Saturday, September 10, 2011

How I Went From "You Can't Run" to "Northwest Alberta Zone Champion"

Ever been told that you can't do something? If yes, then read this...

I recall a time when I was in Grade 5, in Russia, and my physical education teacher had the class run about 3km every day. That was brutal back then. When I was really young, I was one of those kids who hated running and everything to do with it. So in gym class, I would be the kid who would be lagging behind the majority of the class hating every minute of it.

My teacher would always say to me "Yana, you can't run or play sports, so I am glad that you are good at math and science, because we need people like you out there too. I hope you never have to be involved in a situation where you have to demonstrate athletic prowess, since you really have none."

Of course, she is the one who would use derogatory terms to try to get us kids to comply and there were no rules against it, so I didn't take much of what she said seriously although I admit that it was hurtful, especially for a young kid.

Luckily for me, I moved to Canada right about at the end of Grade 5. Oh, and surprisingly enough, when I came to a Canadian school...guess what day it was? You got it..."Track & Field Day". The first thing that I had to do the first day that I got to a Canadian school was run 400m, then the 800m. All of a sudden, running seemed easy compared to what we had to endure back in Russia because I didn't have a nasty teacher to ruin the experience.

Fast forward to Grade 7. I still remember my very first track & field race like it was yesterday. It was the 1500m. I figured that if I run, then I should run long because I am certainly not fast.

But, I was S.O.L. that day too. Since it was a city championship, I was competing against other schools, who would be sending their best runners to the track meet. Of course, at my school, no one wanted to do the 1500m so that was how I ended up there in the first place.

I was willing to take a chance at the possibility of embarrassing myself in front of other track athletes, people's parents, and the athletic coaches who would all be watching the events. Guess what happened next? Yup, you got it...I embarrassed myself. I ran the 1500m in 8:30, probably the record slowest at a city track meet. All the other people seemed to have finished it in about 6:30, so I was about a lap and a half behind the rest of the competitors.

One of the coaches even said to me "You didn't quit when you fell so far behind. That shows a lot of courage to be able to lose with such grace." All I said was "Thanks. I will see you at provincials when I'm in high school." I knew that when I said this, I had no idea what provincials were other than that its a high school championship where the best runners from each Zone (not city) compete. I don't think I even believed it myself, to be honest with you.

I thought to myself, "This is the last time that I will lose this badly in front of this many people".

Between the end of grade 7 and the start of grade 8, I was very focused on trying to at least improve my time by one minute, so that the following year, I wouldn't lose as bad. Many people, after losing this badly, would get very discouraged with themselves, whereas I took that as a learning experience and found out what it is that I didn't want out of my "school athletic career".

I ran almost every day in order to build a base, which would make me physically fit enough to be able to withstand more advanced training sessions with coaches. Having your "base" is very important as a runner, because it is the foundation for building up your stamina and speed. I think that it's best to start with building your stamina, and worry about the speed later if you are a distance runner.

In grade 8, I took part in as many races as I could. Although I didn't have stellar results that I wanted to brag about, I got addicted to running (didn't think that would happen) and I also got hooked on the possibility that one day I would/might win a race. What I also noticed, which really motivated me to keep going, was a relatively large improvement in my times for all races. At that point, the longest race I've done was a 5km cross country race.

I also took part in the Terry Fox Run, because I was very adamant about running for a good cause as opposed to trying to win. I did other charity runs as well. Such runs also helped me build my base and gain experience as a runner.

I continued to train alone, and I ran about 5 days per week. I would do a combination of sprints on the track, long slow runs on the trails, as well as middle distance runs. I timed myself very frequently when I ran and felt an inner victory each time that I saw an improvement. I knew that before I could win while racing against others, I had to learn to race against myself (and win).

Racing against yourself, and beating your own times when you are the only person on the track is far more difficult then having the privilege of other people pacing you and pushing you to keep up. In addition, I would be the one keeping track of how many laps I have left to go, as well as what my pace was per lap.

Sometimes when I raced against myself, I would visualize being in a race and picturing what I would do if I had other people running against me. There's only so much you can do when you are by yourself.

Grade 9 marks the year of my first victory in a cross country race; it was 2km. It took me an embarrassing moment, 2 years of hard training, an attitude adjustment, and a belief that I could win if I pushed myself just a little bit harder to come out with a victory. I believe that it was a turning point for me as well, because I saw the results of my hard work. Also, when you win one, you start believing you can win the next one, and the one after that.

In grade 9, I also made it to the Northwestern Alberta Zone Championship (that's where you go after you win the city championship) in the 400M Dash. It's not my favorite race to run, and I finished 5th, but just to be there was a great experience that I wanted to relive again.

I continued to train, and in the beginning of my grade 10 year, I was introduced to a great coach, Bill Corcoran of The Wapiti Striders. When it comes to running, that man is a genius! If you are in Grande Prairie, and you want to learn how to run, he is the person for you to know. Several of the athletes he has trained in the past have gone on to win major championships, and so much more. He has over 30 years of experience as both a runner and a coach. He has completed 23 marathons, and has had some impressive personal bests. Check out his profile HERE.

When Bill took over my training routine, I never looked back. Also, when I wasn't training with Bill, I would be out running by myself or on the treadmill.

I went on to win the North Western Alberta Zone Championship in Grade 10 in both the 1500m and the 3000m. I broke 6 minutes in the 1500m, whereas my first time running it in grade 7 was over 8 min. I went to the Alberta Provincial Championship because I won the Zone Championship, just like I said to one of the coaches back in grade 7 that I would. I guess I really do stay true to my word.

Provincials is where the winners and 2nd place zone finishers battle it out for the ultimate victory in high school athletics. And I was in the "girl who was told she couldn't run, who was 'athletically under-developed' (whatever that meant), and who was the epitome of the ultimate loser at the city championship in grade 7".

Best of all, I maintained my winning streak throughout Grade 11 winning both the Northwest AB Zone Cross Country Championship (4k), as well as the 1500m and 3000m in track and field. I went to provincials for the 1500m and 3000m once more and finished around the middle of the pack, which I thought was pretty good.

When I was in Grade 11, I was training with Bill and the rest of the GPRC cross country running team. It felt amazing to be able to run with and even keep up with some of the college runners.

I also went on to run the Emperor's Challenge Half Marathon (up a mountain), and I placed 4th in the women's category. I was happy just to finish, but being 4th out of 160 or so competitors was something that I am to this day proud of.

The moral of my running story, and why I wanted to share it is because I want those of you who are reading this to never give up on whatever you're pursuing. Making it to provincials was not my ultimate dream at the time that I started, but I guess I wanted it bad enough to keep training even when the going got tough. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, and I did.

I believe that once you stop letting people tell you that you "can't" do something, you "will" do it. Don't take other people's "You Can't" as an excuse for you to sit back and not try. Try it for yourself, because after all, you owe it to yourself to personally find out what you can do in your life.

I wish you all the best in all your endeavors, athletic or otherwise.