I'm two weeks back into real training. The suffer-fest, death march, white-knuckle period that kicks off every build is behind me and the enthusiasm of being back in the swing of things is now complemented by a baseline of fitness that allows me to actually train each day without feeling like I got hit by a bus when I get out of bed.
I relish this time of year. Time away from running is a vital part of maintaining a healthy balance in my life and pushing my psychological baseline back towards some semblance of normal. However, it has never taken long for the initial feeling of freedom that comes with time off to dissipate, being replaced by a craving for the structure and direction that athletics offer. Inevitably, my first few weeks wind up being a bit overzealous as I try and force my body to pick up right where it left off; running 4:40kms, gasping for air, wincing from soreness, but feeling so alive! Eventually, though, I rediscover my rhythm and that's when the real fun begins.
Being fit is one of the greatest satisfactions I think a runner (or any athlete, really) can have, and the early stages of a rebuild can be some of the most rewarding as you feel that fitness building week-on-week and even day by day. I find I'm most appreciative of my fitness during these times when the memory is still fresh of those first painful runs fuelled solely by pride.
For those same reasons, a new season is also intimidating. The time of year for setting new goals, tweaking past routines, and mapping out seasonal competition plans brings with it big questions. Namely, what can I do to improve on what I accomplished last year? For every year that I've seen improvement in the sport there have been numerous adjustments made at the onset of a new season to build the foundation for future successes. As I've matured, these adjustments or additions have become increasingly specific and finding an edge is no longer as obvious as simply working harder. Rather, often reluctantly, I've had to acknowledge where my weaknesses lie and address them head on, even when that means getting uncomfortable in ways that no increase in mileage could ever do (I'm looking at you, L7 Hurdle stretch). In this process, I've been blessed with an incredible support group around me who I've green-lighted to knock me down to size on matters where my stubbornness gets in the way of progress. As humbling as it can be to hear the same critical feedback from multiple parties (I get it, being able to touch one's toes without grimacing is an asset for a steeplechaser), it's also reassuring to know that there is such a multiplicity of ways I can improve. I'm so grateful for the host of people who have demonstrated such a willingness to help me be the best I can be and I'm excited to get to work doing all the little things that make one really big thing come together.
As I'm quickly learning, doing all the little things right adds up fast. For that reason I am grateful that this new season of training comes in conjunction with what is in many ways a new season in my life more generally. This past May, I graduated from my Master's of Management program at UBC's Sauder School of Business(ssssssssssss). In the time since graduation, I was presented with an incredible opportunity to put my degree to work as manager for my club, the Vancouver Thunderbirds. While this role is great for a variety of reasons (connecting with the athletics community in a non-athlete way, coordinating the city's largest manure sale--need I say more?), the most noticeable difference it has made for me is the flexibility it allows for my training compared to full-time studies. For the first time ever, my daily schedule is one where all things running-related have the opportunity to take centre-stage. With my track season spilling pretty late into the fall, the new reality of being done with formal education didn't really sink in until my return from traveling post-Doha in mid-October. While a midterm-less October has been pretty great, this new found flexibility (of the logistical, not physiological, variety *sighs deeply*) has forced me to hold myself more personally accountable for making the decisions and implementing the changes I need to be the best athlete I can be. My personality is one that thrives on routine and I know that the sooner I can establish processes that I follow week-in, week-out, the better. With a much smaller post-collegiate training group under the same tutelage as CJ, who saw me through my varsity career, there is now more room for flexibility, one-to-one coaching and individually-tuned workouts. I'm definitely missing some of the energy that comes with being part of a big varsity program, but to soften the blow I'm fortunate to have the full support of UBC's varsity athletics program thanks to their partnership with the Thunderbirds Club. Whether they want me to or not, the UBC T-Bird's men's XC team can't get rid of my one-stepping, pace-pushing, run-hijacking ways that easily.
All that to say that I'm excited with the position I'm in right now, the people that are around me, and the road back to racing that lies ahead. I've lost track of time now and I've got to rush to workout, so I'll spare you all any more rambling. Mile repeats today, keep me in your prayers.
John Eamon Gay