The End of Summer

Well, here we are.

Today marked my last day of work for the summer. I celebrated the best way I know how: I went for a run long after my regular bed time. It felt so good to be out under the stars. I was the only guy out on the trails; alone with my thoughts. This will probably be the first of a few installments under this title. Enjoy y’all.

This solitude allowed me to reflect on the ups and downs of a great summer. I had quite a few unforgettable experiences this summer. I learned more about myself than I ever could have imagined. I learned about my own strengths and weaknesses and I was lucky enough to share these experiences with some of my closest friends.

In June, I convinced a friend of mine (Twitter:@DallenHall) to run his first half marathon with me. He has never been a runner by any stretch of the imagination. He is a Jr.A hockey player and will hopefully be headed somewhere to continue his career in University Sport. He is, without a doubt, a “big unit”. The hockey player build, coupled with a few long standing injuries, made it a huge commitment for him. I could not believe he decided to commit to running a half. He had never ran over 5 km before starting to train for this half. Definitely not the caliber of runner that I was used to running with.

He and I went for a few training runs a week. I remember thinking, after our first run, that there was absolutely no chance that we were going to finish the race. There, I said it.

As our training progressed, I was overcome with a sense of envy. Here was a guy who was absolutely battling to complete a goal. He was doing a ton of work to get ready. I had forgotten how unquestionably hard it is to get into running. I’m not someone who has loved running all my life. I fell into it backwards. It was something I was good at, but I only ever ran to get in shape for other sports. I just to view it as means to an end: I needed to be in shape, so I needed to run. As I progressed through high school, I found that I had a talent for it, but I definitely didn’t love it. Running was a chore, something that I did because I had to.

In my first year of University competition, I struggled. I was constantly last or near last in our workouts. I battled to finish the races in a respectable position. In short, I hated it. I didn’t enjoy being bad at something that I had always been good at. It was a huge learning curve. I contemplated quitting more often than I would like to admit.

Then I got hurt. I couldn’t run, I could hardly train at all. On one hand, I loved this. I didn’t have to force myself to run. I could be as lazy as I wanted. 

A week passed.

I started to get texts and emails from team mates. From guys that were constantly dropping me in work outs, guys that I couldn’t dream of competing with. People that I looked up to, wanted to get to their level. These guys were taking time out of their days to send me well wishes and check up on recovery. I didn’t expect these guys to even notice that I was gone, let alone be concerned.

And boy, was I wrong. 

These guys understood something about running that I am still just starting to really appreciate.

It isn’t about being the fastest, or the fittest, or the best looking. It’s about being a team. Supporting one another through tough work outs and pushing one another to be better, every single day. You didn’t have to be great to be part of the team. You didn’t have to be elite. But you had better be ready to work.

Distance running rewards hard work. The more miles you log, the harder and smarter you train, the better your results will be. It takes years to become elite. Very few people are born naturally good. It takes time to build a body into a distance racing machine. Running, and many endurance sports, embarrass youth instead of embracing it.

But distance running also rewards hard work in another way: the workouts and long runs and all the time you spend with your teammates result in a different kind of reward. You build respect and admiration for each other. You receive positive-and negative- encouragement through every workout and you learn to rely on your teammates during hard times in races. Teammates turn to friends, and friends turn to brothers. A team becomes a family.

Dallen is not an elite runner. He probably never will be. But man oh man, did he work. The improvement over the first 2 weeks of training was incredible. I was lucky enough to witness him battle through fatigue and pain. I watched him improve and move steadily towards his goal.

Watching this, I was overcome with respect and pride. Proud, not for what I was doing in my own training, but because he was going to realize his goals.

Race day showed up. He wasn’t as ready as I would’ve liked, I was really doubting we would finish in under 2:15. But after seeing him work so hard in training, I knew that we would finish, even if it meant we were walking across that line.

We reached the 10k mark in a very pedestrian (for me: last half marathon splits: 41/37) pace. I was feeling fine. Dallen had been battling hip pain for the last 2ks and he finally asked to stop. As he stopped to stretch, I checked my watch: 58:50. Oh boy. Did we have some work to do to even finish in 2:15.

I began to resign myself to finishing in around the same time as my 31k long run had been a couple weeks before. I didn’t think we would be able to battle through.

We started running again.

We started to pass runners going in the opposite direction, most of them calling out encouragement to us. People we had never met, encouraging us.

We finished in under 2 hours. 1:56:12 to be exact. We ran the last 11.1 km faster than the first 10km.

I have never been so proud of one of my friends, someone that I consider family.

I wrote earlier about being dropped in workouts and struggling through races in my first year. What I realized is that even though I might have been coming in by myself, my teammates, my 2nd family, were always there to push me through the line.

Running is an individual sport. We race ourselves, our own personal bests. We are trying to improve upon past performances; be better than yesterday. We compete against ourselves, against the voice that tells us to stop. We push ourselves for months to beat personal records by mere seconds. All runners chase this goal, this desire to improve.

Running may be an individual sport, but a runner is never alone.