Running Isn't Lonely
Being a runner’s support crew gives me a sense of purpose, something that I’m often striving for. I’m able to help someone, be there when they need me, and possibly even be that person who helps bring them success. While I am not a louder cheerer or a great motivational speaker, I find myself putting my heart and soul into my role as support crew.
Silvain’s marathon a few weeks ago was an interesting experience for me. The night before, I was eager to plan and loved both visualizing how the day would pan out, as well as predict pace times and loop times. Yet, after watching the runners take off for their 44 km (it turned out to be longer than a marathon) in the mountains, I had a sudden urge to run, run real fast. It was as if I needed to feel my own sense of accomplishment at the same time as I helped Silvain accomplish his goals. Luckily, a mountain marathon gives one tons of time to go for a quick jaunt around the neighborhood. I was back in plenty of time to run and meet Silvain as he approached the halfway point.
I found the halfway point to be surprisingly invigorating! I loved trying to predict what he would need, listening to his trail stories, being there to encourage him, and helping him refuel and recharge. Time after that flew by. I was able to watch the runners of the other races start and cheer them on as they finished.
Yet, the best part was when Silvain finished. I was not expecting the swell of pride that I had when I saw him come along the final trail. It was energizing to run down and join him and then cheer as he crossed the finish line. While I know that I didn’t do much in terms of getting to where he was, I still felt that I was a big part of his achievement and began to understand the value of having a support system.
Having others come along in my running is vital. It can be a lonely activity; so, not being by myself at races, during training, and while balancing the rest of life, is something that I’m greatly grateful for.
I’m most thankful for the support that my wife gives me. I’m very fortunate that Michelle is a runner herself: that she values running, experiences it herself, understands it, and is a proponent of it. It would be another story for me if she wasn’t who she is: me running in our relationship would take on a different look and feel. But, as my coach-wife is all in, I don’t lack any form of support. She’s always given me the go when I question whether running is what I should be doing at moment for us.
Supporting someone must start with believing in them. If one can’t fully believe in the other person, then his or her support won’t be total. Michelle believing in my running desire, commitment, ability, and love keeps me going. If she didn’t believe in me, it’d be a really lonely run, and loneliness isn’t fun.
Supports are life-fueling: they put a fire under us when we need to light what we’ve got, and they’re with us when the excitement is dampened and needs patience, problem-solving, or perspective. The finish line celebration is about more than completing a distance: it’s about being surrounded by others who believe in us and want to be with us.
While training for my marathon, I had a love/hate relationship with my long runs. Two days before the run, I’d plan, dread, and try to pump myself up for it. The day of, I’d make sure that I had enough podcasts downloaded, a solid run plan, and would never forget the pre-run chocolate (it does wonders for long runs!). What really baffled me on long runs was the way that my brain turned to mush and my body was in some sort of zone - not always “the zone” but a zone. Sometimes, it was a gross feeling one; sometimes, it was a non-feeling one; and sometimes, it was a zone of flow with everything just falling into place. The longer my runs got, the more I understood the idea of mind-over-matter. Now, that I’m not training for any races this year, I have no long runs to dread, plan, and zone out for. Instead, my thoughts are on how to help Silvain get pumped up for his long runs and how a long run will look like when I have a family.
Nevermind the family part, my biggest thing about long runs is the getting-out-of-the-door part! However, once I’m running, I’m good to take it on. There’s an almost immediate relief once I start out - well, about 3 kms in. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a release, as that doesn’t set in until after, with a pint, perhaps!
The days building to and immediately after a long run are noticeably, mentally different. Long runs are a bit of a roller coaster, and as ultras are long runs, the whole affair of my Death Race training being up and down makes sense to me. And, the great bit is that I’m finding that this disparity isn’t for worse but for better. This oft-labelled, addictive, chase is natural in us, and the anxiety, if you want to call it that, that goes with the lead up, is healthy. It would take quite a bit for me to start to question my running as an addiction. Michelle assures me of this! That being said, it’s true that my trail should, actually, physically be a bit more up and down. Leg 2, here I come!
Whatever is holding you back from starting a run, long or short, know that we feel the pain, dread, exhaustion, and procrastination alongside you! Yet, we also hope the flow, release, and excitement during and after the run is finding you. Thinking and planning is important; but sometimes, taking the first step out of the door is all that you really need.
Are We Crazy or on Track?
So, how do you train for an ultramarathon? After August long weekend, we’ll be able to describe the steps to finishing an ultra or at least a few tips on what not to do.
I already see Silvain as an ultra runner. He’s strong-willed, fit, smart, and capable of running 125 km. With that said, I haven’t seen him run farther than a half marathon, and his training still has a long way to go. What is the best advice I can give him? How can I best guide his training? Is fueling just as important as the actual running? And, as a wife, what’s the best way to encourage and motivate?
Even in this short period, I’ve seen highs, and I’ve seen lulls. I’ve quoted articles, created sample training plans, and found protein-rich recipes. Is this what Silvain needs? Is finishing the Death Race a result of a well-oiled machine combined with a great support team?
How much should I push, and when should I hold back? Silvain believes in himself and is confident in his abilities. I doubt that he needs me telling him when to run, how to run, and why he isn’t running.
Well, Michelle’s coaching’s great, and I do need to be told things. We’re getting it figured out! I’m listening, heeding, and applying — in my own way and pace. I’m also becoming better at dropping my defences. It’s definitely a learning curve for us, as well as a dance, just like our relationship. Or rather, it’s a part of our relationship, which is so cool! She gets me going, keeps me running, and makes me run better. I’ve never been coached before, but I’m pretty sure that those are things that coaches are supposed to do. I love my coach. She’s doing a great job. I owe it to us to run fast and far.
Work together, lean on each other, maximize your strengths, have fun along the way, and you’ll be on track! That’s what it’s all about! Being crazy-on-track works, too!
As a teacher, I work with my students to help them to grow into honest individuals with integrity. They learn that they’re in charge of their own actions, attitudes, and moods; that they can’t blame others for their wrong actions; and that they must aim to do the right thing without being asked, even when no one is looking. Yet, in both my work and in my hobbies, I see adults cutting corners, pushing the rules, and lacking integrity.
One of the things that I love about attending running races is the comradery of the event - how it’s a race, yet everyone still supports one another, everyone gets a medal, and the focus is on personal bests. It differs from other competitive events because even with people aiming to make it onto the podium, the race directors rarely place judges or referees on the course to monitor for cheating. This past week, Silvain and I listened to a podcast by Jamil Coury and Jubilee Paige all about cheating in ultra marathons. It was shocking to hear that there are runners who use strategically planned out elaborate methods of cheating just so that they can win in a race that such a small percentage of the country’s population actually cares about.
As runners, we need to be true to ourselves and true to the sport. No matter the size of the race or the size of the prize, we must be ethical, even if the race takes us to the middle of the forest where we’re the only one for miles. This integrity is what we want to teach our children and what we expect others around us to uphold, in all contexts of our lives. Race directors shouldn’t need to hire judges, and members of the running community shouldn’t feel compelled to investigate suspicious times and rankings. We should be able to trust that our competitors are running the same moral race that we are.
Although running is so liberating, there are still many things that I can’t do. That’s life! Physically, I can’t fly over the trail. Legally, I can’t run with my rifle and shot a deer: It’s not hunting season, and if is was, the trails that I normally run on are within town limits, anyway. Relationally, I can’t be too late for dinner. Ethically, if I’m running a race, I can’t cut corners, because I’d be lying. Morally, I need to care for my body and not abuse it, because I’ve been given the gift to steward it. Spiritually, I have to think positively, because I know that God, for my benefit, wants me to dwell on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” (Phillipians 4:8 NIV).
We’re not ever one hundred percent discharged of responsibility. Even if we find a place to run that’s free of outside answerability, we still have to be true to ourselves. Now for me, I know that if I all I had to concern myself with was myself, I’d literally be left to my own vices, and it wouldn’t be pretty. For me, listening to my heart and gut, is letting God into my life and running how He created me to run. Running unconstrained, for me, is running how God desires me to run. I have to choose to align myself with Him.
This isn’t stifling. The more I give myself to Him, the less I feel controlled, because the more I delight in how He created me. (It makes Him happy, too.) I can’t run any other way. It’d be wrong for me to run like I wasn’t intended to. There’s freedom in boundaries. And, I don’t have to worry about being judged if I don’t get it quite right - It’s not that He doesn’t judge, it’s that His judgement is perfect and right and loving. I welcome His presence and eyes and judgement, because I choose to run excellently. Not being able to do whatever I want is a release not a duty.
The Cold Wasn't the Hardest Part
I am embarrassingly competitive. There've been times when I need to check myself and reframe my thinking. Take our recent race for example. We were registered to run a half marathon in the bitter cold in Edmonton. What inspired me to register in the first place? Probably the same reason many runners sign up for a challenging race; the need to prove to myself that I was ambitious, tough, and could really embrace any type of weather. As soon as I submitted our registration, I started to think about how I could get a PR, my training plan, and checked out my competition on the Registered Racers list. Closer to the day of the race, Silvain and I both transferred to the 10 km distance because we were excited about supporting our youth friend, Aidan, in his race. This change didn’t downplay my goals.
Then my stubborn injury came along. I call it a stubborn injury not because it won’t go away, but because I was stubborn and didn’t want to stop running when I knew that my ankle wasn't right. By race day my ankle was so bad that a 100 m jaunt in the hallway was enough to leave my ankle throbbing for the rest of the morning. While it should've felt wonderful to relax in a heated clubhouse on a comfy chair watching the Olympics, it felt the opposite. I was angry at myself for not listening to my body and for not training properly, and I was also angry at myself for being so frustrated about being on the sidelines. Yet, I pushed myself to reframe my thinking and snap out of my woe-is-me mode; I needed to support my husband in his shining moment.
What a great moment it was! Silvain kicked butt in the race. I was so proud of him. He's oozing with potential, and he demonstrated what he was made of in that race that cold morning.
Because we run together, we get to share the experiences that running offers together, the joys and the sorrows. As Michelle's recounted, we got to share my happiness and in her sadness. Of course, it was easy for me to celebrate in my fast race. I might’ve even been in shock! As a testament to Michelle’s support and love, she found it really easy to celebrate with me. It was a bit harder for me to be with her in her frustration and grief, even if just for the simple reason that joy's easier than sorrow for anyone, so of course it was hard for us for Michelle to not race.
The longer we’ve been married, the better we are at being in each other’s pains. It gets easier and easier. Because we share them, the whole losses are diluted between the two of us, more and more each time. I’m so grateful for Michelle’s support in my life and in my running. The most loving way that I can thank her is in reciprocating with what she needs.
Support is so vital to energizing our running. Whether it’s your running spouse, partner, group, or community, be with them through thick and thin. In doing that, valuable skills and wisdom will be learned for the other relationships in our lives.
Sometimes the best thing to do when one feels unmotivated is to start over. Not necessarily right from the beginning, but more like approaching the problem from a different angle. If it’s not working, maybe it’s because the way in which one is trying to get something done isn’t the best way specific to the individual. (One does have to confirm that laziness isn’t a factor, though!) I do believe that if one knows that he or she is to put motion to something, then there’s a solution to the problem. So, I’m scraping my last attempt at this post on getting things done and starting from a different plan of attack.
Sometimes, I get tunnel vision and find it very difficult to think outside of the box. Having people to bounce ideas off of and to be creative with is so important. I see this in action really well when I’m climbing and running. My wife, my climbing partner, and my friends all help me stay motivated and moving forward.
Michelle is a great coach and supporter, and that alone is motivating. There’s nothing more propelling than someone cheering me on. Not only that, but she knows my ups and downs and so tactfully and lovingly pushes me when things are tough. My climbing partner aids in many ways. Quintessentially, my belayer motivates me by pointing out solutions to the climbing problem and incites me on, sometimes yelling. Friends who share or are excited about my activities are valuable in their own way. If they show an interest and ask questions, that’s already an energizer. People are a vital source of energy.
Motivation does come from inside of us, and it’s also found outside of us. Whether it’s people, nature, God, or even just necessity; we work on tasks and goals spurred on and supported by ourselves and, thankfully, others.
Being newly married, Silvain and I are recently learning how our motivation differs. While I am driven by routines and structure, Silvain takes time to process and makes well-thought out decisions. For me, I find comfort in plans, regular activity, and keeping busy. I’m pushed by data, competition, and the fear of being left behind.
A few years ago two of my friends decided that a cold October day would be perfect for hiking Hayden Ridge, a mountain near our town. My first reaction was, “I have chills just thinking about it and this event was not in my weekend plans.” Two minutes later I found myself dressing in layers, packing a thermos of tea, and making sure I had extra hand warmers. The day went something like this: I froze, we got lost for part of it, and my body and mind were exhausted. Yet, I have no regrets, and I would go again in an instant.
I recently heard a psychologist speak of the idea of how flow is the prime ingredient of human happiness. It happens when what we are doing is internally exciting. I love being caught in the moment doing what I love, oblivious to what the rest of the world is doing. This can’t be forced, but I believe that my motivation can drive me to get into the flow and make lifelong memories.
This gets me thinking: should we try to improve our motivation? Do we feel down on ourselves when we aren’t as motivated as others? How do we find a balance between being motivated and overdoing it?
Silvain has taught me to be a thinker, to process my decisions, and to say “no” when I am on the verge of burning out. I have learnt that it is okay to be behind in something and it is okay to just relax and have a lazy day. I no longer compare myself to others in terms of motivation and drive. I am confident in myself, my abilities, and my goals. With Silvain on my team I feel we can achieve our goals, find flow, and push ourselves to be our very best!
Trails vs. Roads
I like running in the bush and on the trails. (This is Silvain!) It’s so much less boring than asphalt. Trail terrain is way more interesting than the road. I like the different types of snow and different slides of mud. There are things to see, like leaves and flowers and bark! Each time I run a trail, a little bit more of the season has progressed. Nature, especially where there are four seasons, doesn’t stay static. I haven’t spent enough time in the tropics to know its equatorial nuances. But for sure here in Canada, there’s always something new. It’s neat to notice the first leaf turning fall and to hear the first robin.
I’m not alone in liking the woods and in being in the trees, and not just humankind. Sometimes, I know that I’m only steps behind a spooked deer, per the fresh tracks. Running game trails satisfies my curious, inquisitive mind, keeping it from getting bored. It’s so cool how they know the best way through the forest, even across that gully and around the treefall mess that might seem like too much work at first glance.
And, it’s quiet!
I’m learning quickly that I am fighting a losing battle (Michelle). Recently, I’ve come across three separate magazine articles promoting the benefits of trail running. And while the softer surfaces may be good for my feet, the scenery good for my soul, and the uneven terrain may help improve my agility; I love road running!
Road running is freeing. I can let my body go and let my legs just fly. My worries get tossed, and my head becomes clear. I can predict the terrain and can sustain a fast-paced run without much extra thought. I love feeling light on my feet and agile on my toes, not a care in the world. I don’t have to worry about ramming my head on a stray tree trunk, tripping over roots, or getting lost on a rogue trail - I can just GO.
Trails are for hiking, for exploring, and for reflecting. As many people know, I am very competitive and love data. I love to see improvements in my pace times, distances, and overall running ability. I continually strive to PR in races and dream of being on the podium one day.
Silvain brags of seeing flowers, leaves, and bark while he runs along a trail; well, I can proudly say that I too spot flowers, leaves (of many varieties), bark, and even a deer or two while cruising down a snow-covered road! What I get that he doesn’t is a clear mind! I don’t have to worry about anything. And, there are street lights, so that I don’t need to wear an uncomfortable headlamp on an early morning run. (Headlamps are nerdy.)
Wanna join our debate? Trails or roads?
It's Not About the Puffy
As a runner, climber, and hiker; I want to be strong, flexible, and be able to push my limits: so, why does it matter if my puffy matches my climbing helmet? Sadly, looking cute, coordinated, and decked out in all the right brand names DOES seem to matter to many of us seeking adventure. Lately, I’ve noticed that my Instagram feed is flooded with chatter of swag, flashy new gear, and the latest style. I’m following these people for the inspiration they give me and not looking to buy a new running shirt.
Head outdoors, and it only gets worse. I catch myself comparing my outfit to what the climber next to me is wearing, or coveting the running jacket a friend jogs by wearing. Talking gear with climbers, is like discussing the rainfall with a farmer. It’s just what we do; but sometimes, I need to check myself. Freedom in the wild comes when I’m doing what I love with the people that I love, and as long as my outfit lets me accomplish my adventure goals, who cares if it’s new, or even if it matches?
Sometimes, it frustrates me how I take things into the outdoors that I don’t want to. The outdoors for me, and for many many others, is a place to recreate, relax, and reconnect. For me, it’s one of the places that I go to be free of life’s frustrations and breathe. Another big place is church. Both bring me closer to God, so that’s good! I’m usually really good at letting creation do it’s work of aiding communion. However, add other people into the mix, and it’s much harder. Comparison and coveting are killers!
A large part of my anxiety is related to my self-image. I’m starting to understand that how we view and present ourselves is interrelated with how we feel about ourselves. If we feel better, we then look better. If we feel more like ourselves, we’ll portray ourselves more accurately and easily. Isn’t that what we all want? To be genuine inside and out? We can all tell when someone isn’t being themselves; their image exudes try-too-hard and fakeness. It’s not the look per se, but the congruency of the look and the individual. We’re intuitive to seeing past clothes, sometimes without even knowing anything about the person. Of course, we have to be very careful to not assume and judge, but if we observe that someone looks fake, we’re maybe sensing that conflict.
We all have a little bit of faux to an extent, and I do believe that we’re constantly desiring to get closer to our true selves. Some of us are closer than others, at different stages of the adventure. I know that becoming as whole as I was made to be is very important. I want to feel and look like how God intended me to. As we start to develop a deeper understanding of who we are, we'll more easily gravitate to and find things that resonate with us. We’ll then feel more comfortable with who we are, and we might even start to love ourselves! Because, if we can first love ourselves, then we can love our nature neighbours.
The grossest feeling to me in the outdoors is when I’m not loving myself - when I’m not enjoying myself. Often, it’s because I’m wanting someone’s new sunglasses, new rope, old pants, hair, talent, strength, girl, vehicle, life?! Ah ha!! If I’m wanting everything that I’m not, and not grateful for everything that I am, I can’t love myself. God made me, and he says, “Rejoice!” So, I’m going to focus on me and the great outdoor day that he's given me.
Living in Alberta means living with winter, whether you like it or not. Somehow, it used to shock me every time winter came, and I would hibernate in my house until the warm weather returned. There were times when I had big aspirations to not let the darkness and cold get to me, but winter seemed to win every year. Then some small changes happened: I moved to a town with milder winters and beautiful scenery; I realized that you can buy boots that won’t let your toes freeze; and I met people who actually enjoyed being outside when others are hibernating.
My goal to embrace winter has been ongoing for over three years now, and while it is still tough, I have definitely improved. Here are
Michelle’s Tips for Enjoying the Cold:
In keeping with the fun and casualness of our blog, here are
Silvain’s Winter Thoughts:
I love seeing Michelle embrace winter! You see, I like winter. It’s not my favorite season, but it’s sure better than summer in some ways. OK - only in a couple ways: less sweat, and when it snows, the scenery, in my opinion, is splendour! Only when it snows, though, because brown and grey sleet slush for 8 months of the year isn’t cool.
Anyway, about dressing for running in winter, as Michelle says: “It’s all about layering - lots and lots of them.” She does love tons of puffy, plush, and pilly things to stay warm. She’s cold-blooded: I’m the opposite. My problem is sweating, no matter the season. I could write a whole bit on sweaty hands and rock climbing in the sun. I love climbing in the shade, because my hands grip better. Some people won’t understand this no-sun climbing preference sometimes.
Sweating causes real suffering in terms of vigorous activity in the cold! (Or, different suffering, because being frozen from not being able to generate heat isn’t fun either!) The wetness can be pretty uncomfortable, and also dangerous. In winter, God’s pretty great invention to cool us down works especially efficiently and fast.
I usually overdress and have been trusting my experience and heading out with less on than I worry that I need. I’ve never really regretted it, but did think that when I start running away from the townsite trails this spring, I’ll have to rethink dressing and will have to start packing options. Trying and tweaking isn’t too hard, just a bit of effort. If you change something each time, you’ll get closer and better at the art and science of it all.
It’ll still be winter in the mountains for a while. I always chuckle when I end up on snow in the middle of summer. It’s not great when it snows in town in July; although, I secretly enjoy it. One of the draws of higher elevations is the freshness. And, when I do find snow, I grab a handful to cool my hands. It’s always very refreshing.
We may never agree on a favourite season, but we will continue to embrace all weather!
Leaving Worries On the Wall
I haven’t quite figured out if climbing is good for my anxiety or if it increases it.
As expected, I definitely have increased tension before the first climb of the day, starting the moment I wake up or even before. If it’s the first day in a new area or climbing spurt, and if there’s a bit of organizing to do before, there’s additional stress. To be fair, this apprehension is no different than a transition travel day or an exam day, for example. For these more stressful mornings, I’ve found that it’s helpful to breathe, not rush, stick to routines, eat a good breakfast, hydrate, shower, and take a few moments of quiet time. As I understand myself more, I’m more able to identify my anxiety quickly, allowing me to share my thoughts with my climbing partner. Putting the climbing day in God’s hands, as with any other worries, is vital.
I find that I have almost no anxiety after climbing, even non-climbing irritations. There’s a release. Perhaps the parasympathetic system kicks in. I think that climbing helps me with my daily anxiety, teaching me how to deal with the increased anxiety of climbing might help me deal with my lesser, daily worries: a desensitization or conditioning of sorts, maybe. It teaches me that confronting a worry is at times a helpful way to heal anxiety or at least manage it.
Ironically, there’s incredible mental peace, even in the mental fright and physical shaking, while climbing. I don’t know if this is an illusion and actually just hyper-focused fight-flight-freeze or if it’s really a calmer state of mind. Maybe, they’re the same thing. However, the clarity of mind on the wall, although super aimed (ie: “Where do I put my right foot?” “OK, I need to commit to this move.”), gets me thinking that it’s not quite the same as running away from a bear. Mind you, I’ve never had to run away from one! I was mindful of scorpions, snakes, and spiders at Red Rocks; not worried, though!
The first time I went climbing, when we ventured to Juno Wall in Jasper National Park, I remember having no fear. Because partially, I fully trusted my friends to keep me safe while being on top-rope; and somewhat because, I hadn’t taken the time to fully consider all of the things that could go wrong. As I improved and pushed myself to be as good as my climbing partners, I realized that a strong mental state is imperative in becoming a great climber.
I quickly found myself being petrified of climbing above my bolt when leading, stressed when there was extra slack in the rope, and always nervous of going over the edge when coming down after a climb. Researching, practicing, and talking with fellow climbers has helped me to build a strong mind. It was exciting for me to conquer some of my fears while climbing in Red Rocks. I had a looser grip while clipping; I didn’t scream every time I was lowered; and there were times when I didn’t think twice about climbing above my bolt.
Take for example our first day at Red Rocks: I strapped on my snazzy new climbing shoes and aimed for the mindset of “how small of a rock can my foot balance upon?” With my toes screaming in agony due to unbroken-in shoes, it was great to feel the strength and control that each tiny toe gave me. As I became more confident that “Yes! My feet will hold me,” my body shook less, and I had more energy to do more climbs in the days that followed.
Then there was Day 5 of our Red Rocks adventure. This was the day that I left my fingertips on the wall. I was so focused on conquering the route that I threw my cares (or most of them, at least) out the window and pushed through the pain of gripping the crimp holds on an ice-cold, shady route. Sadly, I never did end up sending the 5.10a, but I’ll be back to finish it; hopefully, with my fingertips still intact!
Whether it’s a fearful climbing day or not, I’ve loved climbing since I started. I love how my mind is clear and focused, and the energy that I normally use to worry and stress can be rerouted into climbing energy. As a developing climber, I believe that my mental strength is just as important as my physical strength.
Who We Are
Hi! We're Michelle and Silvain: a married, Christian couple that's always seeking to learn, explore, and take on new challenges. Our adventures take us up mountains, down trails, and to faraway places. Follow us as we live, love, and are crazy! Forever!!