January, it’s the month when we look forward to new goals and think ahead. Instead of looking forward, this time I’m looking back. The timing is right, not just because 2016 has ended, but because I am sidelined again due to my heel injury. Going from a runner who was never injured to suddenly dealing with this chronic injury has been tough – no, the marathons didn’t help, and neither did a sudden drastic increase in kilometrage, but that’s all beside the point! I am aware of what I did wrong and what I will do to stop repeating my mistake – listen to my body. Don’t roll your eyes, I mean it this time!
While I rest, I want to reflect on my successes, and though they seem like events I dreamed long ago, they were real and thankfully I have friends and photos to prove it. So here we go, my running-related successes of 2016:
- Trails and ultras – I signed up for a 50 Miler last spring for my birthday and it’s true what they say, ignorance is bliss! I had no clue what I was getting myself into, especially since this race was on trails and I only started trail running the previous year. Not to mention I’d bought my first pair of trail shoes a month before the race. Not looking at the course map, not thinking too much about the distance, I didn’t know what to expect and I am glad. Had I been aware that I was running up and down four mountains twice, had I looked at the elevation map or seen post-race photos of people’s feet, I may have bailed on this idea. Luckily I did none of the things I should have done and had an unforgettable and beautiful experience. Several things contributed to this successful adventure, such as having the support from my running crews and especially one friend who was my one-person cheer/support squad. She did and said all the right things to keep me going, rubbing sunscreen on top of the sweat and grime my body was covered in, giving me a swift kick in the butt when I was hanging out too long at the aid stations, surprising me with a tumbleweed to call my own at the end of the race. She did all the research and was a LOT more prepared for an ultra than I was, and she is a huge reason for why I kept moving that day. If you haven’t run on trails yet, you need to try it. That’s an order. Trust me. Running for 11.5 hours on my birthday in a place I’d never been to, with people I’d never met who suddenly felt like family, well I don’t know how I will top that experience.
- Speed work and PBs – Speed was always something I frowned at, probably because it intimidated me – and it still does. 2016 was the year when I faced those fears and started running on a track with yet another supportive and fun running crew. The coach pushed and motivated me to run faster than I believed I could. Hers was the voice in my mind on race days, telling me to keep it up, that I could do it, that I was almost there. It was partly thanks to her, and the rest of the track crew, that I broke PB after PB in everything from 5km to a marathon. I still say, give me a 50 miler over a 500 meter run any day, but I’m proud that I’ve overcome that enormous mental barrier I had. I won’t lie, it’s still intimidating, and every time I need to do a speed workout or tempo run, I feel anxious days before and think of all the excuses for how I can avoid running. And then I make sure to find a way around all those excuses (my go to is to wear my running gear to work so there really is no excuse to avoid running). Speed hurts, but it’s good to put ourselves outside of our comfort zones. I wouldn’t have known that I was capable of running certain paces if I hadn’t faced that discomfort and plowed through it.
- Monthly Marathons – We all have different reasons for why we run, and my main reason is that it calms me and helps me be at peace. Running helped me quit smoking 7 years ago and I’ve been addicted to it ever since. Until a few years ago, all of my running was done alone and this is still something I cherish. I love my running crews – the cameraderie, the stories, the adventures – but I adore my solo runs. For the first six months of 2016 I ran a monthly marathon, mainly by myself – though I did join some of the crews for the last legs of a couple of the runs. Thinking back now, I remember the excitement of mapping out a different route for each one. I wanted to discover or re-discover different parts of Vancouver (BC) by running all over the place. It’s funny how mapping 42.2km can make a city feel tiny! These runs were challenging – some mornings I could barely drag myself out of bed to get going, I had to carry all of my nutrition and water, sometimes I asked myself why I was doing this – especially the day I ran through multiple hail storms in my shorts and T-shirt. Yet, no matter how it started or what happened throughout, at the end I felt so much joy – and yes, pride too – at what I’d done, and it was all mine. No medal, no glory, no official time, no after-party. At the finish, it was just me and a big bag of salt and vinegar chips – and, on occassion, a blister or two. This kind of running – for myself, by myself, with myself – is the type of running I value the most.
- Cheer Crewing – Even though I raced quite a bit last year, I also focused on being on the other end of the field by cheering for friends when they ran. While cheering can’t replace running, it is my favourite option for when I can’t run myself. I had no idea how intense shaking a cowbell could be – I have the scars from blisters to prove it! Or that I could lose my voice from screaming so much. I could not predict how a sweaty mid-run hug from a friend would almost make me cry. I am one of those runners who feeds off crowd support, especially when I see someone I know or hear them shouting my name. It is just as exciting to be on the other side, to scream friends’ names and for my heart to race when I see them zipping by. I feel proud of them, knowing how hard they’ve trained, how anxious they’ve been, how far they’ve come. Cheering also made me realize how huge our running community is, how full of inspiring and unique people, how diverse we are and yet how one seemingly small commonality can draw us together.
And so, on that note of community and support, I will end this reflection with a glance ahead because I know that I will make cheering a huge part of 2017. I am rethinking several goals as I write, because this injury is something I have to accept and treat. I will not be running a birthday 50 miler this year, and I will probably not BQ at the Eugene marathon. Though the act of stating this, both to myself and publicly, literally makes me cry, it doesn’t mean I’m giving up. The main lesson I learned in 2016 is that my body is powerful, capable and that I underestimate its abilities. I pushed my body and my mind further than I could have imagined last year, and now I need to rest and heal completely. Because my only truly important goal is to be a lifelong runner, to continue to run for myself for as long as this body is able.
Tanja Cveki 30.01.2017 (Vancouver, Canada)