My dear Road,
I think the time has come for us to have the “Talk”. You have probably noticed I’ve been more distant lately, not hanging out as much. I hate to admit that after all those fantastic times we’ve enjoyed together, I seem to have lost the flame. I no longer look forward to our time spent together, and when I do, it is with apprehension that I lace up my shoes. It’s not you, it’s me. No. Actually it’s you. You have been so hard on me in so many ways. You’ve played games with my head, watched me hurt my body on too many occasions, pushed me on and on for never ending boring miles… I think about the thousands of dollars I spent on physiotherapy, the mind-bending hours wasted on the treadmill for the sake of ridiculous training plans, and the frustration felt on the quest for personal bests. You do have your scenic moments but overall you’re pretty uninteresting. It’s just not doing it for me anymore.
Let’s be fair, we did have some pretty awesome moments together. You turned a sport-hating artist into an athlete. You showed me I had strength I never knew I had. You pulled me out of depression, helped balance my life and gave me purpose. You let me taste the sweet flavour of winning, but also the sour one of losing – both fuelling personal growth. There was that time my heart and soul were so broken that I raced as hard as I ever could in the hope I would drop dead and I would finally stop hurting – only, I never dropped dead but instead learned how deep I could dig and how strong I truly was. Together we built from couch to 5k, dared a Half, conquered a Marathon and pulled off an Ultra. And so we danced. Race after race. We made it to Boston, and so many other fabulous venues. You proudly let me stand on the occasional podium and helped me meet such wonderful people.
When we first started hanging out (six years ago already!) we were exclusive. My runners were meant for you and you only, and anything on a trail was considered hiking. But I live in a valley where folks sneer when I mention you – they have no love for you and no envy to spend any time in your company. So I started going on occasional dates with Trail, which I must admit, you tolerated greatly. It did help us on our uphill ventures and seemed easier on my body. Over time I began to enjoy more and more my time with Trail and his wonderful community. Before long I ran my first 50k ultra and I realized there was potential for me in this new relationship – maybe I could tame those nasty hills after all. So for a while I swung both ways, between the two of you. A run was a run, pavement or dirt, my heart was light and my feet happy. But as the seasons flew by, I began finding much greater pleasure running and racing the more challenging (and fun) single track. And then, Trail took me on the ultimate date: the Grand Canyon R2R2R. I got a taste of the true adventure running can offer, how one can feel so little in such a big world and self-propel for miles on end through the most stunning places very few can see. That day I knew I had found my true love and that I had to let you go. I had committed to a crazy 150k (part of the Calgary Marathon celebration for Canada’s 150th) with you and after much consideration decided to bail out. My heart just was no longer into it. I would not let you destroy my body, yet another time, at the cost of my summer. Trail and I were on a roll and that is where I wanted to be. Time to break up. But I figured I owed you a last dance so I dropped my race entry to the 50k and figured it would serve as a good long run. But as race day approached, it felt more and more like a burden.
I toed up the start line of the Calgary Marathon almost reluctantly – I had considered dropping to the half, or even not showing up at all. I kept debating if I should save my legs for another race coming up barely six days later. As race weekend rolled around and my friend and I walked the expo I kind of felt some excitement, but not like I used to. I felt like I no longer belonged to the other world of running I once embraced. I hated to treat a 50k just like another training run, but having dropped from the 150k, I didn’t want to quit completely and let you (and I) down, so I showed up, waited for the countdown and along with thousands of others, proceeded to get ‘er dun.
I held your hand gently and together we started at a leisurely pace for the first hour, met some cool folks along the way and found our groove. I had not properly trained with you lately, choosing the steep hills and rugged terrain Trail liked to drag me on. I figured I could do a sub five hours without too much trouble, since that had been my winter long run pace, but toyed with maybe a 4:45, providing I had a good day. At 10k, the course splits – the half continues on straight while the marathon and ultra veer to the left. Crowds disperse and it noticeably gets quieter. It was clear we were doing just fine so I picked up the pace slightly, though I wasn’t going to let you drag me into a raging sufferfest, like you have so many times. I stopped looking at my watch and just went by feel, amazed how this hilly portion of the run seemed so much easier than in previous years. Hanging out with Trail paid off, even for a road race. When I saw the flag marking kilometre 20, I realized something incredible: ThinksTooMuch, my brain monkey, had been quiet. Not a peep from the little rascal. I had raced casually nearly a half marathon without having to deal with any mind games. This was a good day. I felt strong and there was enough shade to keep me out of trouble from the scorching sun. I decided to open it up, go for it and see where you would take me. I put my earbuds on, cranked my magic playlist and together we rolled to the sound of my tunes, feet in synch with the beat. And together we passed runners, one after the other, as we gradually gained terrain. The descent portion (Calgary Marathon pretty much goes like so: first 10k flat, second 10k uphill, third 10k down and the rest mostly flat) was awesome. I forgot about the pavement and actually felt some joy in running. I let you pull me as I gave her all I had. Here I was again, swinging from the Chandelier, living like tomorrow didn’t exist. Carpe Diem. I knew this would take a drastic toll on my date with Trail on the Wildhorse Traverse 50k the following week but I looked at my watch and calculated that a 4:30 was possible, if I could hold the pace – I heard my buddy Liz’s voice whisper in my head “Go for it”. She is as unreasonable as me when it comes to resting and tapering but then again, being in the now is good and sometimes one needs to embrace an opportunity. This would be our last race for a while, so why not go out with a bang? Let’s dance, baby.
Of course, the mid-thirties came with their usual brutal reminder of how difficult hanging out with you, Road, can be: I was beginning to feel your beating, the relentless pounding and monotony. And then the coolest thing (no pun intended) happened. Some folks were handing out popsicles to runners!!! Here I was, like a child, light-hearted and nearly dancing along the course holding my prized possession high for all to see. A silly boost, but before I knew it, a volunteer slapped the bracelet around my wrist that meant we’d made the cut off time and were on our way to the final lap of the 50k. This is where this race goes mental. While the marathoners carry on ahead for their final few kilometres, the ultra-runners have to loop back for an extra eight, on the same route they just ran. Ugh. “I hope the Popsicle folks are still there”, is all I could think. I started hating you again Road, for the pain, the heat of the day, the endless miles on an endless course. I snagged another cold treat and battled it out for a bit with another lady (much younger) also running the ultra: we kept passing each other but in doing so were maintaining a solid pace. The final turnaround came, and though I cursed at you, I eventually reached the 42.2k mark where I happily qualified for Boston (there are advantages to being old), not that I was planning on going again, but always satisfying to have it in the bag. I have run this course four times now (twice the marathon and twice the ultra) and every time found the last five kilometres to be a real struggle, my pace slowing down and having to walk a minute here and there. But not today. I worked through that physical, but mostly mental pain you put me through and held strong to the finish. 4:20:24 – less than a minute over the time that had earned me an overall female 3rd place two years before. I was thrilled. Road, we had done it again! A nice yet solid performance that kind of came out of nowhere. I thank you for this sweet, and at the same time mean last dance. We do it so well, but sadly, I’ve lost the fire. What a classy way to end our love affair.
So the time has come to part ways. Of course we will still hang out occasionally. You’re so convenient when I need a quick fix, and sometimes, your miles are just what I need as part of training. But my main goals will not include you and we will no longer travel to faraway places to break new PRs. Rest assured that should we spend longer times together it will mean nothing but miles on my legs, a race ran at a friend’s pace or an alternative to Trail being unavailable. Hence I wish you the best and hope you soon find another soul who will fall deeply in love with you, as I did, and may you take them on a remarkable journey of personal achievement and show them that if they are willing to try, they can be limitless.