I did it: The Canal Run

HANCOCK — First it was the feet that went numb, and then it was the knees. With just two miles left in the Canal Run, I was reminded why I loathe running so much. It felt like only muscle memory was propelling me forward as I wondered why I decided that running 10 miles would ever be a good idea, or how runners can actually enjoy this kind of activity that brings pain throughout the body. But in two miles, I experienced the payoff, and I think I got a glimpse at some of the motivating factors for hardcore runners.

– – –

Previously, I took part in two 5Ks, both of which were memorable for very different reasons. The first one, I actually ended up winning; it was a small 5K for the benefit of an animal shelter, and I finished in a time of somewhere around 22 minutes — nothing special. The second 5K happened at Grand Valley State University five years ago while I was still a student, and that one was unforgettable for a slightly embarrassing reason: I lost to an 8-year old girl, if she was even 8 years old. After gassing myself early on and falling way behind everyone, I heard footsteps gradually grow louder as we neared the finish line. I started to look around, but didn’t see anyone near me since she was so short. But sure enough, she passed me, right in front of everyone that was waiting at the finish line. I decided right then and there it was a sign to call it quits on my running career.

– – –

With no summer basketball league in the area (Seriously, we have 8,927,492 baseball/softball leagues, but we can’t get one basketball league? Someone please step up.) I was looking for something to train or work towards. So for no better reason than to just see if I could do it, I decided to sign up for the Canal Run this year.

In May, I googled “How to train for a 10-mile run”, clicked the first link, and followed the program. It was a Hal Higdon program, and after asking my brother-in-law about it, who is an avid runner and a cross country coach at a school in Grand Rapids, he assured me that would suit me best.

In the end, I did 80 percent of the runs. Shamefully, one time I gave up three miles in on what was supposed to be an eight-mile run, and instead, stopped at the Subway on Shelden to eat. I regret nothing; I was hungry.

– – –

Since I had no prior experience competing in anything longer than a 5K, my goals were limited to: running without stopping, and finishing with a 9-minute pace per mile.

My sister and brother-in-law, who are experienced marathon runners, advised me to take it slow at the start, which I understand is correct and what every Internet race strategy also says, but I just find it ironic that in all other sports in the world, a fast start is critical. Still, I relaxed and watched everyone fly by me and kept a moderate pace for the first five miles.

Soon after, the people that started in the 5-mile race flew by me. I said, “Hey,” to Houghton’s Clayton Sayen as he ran by me like I was standing still — I saw him do that to others all spring this past track season.

At mile six, I attempted to stride it out and managed to make up some ground — passing people was a wonderful feeling. But by mile eight, those long strides became shorter, and near the end as the course faced an uphill elevation, the legs struggled to churn forward.

As I neared the finish line, I heard the PA announcer say my name, the race I was competing in and my finishing time. That was a nice, unexpected touch, and one of the many impressive qualities about the event, which is really a community race the area can be proud of.

Besides the seamless registration and professional photography by BrockIt, I was impressed with the amenities made available to the runners during the race, with everything from shuttle busses bringing people to the start, to cops and volunteers monitoring the road to make sure everyone was safe and water and sports drinks available every other mile. And at the finish line, in addition to hearing your name announced, you had access to water, Gatorade, protein shakes, free massages and could look at the live-results on a leaderboard.

With an event so well-run, it should not come as a surprise to see a record number 852 participants this year. So right now, I just wanted to say thanks to all the volunteers who made this event possible, and to race director Angela Luskin for organizing everything, and hooking me up with a free entrance fee in exchange for putting together the Canal Run tab.

I also want to give a shout-out to everyone who drove on the opposite side of the road while I was running during the eight weeks while I was training for this race. With people and their smartphones, you never know if someone is actually paying attention.

– – –

I finished in 1 hour, 30 minutes and 1 second, all while never stopping, making it a successful run as far the goals I set. I actually ended up getting second in my age group and received a medal for my efforts. Only after I searched the full results did I realize there were only two people in my age group in the 10-mile run. But hey, I’m not going to apologize for my medal — winning is winning. And if I ever tell my grandkids about my first Canal Run, there will be over 50 competitors in my age group when they hear the story about how I took second.

– – –

Throughout this process, I thought I would have a better understanding of the motivating factors for hardcore runners (I know runner’s high is supposedly a thing, but I didn’t experience any sort of bliss while running — just a pain in my lungs and numbness in my legs). My guess is that some of it is because running is a healthy hobby, or maybe some are driven competitively, whether that’s in races or trying to get a personal-best time.

For me, it was attempting to see if my body could be pushed in ways it had not been tried before. Now, I want to do a half marathon, and maybe even a marathon in the future, just to see if I can.

I would also like to do the Copperman Triathlon, but I can’t swim, so there’s that. But maybe someday. A few months ago, running 10 miles seemed impossible.