Friday, November 13, 2009

Run Like the Water

You should run like the wind, they've told me, fierce and untamed.

Our east-facing bedroom window framed a piercing Colorado sunrise as I slipped out of bed at quarter after six. A few years ago there would have been no question that seeing the sunrise on a Saturday morning would have meant I was coming off a hell of a night and looking forward to a hell of a headache. While all-nighters still happen from time-to-time, it is my inner athlete - rather than outer drinker - who now more frequently sees a day's first light.

Having been in Boulder for a few weeks, and despite a couple of modest hikes, a one-off cross-country ski and a lung-burning climb of a bike ride, I had yet to feel that I was taking full advantage of the outdoor life that we had come here seeking. So last Friday afternoon I went online and looked for any upcoming races I could do in order to kick start my active life here as I train for some physical challenges I have lined up for next summer. Sure enough, there was a 3.5 mile cross-country race in a nearby community the very next morning. Despite never having entered a cross-country race and not being entirely sure what I was in for, I promptly biked to the local running shop and plunked down my fifteen bucks for registration in the Twin Peaks Rotary XC Challenge.

You should run like an antelope, they've told me, out of control.

Though the sun had now fully emerged for its daily pilgrimage to the west , our new neighbours remained largely dormant as we pointed the car north toward Longmont, Colorado under a cloudless sky (not the rarity in Boulder that it is in Victoria this time of year).

The starts of the men's and women's races were staggered, but I huddled close to the start line of the women's wave shortly after arriving and registering, listening for any race-specific instructions. Despite my lack of cross-country experience, I figured I was in for a simple trail run, which would have been nothing new to me. Imagine my surprise, then, when I heard the race director squawk over the megaphone, "Alright, make sure you jump over the hay bales and go into the ditch. That's over the hay bales and down through the ditch. This is a cross country race, people."

Excuse me? Sorry, I'm here for the race, not the journey to Grandmother's house.

Apparently obstacles are commonplace in cross-country races, with this one being no exception. This was all somewhat foreign to me, but given that I am built more for comfort than speed and enjoy the equalizing properties of a course that doesn't have straightaways where skinny bastards can sprint (and there were skinny bastards a plenty on the course that morning), I was prepared to hop, skip and jump as necessary.

You should run like a caveman, they've told me, chasing something like your life depends on it.

There was a forty-five minute gap between the starts for the women and the men, so Sarah and I took some time to walk around the course - a three-lap beauty on grass and trails, running alongside a stream then flanking a dam, weaving in and out of some light woods. As Sarah wandered around and took pictures, I headed over toward the stream and thought about the race ahead.

I crouched beside the water, appreciative of its soothing gurgle and mesmerized by its flow, something we've all experienced at one time or another. I watched bubbles gather in a slow-moving spot on the surface, only to dissipate when they tumbled over a short ledge and into faster water below. I chuckled as the scene reminded me of runners at a start line, collecting as one until critical mass is reached, then the gun goes off and we all disperse at our own pace. The longer I experienced the stream the more metaphorical it became, its flow striking me as possessing the very same qualities that I strive for every time I set out on a run.

I have never been one to run fierce and dominant like the wind, nor out of control like the antelope, nor possessed like the prehistoric hunter. Indeed, not being terribly blessed with either a runner's physique (like I said, comfort not speed) or an attitude that is conducive to being fired up and intense for sustained periods of endurance, I have often struggled when looking for an appropriate muse. But as I crouched beside that stream and watched its flow in the minutes before the race, the inspiration that has eluded me became as clear as the high country sky.

I will run like the water, I told myself. Smooth, yet unflinching. Placid, yet interminable. Effortless, yet powerful.

And so I ran like the water, and the race became a joy. I set my own pace early on, scarcely slowing from start to finish as I made my way over the roots, stumps and hills that made up the course. There were a few moments where I thought about walking, but told myself that if I couldn't keep a steady pace for 3.5 miles cross-country on this morning - even with my recent change in altitude and current lapse in training - then I had no business looking forward to a busy season of triathlons next summer. A few recitations of my new mantra - run like the water, run like the water - helped me regain focus during moments of doubt as I flowed over the dried leaves and burnt grass. With the Flatirons in full view, I fist-pumped across the finish line in thirty-six minutes, including fifteen hay-bale hurdles and three trips in-and-out of the ditch.

Athletically speaking it was an achievement of rather modest proportions (indeed, not really an achievement at all), yet I left with a strong sense of satisfaction and renewed focus and motivation as I move ahead. I could not have asked for a better introduction to this new chapter in my inner athlete's life, and am looking forward to embracing all of the challenges and exhilaration of of running like the water from here on out.




Spidermonkey said...

Good start my brother. Looking forward to cheering you on next summer!

Hart Shouldice said...

Cheers, man. Should be an awesome day and I'm already really excited for it.

Lisa said...

I love your new mantra. I may have to steal it. I'm in a bit of a running lull looking for some new inspiration. You might even become my quote on Facebook. Is that allowed?

Hart Shouldice said...

Allowed? I would be psyched.

Although before adopting the mantra as your own, you might want to check out some of my recent times. I might not be qualified to give running advice.

Lisa said...

You obviously forget that I have never even come close to qualifying for anything. I have a feeling you are faster than me but just don't realize that yet.