The night before the race, my loving wife Darcy reminded me of that time (as they always do) that I said “I fucking hate running, I will never do a half-marathon, it’s so stupid. Why would anyone ever want to do that?”
And so it began.
This thing called November Project has been a lot of things to me but one, especially today, is definitely the fact that this thing we tell people is “not a cult” is a gateway drug to putting one foot in front of the other in a quick rhythmic fashion, aka running.
Even as leaders, Mel and I are covering somewhere between 3-5k per workout on the days that we are not participating with the tribe. We run to set things up. We sprint to pick up something that we left at the car, we run around trying to either find each other or to help maybe/hopefully/kind of motivate or distract someone that looks like they are riding the struggle bus.
So when Graham Snowfield asked the tribe to help him go on a training run “up Grouse”; Thai, Christina, and I said yes and we hit 12km to get to the back side of the mountain from Lynn Valley, then climbed those giant boulders that used to be part of the mountain, then ran across the back of the mountain, and then just for fun hit another 12km down the old Mtn Highway and then just a couple more back to the cars. Grand total 38km. And why would this non-runner do such a thing? ‘Cause this tribe helps support each other in their goals, period (more on this later). Oh and my weekly mileage when I attempted this lunacy a whopping 3k a week.
So this gateway drug we will call it met-enkephalin “runners high” leads me to wake up at dumb-stupid o’clock and driving to meet up with Vin at UBC. We have been messaging for weeks here and there, “how’s it going?”, “good run today”, “what are you going to wear tomorrow?”, you know all the good stuff. But the biggest reason is that we both figure that we can run the same-ish speed and that we might as well start together with the 1:45 pace bunnies. Side note: Pace bunnies I later learned are a mythical creature that possibly never existed in the first place… but more on that later too.
I dropped my gear at the bag drop and headed to poop before most people got there. For you race rookies: This is a great idea. Nothing like walking out of the poopers to see the line that was 4 people deep is now 25+ deep and growing in the 2 minutes that you were inside the can. People were still in line when the gun went off.
Well, I saw a bunch of friendly NP faces on the way in and hugged and said good luck. Found Vin with Thai and we trotted for maybe less than a kilometre before Thai carried on and Vin and I turned to head back to stretch. 10 mins in after stretching and chatting with Adam, Cassia, Cassandra et.all and then some laughs were had with completely random strangers, as per cult rules and as per totally normal. In the corral, we found the white (pace) rabbits and got ready to follow them down any rabbit hole they decided to take us through. I heard them say 4:53/km to someone, Vin and I both made the same sound, an audible gasp mixed with a pfffft sound and then some confident trepidation. We both agreed to go out with them and to see how it would go.
The reason for the shock was that up until this point I had been “working” with my coach the great @wambot himself Verner Von (mother flicking) Lofstrand. Basically, he would look at my runs and say, too fast, too slow, not long enough, just right, you got this, you’re not running enough each week, you are going to be great. But my best long run was 5:23/km at what I thought was a 150HR, and I figured that if I was feeling good I could match that and go 1hour and 46mins. Right? guys? anyone? My math may be off on this but our brain plays funny tricks to make us feel ok.
Next thing you know the gun goes. Now, this whole thing is a bit new to me but there is no orderly fashion for this race start thing. Everyone seems to forget that this shit is fun, that it is a ‘race’ and not the fucking Olympics. People cut you off, bump and elbow politely (because we are all Canadian) and then give you the stink eye because you are in their way. So remember when I said Vin and I were going to run together? Yeah fat chance, we were separated by at least 7 people within the first 50 meters. About 400m in he was a step ahead of the pacers and running with Thai, who turned around after asking him where I was to wave at me. I figured, incorrectly that I would just catch them in a few minutes and we would run in tandem for the rest of the way… I never saw Thai again.
This is where something cool happened. In these first couple of Km 4000 people are running in semi-unison. I decided to run without music so I could experience the whole whatever this was unhindered. So while we jockeyed for a position I heard what I could only be described as a hoard of giant angry grasshoppers clicking their wings in semi-unison. Thousands of pairs of feet thumping the ground trying to find space and rhythm. This would carry on until we hit marine and we started to thin out.
Me chasing Vin on a regular day
I ran 15m back from the pace group and all the people running right alongside or directly behind these two tall dudes with bunny ears stapled to their hats while Vin ran mostly ahead of them but I noticed that they were definitely pushing their 4:5X pace and I was definitely not ready to stay with them. So immediately having given up my goal I settled into whatever felt right in the moment.
Then came the leaders, the elites, the Jeff and Vivian’s of the world. The start of this race has a turn around not too far into the trot and that is where you are reminded that again this should be a fun thing for you. Because BEHOLD you mere mortals, there go the gods of running those who haul ass and get paid for it, or haul ass and pay for it. A prime example here is Canadian superstar race walker, and Olympic 4th placer, Evan Dunfee who was literally walking at a 4:47/km pace when we crossed paths… bastard. (finished at 1:41.15 in case you want a frame of reference) Well, nothing makes you regret your decisions faster than watching superhuman efforts fly by you. Back to my solitude amongst friends.
And that really is what the next few (thousand) meters were. I ran and chatted briefly with a couple of people as we sized up the run, the pace, and each other. Trying to decide if this was a match made in 21.1 heavens or if my long ass legs were going to be too much or not enough to trot with someone. It was like speed dating on the fly, with people you would never speed date, wearing lycra and luon.
Passing the beautiful gardens I finally saw my man, my running partner, my silver fox. Vin was trotting along somewhere between the gardens and the MOA. Having run just ahead of the pacers for a while he did what any smart poker player would do and pushed back from the hand in play because that shit was “too rich for my blood” and he settled into what looks like a good pace if you stalk his strava. We trotted along there together sharing our start of race experience. I told him that it sounded like grasshoppers. He said that it looked like a great dance party because everyone was running to the beat that he had going in his headphones. A short while later he said that he had to drop off a bit from the pace and we high 5’d a see you soon.
This is where things get a bit funny and fuzzy for me. No longer knowing anyone ahead of me besides those crazy fast NP’ers who hauled ass out of the gates I got into my head and a very run-trance state. I ran solo passing the marching pipe band, down the never-ending hill that gave way to spectacular views of the ocean, mountains and other runners blazing past you because why the hell not, jerks.
I did have some great moments in here though that need to be mentioned. Moments that made me grateful, for so many things.
First was seeing Carla. While I have not seen Carla as often since her job took her away from workouts in the AM I have seen her on occasion. The best thing about NP is that when you bump into one of the tribe your first reaction is to hug, at least mine is. You seem to pick up where you left off, like best old friends. Carla and I ran together at the back of the 11km group at the Lulu global running day event put on by Jess Fudge and her Lemon-heads. We chatted and smiled and laughed and caught up. It was amazing. Well, wouldn’t you know it that as I was coming down that hill and I hit the flat and my legs said a very clear “FUCK YOU ASSHOLE” Carla was there on her own run of 22km (for fun) to say “You look great”. That was all I needed to ignore the muscles, ignore the heart rate that I thought was way too high and to just keep moving.
Spanish banks gave way to other fond NP memories. Graham had his birthday down in the banks and as per any typical #Snowfielding outing, it was fantastic. But as I passed those spots I felt another NP surge.
Then comes the series of mini-hills. Ones that are far enough in to make you think twice about whether or not you need to walk or run. Ones that make you thankful and thankful for the tribe. I don’t know if you have ever seen what Verner does on Friday mornings on the FB but if you are not one of the 57 members of the Friday Mountain Rogue Runners on the facespace then you need to make a point of getting your ass out of bed and earning your weekend. Well this #4011 (fruit code for bananas) guy who is my run guru and every time a little hill that might have been 10m or 1000m long came up I just thought of him, his crew of rogue runners ( I see you Katie, Frank, Kyle, Henry, Keith, JP and more) and I just thought of all the hills that we ran last summer, this spring break and every Friyay from now until kingdom come and I said “SHUT up legs you’re not the boss of me. You can run hills. Just don’t walk. Run you assholes.” The best part of this was that thanks to this Friday training and the running I have been doing with my unofficial crew out here in Tsawassen (#TTRC aka me and Dave) since we moved out I was able to pick off so many people in front of me who clearly were not friends with the hills. #grateful
The next few km were painful, mind-numbing, and quiet. I would run and look for the next buzz of my watch to check the time and hr. I would thank people that had no business being out cheering on 4000 yahoos that decided that running was a good idea. I would see kids holding signs for their parents and think to the day that maybe my kids would be doing the same. All of these things would make me smile. And as Eliud Kipchoge said in his Nike Run Club “coached run” smiling makes the run easier, and why wouldn’t you smile. Sound advice who ran a full marathon in nearly the same time it took me to run this half. (2:00.25)
Then just before the end two more moments of pure joy.
Erin. If you have not met this 6-foot tall super scientist and gotten to chatting with her, do it. She is rad. Point final (that’s French for your anglo’s… which means English speakers for you English speakers.) While I ran through way more of Kits than I knew existed and was starting to ragret the flip up hat, all I heard was. “LET’S GO RICH!!!!” I am pretty sure I cut off three people to run across the road to get a double high 5 from one of the few people I can fully share my hight with. Another smile. I said to her “Adam should not be far back”. Well before I could think twice, and before the smile faded from my face all I heard was her yelling Adams name. Remember 3 pages ago when I said I started with him? Yeah well he was right there. Well not long after that Adam was trotting on by like a man on a horse. Adam, you can definitely say that you are faster than your dad- insert an obligatory #daddyrich reference. But I was so happy to see him go because Adam and Cassia and Erin have not only been coming for a year but have been working out, running, kicking ass every day since. #payday
Last but not least was just before the Burrard St Bridge. This is where I told Vin and Thai, in all my bravadocian confidence, that if I was with the pace group I would try to drop them and run away with it in the last 3-4km. Well, I no longer had any desire to try to drop a pace I no longer had any desire to try to purposefully pass anyone, I barely had a desire to finish the race while still running. But as I came up to the foot of the bridge and wished that the brewery across the street was spraying the road with beer. I heard my name one more time. Jess Fudge was there, chilling with the EVRC crew across from the Luon mansion. She hollered my name in her unique @2fudge way and made me smile one last time before I saw that long assssssss bridge that I had to stare down.
I finished the last few km in a constant battle of wether or not it was worth pushing beyond threshold into that amazing place called lactate tolerance that I made my bread and butter in as a swimmer. I know my body well by now, and I knew that if I tried to up the splitting and give it a little more the odds of a quick spike in burning followed by nausea followed by a spectacular visit to the bushes at the Sylvia Hotel. I decided that it was not worth being upset with the people passing me in the last km to try to out kick them at the end.
I had also completely forgotten about my time at this point. I knew that my heart rate was way higher than my training runs, I knew that I could not see the pace group anywhere nor had I seen them since I saw them checking their pocket watches at second beach from afar. I just knew that my feet had been running, my legs had been aching and that my toes were probably blistered. So I just ran.
Being passed in the last 600m by a dude all in neon green/yellow I did the only NP thing I could think of. I said good job and reached out my hand for one last high 5 of the day. He said thanks and gave it a smack on his way by. Then to my utter surprise, his step stuttered and he fell back in stride with me. “Dude that did not connect right… let’s do it again”. One last smile.
Crossing the finish line I looked up at the race clock. 1:45.55 right on pace. #goalcrushed.
All this to say. My name is Richard and I guess I run now. But none of it would have been possible without this little cult #notacult that I am proud to be a part of.
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