. I’d rather be who I am now than who I was ten years ago. The only thing I’m not looking forward to, I told her, is continuing to train just as hard, only to see my race times slow down. My friend looked at me uncomprehendingly and said “Who cares?!? You look fantastic!” (she’s a true friend). But I thought – wait – did she mishear me? I wasn’t talking about my looks, I was talking about my race times. It dawned on me that to some people running has a completely different purpose than chasing times. They train to look good. Which is fine. I’ll be honest, I’m very happy with the physical consequences of running hard. But my workouts are designed with one purpose in mind: to make me a faster runner. They’re not about sculpting or shedding or firming. I have the luxury of not thinking too much about my body because my goal of trying to get faster sort of takes care of that. But it made me wonder … how much do I really “not care”? So I played a game with myself to see (I like torturing myself with mind games this way.)

What if the Devil made a deal with me that I could take a minute off my 5K time this year (I’d still have to train just as hard so I deserved it) but I’d have to carry 5 extra pounds of fat on my body for a year? I would take that deal.

What if I could take two minutes off my time but I’d have to carry 10 extra pounds of fat for a year? I’m hesitating. I’m stuck on that one.

I guess I’ve been kidding myself because although I like working hard to run fast, obviously I wouldn’t be willing to unconditionally trade in times for my body (which by the way isn’t even close to perfect, but another benefit of coming up on 40 is that I’m finally comfortable in it).

My friend with whom I’d brought this up wouldn’t take an ounce of fat for a 10 minute PB. I interviewed another friend who I thought would struggle more with the question, as she works hard for her times and cares about them a lot, but she wouldn’t do the 5 pounds for 1 minute deal either. Hunh.

I would love to ask Shalane Flannigan. I bet she would take on 30 pounds for three years in exchange for the American record in the marathon (around 2 minutes faster than what she’s run). But I could be wrong – it is one of those things which is impossible to know until the Devil is actually there asking you to sign the deal.

I suppose all runners must fall somewhere along the scale of running only for times vs. running only for the physical benefits. The truth is, in reality the two are so inextricably linked that it really is hard to pose the hypothetical question of “which one is driving you?” It’s fun to try though – go ahead and test yourself – your answers may surprise you!

My love/hate relationship with this photo: I like how I look, but not the time. (so conflicted!)

My love/hate relationship with this photo: I like how I look, but not the time. (so conflicted!)