Thursday, December 20, 2007

Having a goal

This long rant is about the importance of having a goal, any goal, to help you persevere when the going gets tough.

A few months ago, Agust 17th 2007 to be exact, I decided I needed to improve my fitness level for the upcoming Canadian Masters Canoe/Kayak Championships (also know as CANMAS). Sounds impressive but believe me when I say this: I'm no gift to the sport of paddling. My racing goal is usually to not finish last. But the whole point of racing is to do you best and I have an unfortunate tendency to bonk at 350 meters out of 500.

I've dabbled with running in the past, even ran a few 10ks in my 20s. Then came marriage, kids, responsibilities and what seemed to be a state of constant exhaustion. I tried to keep in reasonable shape with some degrees of success. Anybody wants to buy a stationary bike or a stair master?

Nothing really turned my crank. A few years back, my kids enrolled in a sprint canoe/kayak summer program and I quickly grew tired of cooking into the summer sun watching the weekend regatta. So I enrolled in the paddling Masters program.

Paddling is a very technical sport. Just keeping the boat up is a challenge, especially for us coming in the sport later in life. My kids make fun of me in private and pretend not to know me when I race. So the act of racing is always a balance between applying power to the paddle while keeping the boat up. I'm no Arnold and my balance is average. My biggest problem is that the pre-race adrenalin surge induces a debilitating jitter that interferes with my balance. Many times on the starting line have I seen other racers look around and wonder what was the strange sound they were hearing. It was the sound of my rudder wires snapping against the hull because of my heavy shaking. I always look aound too.

Still I persevere. Every year I paddle faster. My improvement rate is slowing, though, and I'm probably condemned at seeing new paddlers improve faster than me and pass me by after a few seasons.

Back to my opening argument, this year I decided to secretly embark on a secret running program to gain an unfair advantage over other less fit competitors. I figured that if I could accelerate through the whole course instead of bonking at 350 meters, I might be able to pass one or two extra paddlers.

Unfortunately, my secret weapon was blunted when the race organizers changed all the races to 200 meters because there were too many races. Starts are not my forte and 200 meter races are basically glorified starts. I did ok though and improved on my 200 meters PR. The paddling season is now over until May.

But I'm still running...

Until a few months ago I considered myself a paddler. Then I became a paddler who also ran.

In October I ran the "Race for the Cure" with my daughter. I didn't try to race it and I don't even remember my time but I was hooked. The energy of all those bodies on the starting line is hard to describe. But then again, I probably don't have to. You know. Because my previous attempts at running had mostly ened in injury I decided to follow a 10k training program.

Fast forward 18 weeks and I'm standing on the starting line of the Whitby Waterfront Races 10k run. The adrenalin is rushing through me but instead of dreading its effects, I welcome it as it sings though my system. All I have to do is keep my wits about me.

I did better than I had hoped with a 54:14 finish. My 20 years old PR is 49:55. I will beat it in 2008.

So today, I think of myself as a runner who paddles.

I don't know why, this time, running became more than just boring time spent gasping for air. I have tried in many occasions to start running again. The funny thing is that I remembered how good it could be. I just couldn't conjure that feeling back. Maybe it never existed, I thought.

I believe that the difference is to have goals. At first, I wanted to gain a secret advantage on my fellw paddlers. After racing again, I now want to improve my time. I also want to run a marathon next year. Goals. Running just to "keep in shape" doesn't do it for me. That weekly volume doesn't induce the feeling of power and well being that comes from hills training and long runs. And who would subject themselves to such acts without having racing goals? So for me running and racing are intertwined and provide the motivation I need to reach the state of bliss that I now crave for I know that were I to stop for too long, I would again wonder if I had imagined the whole thing.

But right now, I do remember. And I want more.

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