It’s difficult task to sit down and transpose my thoughts and memories about this track season on paper as the summer draws to an end. Any regular vacationer will tell you that the summer festivities are in full flight, but for our little group at Montreal Endurance the track season has officially drawn to an end with last weekends running of the provincial championships. As the running community in Quebec flocked to our beautiful capital to compete, exchange, flourish and have an incredible time together, you could get the sense that the sun was not only setting on the fortified city itself but also on the culmination of many (and I mean many) incredible individual seasons and personal stories. This was my first time experiencing summer provincials – and I hope is that I can repeat it for years to come as a competitor, supporter, fan, and who knows…possibly a coach one day? Here are my thoughts on what makes this sport, this province and the group I’ve evolved in such a great activity to dedicate oneself to and an integral part of my daily being.
There is a set of feelings that every runner knows so well – anticipation, anxiety, excitement, pressure, etc. This amalgamation of feelings deep inside you that starts to rumble as the reality of a race begins to settle into your body and mind. Whether it occurs when you pack your spikes at home, on the drive to the event, when you park your vehicle and see the start line, or when you finish that last stride and line up with anywhere from a dozen to a couple thousand other competitors, the pre-race jitters is something we all live for and dread at the same time. Too little of these feelings and the race loses its fun – no longer an event that stands out. Too much of it and you can quickly fall victim and lose focus and perform poorly. Over the last year I’ve seen races where the stakes were high (or at least this was the general reigning mood), and it is not to say that the fun was taken out of racing, but some part of the delight of running was loss to me. At provincials this weekend, the stakes were definitely high for many athletes (whether it was personal, local, provincial, national, or international goals) – but something was different in the atmosphere. There was this overwhelming sense that everyone was there to push – to attain a goal that they had not yet attained. It didn’t necessarily mean running a PB or a SB – it just meant running to the very edge of ones training and physical ability.
I watched numerous races of various distances over the weekend. One of the recurring scenes a the finish line was 8 to 12 bent over athletes completely spent…with absolutely nothing left to give. Some threw up, others fell to their knees, while many slowly staggered off the track to take in the glory and ecstasy that is finishing a race with an empty tank. It was really something special to watch. As each congratulated the other for a well fought effort, there was this overarching sense that the race had not been won or lost. Obviously there were those who ran it faster- I’m in no way belittling the importance of their victories – but there was a far stronger feeling that we the race had been run as a group, with each individual providing towards the energy and excitement of the event. While many consider running a strictly individual sport, a weekend like this showed me that there’s much more to the sport than the loneliness of running miles by ones lonesome. In order to reach the very limit of our own ability there is this inherent need for a supporting cast to collaborate and excel with. I think this exists within groups that train together and sustain each other with support and healthy competitiveness, but it also (and I would say that this is where people surpass and surprise themselves) lives in the rivalry that develops between clubs, coaches and athletes within the province. As you toe the line with 9 other athletes who wear different club colours you are immediately driven to surpass yourself. You shoulder with you -your training, your coaching, and your team. All these things come into play as you blend into a mosaic of colour at the start line. As the gun resonates around the track you stride into the first straight with this incredible wave of combined appetite to reach the finish line as fast as humanly possible. The best man is the one who reaches the finish feeling that nothing – and I mean nothing – more could have been done to get there faster.
I was fortunate enough to experience this in my running of the 1500m. I’ve been injured most of the outdoor track season and was forced to take 13 weeks off of running entirely. As I traveled with the team to various locations I took part in races and workouts as a spectator and supporter. This weekend was (in my mind) a time for redemption. Having only raced the 1500m three previous times in the indoor season (and never on an outdoor track against a field as stacked and intimidating as this one), I was pretty nervous. My plan was roughly to divide the race in 3 equal parts – 500 to push and keep up with the leaders, 500 to settle in and start moving up, 500 to kick. As I toed the line for the start, I realized that I was going to have to improvise…this was going to be fun. Deep breath. I looked up and down the line at my competitors…looked up ahead…and I remembered. F*ck I love this. The gun went off and I was into the first stretch. As the race unfolded things happened quickly and slowly simultaneously. The plan was executed until I looked for a kick that just wasn’t there. But what can you do? I ran my heart out, leaving everything on the four laps and three quarters I ran. 4:07:79 was my final time. I crossed the finish line and could barely stand. I was empty. Finished Ears blocked and temples pounding. As I slowly raised my head to avoid falling over I looked around and noticed 10 other runners who were just as paralyzed with the sting and pain of the race as I was. We had all done it. We were in the slower heat, but it didn’t matter – we had all run to the end of our physical ability. As I look back on it I’m a bit frustrated with the time I ran. Yes it was a PB, but I would have liked to go faster. I always want to go faster. But for the first time in my running ‘career’ I ran to the maximum of my ability at that moment. There’s no feeling quite like it. I didn’t get to win a medal, or throw my arms out in victory, or qualify for some kind of eligibility or competition in some foreign land far far away…but I got to run my little body to the very end of its physical ability at that time. And so I walked off the track with a smile. A smile and the certainty that next year I would be back – and I’d go even faster than this year.
Simply put, I’ve found a new home in the Quebec running community. Thank you for being so kind. Thank you for being so generous. Thank you for listening. Thank you for answering. Thank you for believing. Thank you for calling me out when I came up short, or didn’t believe myself. Thank you for letting me fall. Thank you for picking me back up. Thank you for pushing. Thank you for showing me beauty. Thank you for allowing me to take part in that magnificence. Thank you for everything. Thank you for being you. And please…promise me one thing? Keep doing what you do – because there’s something to be said about a sport, a community, and certain individuals who can without fail make so many people proud and put a smile on so many children and adults faces.
Merci à tous,
What is no good for the hive is no good for the bee.
-Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 121 -180), Meditations. Book Six #54.