When people ask me if I’m still running, my answer has been that following the Rio Paralympics last September, I officially retired from international competition. While this is technically true, it implies that I’ve called it an athletic career. The disclaimer which I usually add is that I’m hoping to continue to compete in some local races and that I’m still doing a little running.
When people ask how much running is a little running, I answer five or six times a week; in truth, six days would be more accurate. I’ve even run twice a day here or there. The first few times, I was surprised when people would say, that’s a lot for somebody who’s supposedly retired. And, well, I guess it is.
When I was training in the lead-up to Rio for example, I typically ran 6 days a week, although I would run twice on two or three of the days and our training was more systematic and targeted. I ran more than I do now. But the basic weekly structure both then and now is pretty much the same.
Last week for example, I ran 50 miles for the first time since starting back into running again in late January. I did two workouts – a tempo run on one day and a series of 1000m intervals and hill repeats on another – with easy steady running on the other four days. Almost all of it was on our treadmill at home. I’m hoping to get outside for more guided runs as the conditions improve.
So why do I continue to say I’ve retired when people ask? I do need to come up with a better way of explaining it because … because retirement implies that you’re finished. I tried to adopt that way of thinking back in the fall and it just didn’t feel right. Sometimes, we become trapped by our own language. To say I’m finished would be disingenuous.
Inevitably there are lines which we must draw, or which are drawn for us in life. I’m no longer part of the national Para Athletics program, and so I’m not trying to make an international team, do not have to provide my daily whereabouts to the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport anti-doping program, and no longer receive funding to help with living and training costs through Sport Canada’s Athlete Assistance Program. I’m learning, little by little to deconstruct the sense of identity which you derive from pouring your heart and soul into being the best athlete you can. You realize that life has more than one dimension. I’m home on Saturday mornings now and on most nights before 6 pm, compared to many nights when I’d be lucky to get home from the track before 9.
Previously, I would put running first and look for jobs which could fit around it. Now I’m trying to fit running in where I can. But to the extent to which my relationship with running has changed, in as much as it has a different tone within the music of my life than it did before, it still resonates with me at a deep level.
I may have fewer miles in my legs than I did a year ago, but there’s a new spring in my step. I’m enjoying running more than I have in a long time. There isn’t the pressure of trying to make a team or performing on demand as a national team athlete – it was an incredible privilege to have the opportunity to do so however. I’m running now truly because I want to, because it helps me to feel better, because it grounds me, and because it sets me free.
Next time I’ll write about the three, maybe four main races which I’m hoping to compete in this spring and summer. In the meantime, wishing everybody healthy and happy training. I also wanted to congratulate the Canadian Para triathletes who just returned from their season-opening ITU (International Triathlon Union) race held in Sarasota, Florida this past weekend. Each of them made the podium … fantastic job!