Milestones and Moments

Milestone (noun):
1. a stone pillar that shows the distance in miles to or from a place;

2. a significant event in life, history, etc.

English Bay Inukshuk, Vancouver
I've been thinking a lot about milestones lately, in both contexts of the definition. Today marks 6 months since my breast cancer surgery; one month from today I run the BMO Vancouver Marathon, which will be my tenth; 16 years ago this month I ran my first, the Big Sur International Marathon. I've been reflecting on the fact that I trained for that race on some of the same routes that I am running now (I was living in Vancouver at the time, but only for one year): the English Bay Inukshuk was and is a landmark I love passing on long runs when I am heading toward the Stanley Park Seawall loop. 

When I signed up for Big Sur in 1999, I was 24 years old and a regular runner; I had run several 10k's and one half marathon, but had no idea how to train for a race this long. I ended up borrowing a marathon training book that my neighbour happened to have, and followed the program in it. I can't recall what the book was (it was not a well known training guide!), but I do know that it was only a 9-week training schedule, and basically had me building mileage that peaked at a 20-mile long run 3 weeks before the race. I have a clear memory of the first day I ran 14 miles, the longest I had ever run - it seemed so amazing that I could cover that much ground on my own two feet. It was an exciting time, because after that 14-mile benchmark, every long run was the longest I had ever gone. I set my goal for the marathon at 4 hrs, and finished the race in 4:01, elated, proud, and exhausted - but already convinced I could improve that time.


Siwash Rock, Stanley Park
So, what has changed in the 16 years since that first marathon? I'm older and (presumably) wiser of course, have earned some battle scars, and have grown into a better and faster runner. I have tweaked my training through trial and error to what I know works for me, and have so far knocked 37 minutes off my Big Sur time to my current PB of 3:24. I now train for 12 weeks, after building a solid mileage base, go 20+ miles for a long run at least 2-3 times during my training, and incorporate weekly speed and marathon-pace workouts. 

I still use some of the same strategies I developed all those years ago, however: for example, I make long runs (and the marathon itself) more mentally manageable by dividing them into small increments. My current 20 mile route in Vancouver takes me past the iconic Siwash Rock at almost exactly the halfway point, which was unintentional route planning but gives me a boost every time I reach that mark. In the marathon itself, I separate the race into 5-k chunks and focus on each of those in turn. I still have a huge amount of respect for the marathon, which is something I gained in that very first one. I consider every marathon I've trained for and raced an incredible life experience; I can remember quite vividly certain moments from each of these races.
9 Marathon Milestones in My Running Life
That's the thing, though - what I remember are moments. I remember throwing my gummy bears away near the end of Toronto because they felt like they were too heavy in my pocket; I remember a bystander near the Botanical Gardens in Montreal yelling at me that I was the 12th woman; I remember the kind couple handing out freezies in Boston from a makeshift aid station in their driveway. All of these marathons were certainly milestones in my running life - but it's the many miles of small moments in time that are what really matter, because they are what make up the experience

Rose Kennedy once said that "Life isn't a matter of milestones, but of moments". I do think that milestones have their place - they can give us a point of reference, or a goal to achieve - and yet this quote resonates with me. I recognize how far I've come in these 6 months since my surgery and appreciate that I am ostensibly cancer free, and I will continue to celebrate these time markers. In running, I acknowledge milestones as both literal mile markers on the run, and significant events like the races I am training for. 

What would be a mistake, though, is to recognize only those big events without mindfully enjoying and appreciating the many steps that make up the journey in between them. It is, after all, those hundreds of thousands of moments that life is made of. Those moments in the last 16 years have made me the runner (and person) I am today, and they make up the experience I will carry with me, both into the marathon on May 3 and as I continue on life's journey.

Moment (noun):

1. a very brief period of time;
2. importance.

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