TORONTO August 24th 2014. Lara Winnemore loves running and is excited to share her love of running with others as a 2014 STWM Digital Champion training for her first full marathon. Lara competed in track and cross country in school but stopped doing sports and dance in her teenage years. Fast forward 20 years and running helped Lara get back in shape after starting her family. Running was instrumental to maintaining her sanity as a working mom but in 2010 it took on a more meaningful role in assisting with her recovery after sustaining various injuries in a car accident including a traumatic brain injury. While her life looks different now, running has helped her realize that while loss shapes us it does not have to define us. We can still strive to have an amazing life! Connect with Lara on Twitter @viva_lara.
Everything I Need, I Already Have. By Lara Winnemore.
My kids always ask me after a race, “Did you win mom?” and I laugh. It’s hard to explain to a child that for even the serious recreational runner, winning isn’t necessarily a realistic expectation. But it’s a good question. What does winning actually mean? I once came in 8th in my age group (on my 40th birthday weekend no less) in a Canada Running Series 5K which was shockingly awesome, and I’ve never run that distance that fast again. For most of us, the concept of what makes a winning run is not going to be coming in first place. And so we focus on continuous improvement. Your first race in any distance is often entered with the goal to complete, and subsequent attempts for most of us are to set a new personal record or PR. At the same time, we are all aging, and at a certain point in time the experts say that means we are slowing down. I know, I know “But I never reached my full potential as a runner! I could still get faster!” And some of us will.
But we can’t ALL be outliers. I am slowly coming to accept at the age of 42, that despite my firm belief in myself, lots of running knowledge, a coach, and proper training protocols, I’m probably NOT one of those outliers. I saw huge improvements in finishing times as a beginner runner, but then I plateaued. And on top of that, I still suffer from some chronic health issues as a result of a car accident 4 years ago, so there really IS a limit to how much running I can do and as such how much faster I can get. I know I am not the only runner out there guilty of maybe putting too much pressure on herself to be AMAZING, to be BETTER, to keep STRIVING every day for more and more, despite maybe some real practical reasons why that might be a stressful and not so realistic goal long term.
So how do you balance desires, beliefs and reality? How DO we keep “winning”? Where running has taught me so much about myself and my ability to reach beyond my limitations, and has given me hope in the last 4 years since my accident that I CAN be strong again, yoga grounds me and gives me that balance. The concept of Ahimsa in yoga is really important – do no harm. Not just to others, but to ourselves. The frustration of not being able to run as well or train as hard as I used to can lead to disappointment, negative energy and harmful thoughts. And the dark side of yearning to constantly be better is always that we risk never quite being satisfied with where we are now – the idea that we aren’t YET good enough, that we need “fixing”. And then we miss out on now. Ahimsa teaches me to shift my focus away from all that – it’s the difference between goals and intentions, between winning and losing.
So instead of chasing PRs I’m now trying to experience “personal bests”. That, for me, is how I can keep “winning”. Same thing you say? In my opinion what makes a personal best run can have very little if anything to do with your finishing time. I think one of the greatest things about running is that it allows us to push beyond limits and go further physically and mentally than we can imagine. But in the same way that yoga is not just about the asanas or poses, running is not just about how fast you can go or where you place in a race.
One of the best races I ever had was also one of my slowest half marathons. But it was undeniably a personal best run for me. In May 2014 I ran the Toronto Goodlife Half Marathon as a member of Team in Training and raised $1500 for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society of Canada. Unfortunately I had sprained my knee and ankle cross country skiing for the first time in the winter which kept me out of training for 6 weeks. I did have a time goal when I started my training that was PR focused – to go sub 2 hours. But after my injury all my energy went to fundraising and fulfilling my commitment to run for those who couldn’t…my goal truly became bigger than me.
I decided to run “naked” that day – without a watch or a GPS device. (Gasp!) And something amazing happened. I ran by feel. I actually noticed the CN Tower and the cheering crowds, and even the other runners all around me. I noticed my breathing. I took time to walk through aid stations and thank volunteers. I smiled at spectators. I reveled in the sun on my face, felt alive when that blustering wind hit in those last few kilometers, and actually smelled spring in the air. I was grateful to be able to run even though it was hard! I truly FELT the words of our Team in Training honoured hero Lydia as I thought about her personal story of cancer survival she had shared at our inspiration dinner the night before. “Be who you already are”. For me that meant, already strong, already good enough, already a winner. Why hadn’t I noticed these things before?
Going in to the race I set an intention to simply have a positive experience. At the race expo I stopped by a booth where you could predict your finishing time and if you guessed right, win a prize. I thought, why not! It wasn’t a primary goal for me. I made a light-hearted, nonchalant prediction that I would finish in 2:06:30. Not a PR. In fact it was 5 minutes slower than my previous 2 half marathons. Amazingly, I crossed the finish line in 2:06:39, only 9 seconds off my predicted finish time, and without running with a pace bunny or ever looking at a watch. The best part was I had actually enjoyed the race, I was there, in that moment and AWARE. I had been mindfully present. And in doing that, I met my performance goal, which had been completely secondary to my reasons for running that day. When I got home and my kids asked me, “Mommy, did you win your race?” I said for the first time, YES, and absolutely meant it as my truth.
I woke up to the world during that race, and what happened was just the beginning of what continues to be a transformative experience as I now train for my first full marathon. I’m still pushing physical limits by the mere fact of setting an intention and acting on it. I’m training to run a freaking marathon for goodness sakes. Some days I just pinch myself with giddy excitement to see if it’s really real. Other days I moan like so many of my running friends as I contemplate new distance milestones. And on the days I am fearful, when my chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia flares up, when I must put running on hold to deal with the stresses of my personal life or to care for my family, I tell myself, “I am already strong and amazing. I don’t need fixing. I will be okay”.
In running as in life, there are things we can control and things we cannot. Fundraising for a charity that is close to my heart (my dad is a blood cancer survivor), drawing inspiration from my yoga practice and the amazing people I am meeting along the way, and lacing up each day from a place of positive energy, not fear, is helping me to make every run a personal best.
On October 19, 2014 I will run my first full marathon. As I look towards the start line, my running intentions are to:
1) Run for the reasons that are best FOR ME and not to prove anything to anyone else,
2) Drop expectations and instead run with acceptance and gratitude,
3) Remain fully present in my body and aware of the world around me,
4) Celebrate every step of the way.
Pema Chodron reminds us that we already have everything we need. And it’s true. So think about the journey you have taken just to arrive at the start line, BE who you already are, and know that YOU HAVE GOT THIS.