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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Running for others

Bluenose 2010.

I recently overheard a non-runner make a derogatory comment about runners, hinting on the idea that they would all be egocentric, egotistical, self-obsessed individuals.

It left me pensive.

To be honest, before I started running, I did consider runners to be self-absorbed. They seemed to spend so much time and energy on themselves. Sometimes at the expense of their social life.

This was before I realized that non-runners can be as self-absorbed... just in a different way.

I've also come to realize that running might start from the self, but quickly radiates to other people around you. I've got proof of that every time someone tells me (and that's often) that I inspire them to exercise in general, and to run in particular!

When I started running, I did consider it to be a lonely activity, and something you primarily do for yourself. How could it be otherwise?

With a few years of running behind me, I have now changed my outlook on it completely.

Running is not lonely. Running is a community! Just put a bunch of runners together and you'll see! Runners might in fact be the most empathetic, sympathetic athletes of all! Runners always want to know how other runners are doing (out of genuine interest, NOT out of competitive spirit). The runners I know are always eager to help out, support, encourage, motivate, advise, and check on other runners; sometimes they will even wait for a slower runner (at the expense of their own training pace). Once a runner has discovered the benefits that ensue from running, s/he will also try and spread the word. No one wants to keeps something so good to themselves! Running is a contagious disease, but of the good kind. Part of the reason I started running is that I was encouraged by seasoned runners to do so!

Not to mention that when runners participate in a race, oftentimes a good portion of their registration fee goes to a charity of some sort. Many runners go further than that and actively raise money on top of training for the race. That's what a lot of people I know do. Including my two daughters.

A few months ago, their dad, in an effort to give back to an association that has funded his lab in the past, recruited them to do some fundraising for the Lung Association of Nova Scotia. His premise was that it would give A and R an overview of the complete cycle of fundraising through running:

1) Runners raise money for an association
2) In turn, that association funds:
- individuals (in this case for health expenses - e.g. we met a lady who had received a double lung transplant)
- scientific labs (in this case for medical research - e.g. daddy's lab)
3) The individuals and the labs who have benefited feel compelled to give back: they fundraise some more!

In the end, a lot of people benefit from it!

An interesting particularity of the Lung Association is their Learn to Run for Smokers program, that targets smokers who want to quit by introducing them to running. I think it's a brilliant idea. The participants regroup to run together and exchange on the ups and downs of smoking cessation. We discovered on race day that a group had called themselves The Butt Kickers (We Kick Ash!) Talk about channeling something negative into something positive!

Before fundraising for the Lung Association, daddy had already had the girls join him in his participation to Movember (fundraising for prostate cancer) a few years ago.

Fundraising for the Lung Association was even more successful. Daddy and the girls spent a day baking, then took everything to daddy's work (Dal faculty of medicine) for a bake sale. They even sold life sized gummy mice, a great success with lab students! In the end, they raised so much money that...

1) I seriously considered taking the girls out of school and putting them to work, for extra income!
2) They won a prize for their efforts!

Needless to say, I was a proud mama.

After all that, the actual race was simply the cherry on top. Having spent more time and energy fundraising than training, the girls nonetheless ran their race like gazelles (ah! youth...) The pace, set by A, who was 6 at the time, really impressed me: they ran 5 K in 36 minutes! Not bad for those little legs! R (9 years old) was kind enough to stay with little sister for the entire distance, but she talked the whole time (the pace was obviously too slow for her!)

A and R wearing red t-shirts (and a neck warmer on their head - fashion statement!)

At that race there were many other children, and I found it very endearing to see them work those little feet as fast as they could. It motivated me to give a hand with our school's running club, which exists thanks to the presence of numerous volunteer parents. My schedule has only allowed me to go once (luckily there are many other parents who are dedicated enough to be there on a regular basis - kuddos to them!) but it was enough to convince me once again that the running community is a close-knit, convivial one. On that sunny day I joined them, the parents who assembled to help out were all busy enquiring about each other's most recent runs; then, as the kids arrived, it was beautiful to see the adults share their love of running with the youngsters! In this case helping also meant to tie up little sneakers and to dry some tears (you can't have a few hundred kids run without witnessing one or two falls!)

A, whom I was running with (along with a bunch of her little friends), warned me, very matter-of-fact:

- Now mom, don't start sprinting toward the end like you usually do, okay?
- You're right, I tend to get excited when I see the finish line.
- Well, there's no need to get excited today: there are no medals here, they will only stamp your hand for each lap you run.
- Okay... (trying not to laugh)

For the 2010 edition of the Bluenose, A decided to wear her Wonder Woman shirt...
because it would help me run faster (according to her!)

I just loved my short experience with the little runners, and I'm so grateful for the wonderful team who looks after them twice a week.

This coming weekend, a - big- group of friends and I will join the many thousands of people who run the Bluenose. In our case it will be for a half-marathon. In the past months we have trained, rain or shine, snow or wind, day or night. But mostly, we have been there for each other. I cannot possibly view running as a lonely, egotistical activity, in the light of what I've experienced with my fellow runners throughout those 18 weeks.

Now, one of my good friends, A, has been one of the casualties of this race prep (there is always a few, to my great dismay). A got injured, and won't be able to run. She was up to 18 K runs when it happened. Suddenly she was in so much pain she couldn't even run a few meters. When I talked with A, recently, she said to me that it feels like a breakup. She says she was in love with running; it had become such an important part of her life! But then all of a sudden the running stopped loving her back and started hurting her instead. So much that she now can't run at all. A says she feels down and sad, especially when she hears the songs she associated with running. Just like a heartache, really! I could feel the extent of her disappointment. But what do you say in those situations? Other than giving her a little, friendly squeeze, I said "Well at least, contrary to when a guy dumps you, you can be pretty certain that running will come back... once you heal."

A is not the only one whose running has been interrupted against her will. I have a handful of friends or acquaintances who are forced to "stay on the bench" right now because of either injuries or illness. I have been that person in the past. It does not feel good. Physically, of course, but mentally, mostly.

This weekend, to follow this whole "running for others" philosophy, I will run for you, my friends who can't!

And if you can attend the race, even if you don't run, you can always cheer the runners with some sign of your own making. Some cool ideas: "Run, there's a bear behind you" (not so far from reality in Halifax),  "Free piggy-back rides" and "Run like you stole something". Believe me, those signs truly do make a difference!

Most of all, remember, even when you're at your lowest... there is always hope! And if the skies look grey for you, you can always focus on others... for the time being.

Now, on a more joyous note, here is my "expert advice" for all of those who will be running the Bluenose this weekend. You've trained hard, don't wreck it in those last few days!

Now is time to:

- pick up your race kit and make sure you have everything you need for race day
- taper distance and speed
- make sure you get enough sleep
- increase your water intake
- decrease your intake of sugar, salt, fat and alcohol
- and as any good athlete knows... no more sex until after the race! LOL

Seriously, I've never understood that rule. The last thing you want to be on race day is horny!!!  (from deprivation) Unless it motivates you to chase a hot runner ahead of you!

Speaking of which... I've just received this hilarious translation of a package of strawberry seeds, which was most likely done by a machine (either that or it was done by a horny, sex-deprived runner!)

"Fruits moyens à grands, couleur rouge foncé et saveur de baise sauvage"

Which in English would be "Medium to large fruit, dark red in color, with a taste of wild sex".

A comment accompanied the link to the picture: "Something in the taste of those strawberries tells me it's gonna be a scorching hot summer this year!"

I don't know for you, but I'm ordering a case right now (to eat after race day, of course).

Laugh, it's good for you.


  1. Hi Julie! Well, how charming are your daughters!!! Husband not bad too! :D

    Very good message about runners. I've never known runners to have many negative traits. After all, runners like basic stuff--like just running for a long time!<<Nothing is more earthly than one step in front of the other for a long time.

    I read the strawberry sign in my very broken knowledge of French first, which isn't so great, and thought--is that saying what I thought it said??? Tastes like "base sex"? And yes, you confirmed that was what it meant! How funny!

    :-) Marion

    1. Hi Marion!

      I like this: "Nothing is more earthly than one step in front of the other for a long time."

      And yes, "baise" is a slang word for sex!!! Not exactly as bad as the F-word, but in that kind of spirit.

  2. This was my favorite blog post ever - you always know just what to say. And I finally made it into your blog! :-)

    I want a case of those strawberries too!!! Lol

    1. Awww... big hug to you dear! :-)

      If I manage to get some of those strawberries I will do the same I do with running: I will share! LOL

  3. You actually made me shed a few tears with this post Julie!

    1. Well, that wasn't the goal, but I hope they were good tears! :-)

  4. Whenever I've run for others it was a gift I gave myself.