Small Wins

If you’ve been running consistently over the past few months, years, or even decades, you understand that it’s often the simple things that keep you motivated to get out the door day after day.  Over time, I’ve come to appreciate some of the “small wins” that can’t often be quantified on Strava or in race results, but still make for a positive running experience and remind me why I’m glad I still do this. Here are some that come to mind, in no particular order:

23) Running to pick up your car the next morning

I recall the festive season when I was 24 and working at my first “big boy” job.  It was the day of the office holiday party and an e-mail came out with the logistics of the evening’s events.  Towards the end of the e-mail the phrase “Taxi chits will be provided” caught my attention.  “That’s pretty sweet”, I thought.  “That will save me $20 cab fare getting home afterwards.”  However, it still left me with one other conundrum: How can I get to this shindig as cost-effectively as possible?  I don’t have any pregnant colleagues that live close by to carpool with, and I am too cheap to spend the $20 on a taxi to get myself there.  I let this problem percolate in my brain throughout the morning before I had my EUREKA! moment: “It can’t be any more than about 7km from my apartment to the golf club where the party is at – I will pack a change of clothes in my trunk, drive myself to the party, take a company-sponsored taxi home, and then run back with my car key and license in the morning to get my car.”  And it worked beautifully – my net cost to attend this party was just a few litres of petrol.  Once I discovered this option, I employed this strategy regularly throughout the rest of my 20’s: drive myself to a festive gathering with spare clothes in the trunk, find a safe way home, then pick up my car on foot the next morning.  Not only do I save myself cab fare getting to the venue, but I am forced to get my run in the bank early the next morning or else increase the risk of my car being ticketed, towed, tagged, or otherwise. 
Now that I’m in my late 30’s there are limited opportunities to employ this tactic.  On a typical weekend night I’m in bed at an average time of 9:37, with a standard deviation of 12 minutes.  One Friday late in June, however, was a statistical outlier as it was the “End of year parent/teacher social” at my daughters’ preschool.  Refreshments were served at this event, and I opted to imbibe…as one does at their 4-year old’s preschool.  No worries though, my wife and I took an $8 cab home, and I ran back to the car Saturday morning to return in time for Maura to be at Road Hammer practice for 8:30.  So let’s tally up the score: we had a night out with free booze, free baby-sitting (thanks Auntie Karen and Rachel!), $8 cab fare, 8hrs sleep, and 20 combined miles by 10am Saturday.  Now that is a small win!

22)  Passing cars stuck in rush-hour traffic

There aren’t many bigger time-wasters in this world than sitting in traffic.  One such infuriating instance of this that I will never forget was leaving downtown Toronto on a Friday afternoon in September 2006 to drive back to my home in London.  I was there for work, and the $0.45/km stipend seemed like a pretty good deal for a guy in his mid-20’s trying to maximize his travel allowance.  I recall pulling out of the hotel parking garage onto Richmond St. and inching along at a snail’s pace.  Pedestrians were passing me on foot and there was nothing I could do about it.  My run that morning was 30mins to the Boulevard Club, turn around, and back to the Hilton.  That afternoon it took me an hour and thirty minutes to reach the Boulevard Club.  Triple the time in a car!  That was when I learned the hard way that rush hour sucks.
Fast-forward about 4 years when my new wife and I had just relocated to Halifax.  We were temporarily living at her childhood home in the burbs and working downtown.  In the mornings Maura would drive downtown with my back-pack in the trunk, put some coins in the parking meter, then I would finish my run-commute at the car, and drive the km to my office which had free parking for the day.  I was getting serious about upping my mileage, and this was a time-efficient way to get the first of two-a-day runs in the bank.  Oftentimes we would leave Maura’s parents’ place at the same time and only a quarter was required for the parking meter because I would arrive within a few minutes on foot.  There was nothing more satisfying than smugly cruising by commuters who were wearing out their brake pads.  “Oh, it takes you 45mins to drive the 10kms to work?  That’s really unfortunate.  I run commute because I just love this crisp spring air and it’s such a great way to get a run in.  You aren’t stuck in rush-hour traffic, you ARE rush-hour traffic!  Ba ha ha” Small win!   

21)  Impressing the CEO…with your appetite

Once or twice a year I travel for work, either for meetings or conferences.  In December of 2015 I had been with my employer for about a year and was invited to attend a management conference in Rio.  Dinner the first night was at this restaurant where a server would walk around with half a mammal skewered onto a sword.  In their other hand would be a machete that they’d use to slice the meat directly onto your plate.  Before we took our seats at the table, however, we were invited to help ourselves to the salad bar, where I loaded up my plate.  When I made my way to our table of ~20, I saw that my name tag indicated the pre-assigned seating arrangement was to the right of the CEO.  The first thing he said to me was, “You’re clearly not familiar with the concept of this restaurant – you don’t fill up on salad.” 
“I’ll save some room for my main course,” I replied.  This guy didn’t know who he was dealing with.  I have no will power when it comes to All-You-Can-Eat buffets and was that guy in University residence who put on his Frosh 15 by Thanksgiving.  Even if the Shareholders are picking up the cheque, I am still motivated to maximize value.  One hour and several slabs of meat later, the CEO’s tune had changed.  “I’ve never seen one human eat so much!  Where do you put it all?” 
“Good genes I guess.”  If anyone has a witty response to that rhetorical question, please e-mail me.
I’m not even sure if this constitutes a small win, but whatever sets you apart from the crowd right? 

20)  Running by a gas station on Friday morning to see the price has dropped 5¢/L

When I moved from Ontario to Nova Scotia, there were a few differences between the two provinces that I quickly noticed: a) because of the time change, I could no longer stay awake for an entire hockey game; and b) the gas prices around Halifax all change Thursday at midnight, and the price is the same at every gas station around the city.  In Ontario, you’d often see three gas stations at opposite corners of busy intersections, each with different prices.  And I’d often wonder, “why are people getting gas at Shell when it’s 2¢/L cheaper across the street?” In Halifax, I don’t have to scout out which gas stations are cheaper, because they’re all the same.  The big unknown is what’s going to happen Thursday at midnight.  Should I fill up Thursday after work or wait until Friday?  My co-worker has a site she refers to if I remember to ask her on Thursday what’s going to happen.  She’s right about 75% of the time.  I remember to ask about once every third week, which means about 25% of the time I plan correctly.  The other 75% of Friday mornings are a surprise when I approach the Irving station on Inglis St. during my run.  I get this weird nervous feeling come over me, almost like when I used to click “submit” and wait for my exam grades to load online back in the day.  Am I going to be pissed off that I didn’t fill up yesterday and now it’s going to cost me an extra buck or two?  Back in the fall when gas prices were steadily coming down I’d often get the Running Accountant’s high, that no one has wrote about ever.  It’s when you run by a gas station on Friday morning to see the price has dropped a whopping 5¢/L and your gauge is on E!  “When I coast into the station on fumes and fill up later today, I’ll save myself $3 bucks!”  Now that is a small win!

19) When potential high-school embarrassment makes for a good icebreaker years later

If you ran high school cross country in the London area in the mid 90’s, you might recall those “Top 10 Finisher” T-shirts awarded at a few local races.  On the front was the name of the race: “Jaguar-Trojan Invitational” or “Banting/South X-Country Meet”, and on the back the was the Runner’s Choice independent shoe retailer logo.  Across the top of the back though, in big bold font, it read “TOP 10 FINISHER”.  Recipients would wear these shirts to club practice and other meets, and it basically let everyone know that you were locally relevant on the high school running scene. 

I collected a few over the years, and vividly recall wearing one on a training run in March of Grade 10.  It was just an easy 45 minute-er after school, and I was wearing a long-sleeve cotton T-shirt with a beige “Jaguar-Trojan Invitational Top 10 Finisher” T-shirt over top.  I was particularly proud of this shirt, as I had won the race.  It was an otherwise typical training run until I got about a km or so from my high school.  Without any advanced warning nature had called, and it was panic time.  There were no public washrooms or construction sites between me and safety, but I figured I only had another 4 minutes of running and willed myself back to the school, engaging every fibre of my core to prevent a big problem.  I got back to the side entrance of the school by the gymnasium without incident.  Luckily, school was long out and it was just the basketball team practising in the gym.  The pressure was building and I was forced to do the penguin waddle down the hallway into the Boys’ locker room.  “I can do this!” I thought.  “Only 50 meters until this discomfort is over.”  I made it into the stall with mere seconds to spare, and could finally breathe a sigh of relief.  Until I looked over and realized there was no toilet paper.  No worries, I’ll just slip over to the next stall.  “Shizza!” I thought to myself.  “No TP there either.  Oh well, guess it’s a damp paper towel.”  Basketball practice wasn’t over for another half hour, so I took the brief risk and scooted out of the stall for a few seconds.  “What the bloody heck!  Out of paper towel too?  Effing budget cutbacks.”  Alas, I had run out of every other viable option, and my Jaguar-Trojan Invitational Top 10 Finisher shirt was left in a sorry heap in the back corner of the stall.  (There wasn’t even a garbage basket in there!)

It occurred to me later that evening that if the wrong person discovered my discarded shirt, it could soon be fodder for laughter and ridicule at my expense.  This wasn’t a generic Nike or Reebok shirt that could’ve been anyone’s.  Only 60 of these shirts were in existence (10 finishers X 3 age groups X 2 genders) and I was the only one from my high school with one.  It didn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to deduce whose shirt it was.  And the most likely discoverer would’ve been someone from the senior boys’ basketball team, whose practice ended shortly after I vacated the scene.  The biggest jocks and titans of the school’s social hierarchy - fantastic.  In order to mitigate my risk of being outed I arrived at school the next morning just as the doors were unlocked in order to retrieve my abandoned shirt.  I b-lined it right to the stall where I had left it.  I looked down, stunned.  My shirt was gone.  Who the heck could’ve taken it? I was more hyper-paranoid than ever the rest of the day.  Could it have fallen into the wrong hands?  Would it be run up the flagpole for all to point fun at me?  If iPhones and social media were a thing back in 1997 I would’ve been refreshing my feed constantly, praying not to see my shirt going viral.  But the day came and went without incident.  I may have emerged down one running shirt, but my social standing was still in-tact. 

Most would consider this a small win, but the story doesn’t end there.  Normalcy had resumed the next day and the shirt I’d sacrificed two days ago was all but forgotten.  Until the break between 3rd and 4th period.  I was walking down the hallway to my next class when something familiar caught my eye 30 paces up ahead.  As it got closer I had to do a double take – Mr. Campbell, the high school janitor, was wearing my shirt!  Jaguar-Trojan Invitational Top 10 Finisher!  He absconded with my hard-earned shirt.  But I couldn’t say anything, for what if he knew the unfortunate circumstances surrounding that shirt?  As we passed each other in the hall, I looked at him, and he looked at me.  Not a word was exchanged, and there was an implicit agreement that neither of us would speak of this encounter ever again.  That was the last time I ever saw my prized shirt.  I kept this little secret safe throughout the next 3½ years of high school. 

Over the course of my adult running career I’ve found myself with new training groups, and on quiet country roads with guys I’m starting to form friendships with, stories are shared on long runs that aren’t suitable for dinner-party conversation.  It’s a great way for the miles to tick off and to build camaraderie amongst dudes you’re spending a few hours with on a Sunday morning.  On a few occasions, when the timing is appropriate, the above tale is recounted.  What better way to earn the trust of your new running mates than to replay the account of your discarded running shirt from decades prior, and have a few laughs on a long run?  Now that is a small win!

18) Finally getting acknowledgement from that standoffish person you see regularly

At running socials I am sometimes introduced to new people who, upon meeting me, say things like “I see you out in the morning all the time.  You always seem like you’re in the zone.” For half of the year, the majority of my weekday running is done in the pitch dark.  Admittedly, I am often focused on the ground five feet in front of me so as to not trip over anything.  Myself and fellow running brethren are also clad with tights, jackets, balaclavas, and toques, so distinguishing who people are in the dark can be difficult.  So I apologize to anyone out there who I may have inadvertently given the cold shoulder to – I wasn’t intentionally being a jerk!

But then there’s some people who you encounter at least on a weekly basis.  It’ll be 6am on a quiet, residential street.  The pavement is bare and the LED streetlights are in full glow.  I’ll offer a wave and “good morning” and it’s returned with stone-cold silence.  No acknowledgement whatsoever!  My experience is that it takes about 3 or more of these exchanges to eventually wear someone down to the point where they return a quick head-nod or grunt.  “Fine, I’ll humour this guy”, they’re probably thinking.  If after a number of repeated attempts I still get nothing, then I’ll give up and assume they already have enough mild acquaintances.  But when you finally crack someone and they accept you are going to be a fixture on their morning route, and reciprocate a “good morning” accordingly, it is a small win.  Hey, we are all in this together aren’t we?

17) Going on a running date

For a single person, one of the benefits of the running community is that it’s a target-rich environment of like-minded potential partners.  I first realized this early in high school.  As a 15 year old adolescent with no car, no money, and no game, mustering up the courage to ask that cute girl from the next district over if she wants to go for a cool-down jog after her race was a big step.  In 10th grade, after one cross-country meet, I even got a phone number!  That night I took my family’s portable phone into my room to make a discreet call.  I emerged 20mins later to a set of parents who were very inquisitive as to who I was talking to.  When they learned I had just been on the phone long-distance it didn’t go over too well.  “If you’re going to phone long-distance, it’d better be Tuesdays after 8pm.  That’s when Bell has a discount on long-distance of 10 cents per minute.”  The next month when the phone bill arrived in the mail, my mom highlighted all the calls that I’d made and asked me to cough up the total.   It came to about $8 bucks.  That’s when I learned that dating could be expensive. 

In university I remember meeting a girl on the triathlon team that seemed quite nice.  I was coming back from an injury and used this as an opportunity to ask her if she wanted to go running one morning.  “I’m not able to train with the cross-country team quite yet, if you wanted to meet up for a run this week?”  This seemed ingenious – I had just asked a girl I was interested in to spend time with me doing something that didn’t cost any money without overtly asking her out on a real date and risking rejection.  I could sense the wheels turning in her head.  It must’ve seemed innocent enough, and she agreed.  Within the first kilometre of the run, however, she let it be known that her boyfriend from Toronto was coming up this weekend.  And that put me in the “friend zone” right there. 

Fast forward to adulthood, and lessons learned from my formative years must’ve paid off.  I met my wife in a marathon running group about 12 years ago and we now have two beautiful little girls.  We seldom go on traditional dates of dinners or entertainment.  Instead, we often use our family favours or hired babysitters to go on running dates.  It’s a time to have a real conversation without being interrupted by three-year olds.  I’ll admit that these days our runs together are often more like business planning meetings, but when we return one, two, or even three hours later having agreed on a strategy as to how we’ll approach various life situations, that is a small win!         

16) When it starts storming just as you’re finishing your run

One habit of mine that has become automatic is to regularly check the Hourly forecast for the time of my next scheduled run.  After all, each few degree temperature range below my singlet tipping point of 16°C requires incrementally more clothing, and being too over or under-dressed makes for a < pleasant running experience.  Every so often I will look at the forecast and think “Ugh, 2-4mm of rain from 6am to 7am.  This is probably gonna suck.”  I have a few mantras for situations like this that I’ve borrowed from others:
-          There’s no such thing as bad weather, just soft people; and
-          Embrace the suck!
The race results also don’t care if you missed a number of training runs due to bad weather, so I will begrudgingly Vaseline up my sensitive areas and head out the door.  There’ve been numerous times when I’ve returned home from a run and my wife will rhetorically ask, “How was it out there?”  I’ll be dripping wet with a scowl across my face and mutter, “I’d prefer not to talk about it” as I head directly to the shower.
But every so often there will be that one time where you turn onto your street and your Garmin beeps that nth mile you were looking to get in just as the skies open up.  It starts pissing rain, but it doesn’t matter.  You are done your run and walking up to your door.  “Ha! Glad I didn’t get stuck in that!  It’s a great day to be me!” 
Small win!  

15)  Not getting arrested when you easily could have

In my university days I may have made some poor choices.  Luckily it was early 2000’s and nothing was captured on a smart phone that could quickly have adverse consequences.  I went to school in Kingston, Ontario, which at the time was a sprawling town with neighbourhoods scattered over a wide area.  For running, this was generally a good thing, as you could get 10km in without being interrupted by multiple stop-lights.  The downfall, though, was that you were often a considerable distance away from a safe bathroom option when nature called.  I recall one such instance like it was yesterday.  I was pleasantly running along in a quiet residential area on a weekday morning when all of a sudden I wished I was really close to an arena/hospital/gas station/Timmies or any other safe haven where I could stealthily duck in to use the bathroom.  My only option at that moment was an elementary school.  Desperate times call for desperate measures and I made my way to the side door, opening it to find an empty hallway.  “Awesome!” I thought “Class is in session.  I’ll be in and out before anyone sees this random 20-year-old man in their elementary school.”  No sooner had I locked the bathroom stall when the bell rang.  Panic!  In the 3+ decades that I’ve been running there’ve been two events that have put the fear of God into me:
-          A Doberman charging toward me from an old farm house; and
-          20 sets of eight-year-old eyes staring at me as I emerged from their elementary school bathroom.
I calmly walked back down the hallway, not making eye contact with anyone.  As I soon as I reached daylight I high-tailed it across the soccer field at VO2max pace.  My general rule of thumb is that if you use a bathroom once, you have that as an option on each subsequent run.  Sure, there’ve been a few “For Customers Only” signs put up at certain establishments that I can’t help but feel responsible for, but that crisp Fall morning in 2000 was the last time I’ve ever set foot in an elementary school.  These days, anyone in a similar situation would be caught on camera, and the police would likely be there before you could flush the toilet.  Thankfully I completed that particular run without being on any sort of offender’s list, and that was a small win!

14)  Travelling to a warm climate for work during the winter

For those of you who travel regularly for work, you know how disruptive it can often be on your running schedule.  If you have a 6am flight, meetings all day, and obligatory dinner and cocktails in the evening, when are you supposed to fit your run in?  If you’re going somewhere you’ve never been before, there’s just so much uncertainty that can be quite stressful:
Does the hotel gym open before 6am?  If so, does it have enough treadmills?  What if I get there and someone’s sniped the treadmill to do a leisurely walk?  I can’t very well tell them to go walk the hallways and stairs because I have a marathon coming up.
The hotel gym situation is such a crapshoot that I’ll do my homework beforehand to make every possible effort to run outside: Is the area safe?  Am I in the middle of a concrete jungle with nothing but streetlights and traffic?  What’s the forecast that week?
Imagine all the extra stuff you have to pack if you’re travelling within Canada anytime between October and April.  Will you remember everything and will it all fit in your suitcase?
This can all wreak havoc on that high-volume week that’s on your training program!
Several years ago I was lucky enough to sign-on with a global marine company with its regional head office in Miami.  As an accountant by trade, I spent the first week of January down there to close the fiscal year-end.  Packing to run was simple: 4 pairs each of socks, shorts, and singlets, all rolled up into a tiny compartment within my carry-on.  Temperatures in Halifax that week reached lows of -20°C.  Glad I wasn’t hammering out my tempo workout in that!  I found a big park close to my hotel and it was glorious. 
I suppose I should feel mildly guilty for leaving my wife with the kids for the week while I escape to run along the Panama City downtown waterfront trail in November, Copacabana Beach path in December, or the causeway to Key Biscayne, FL during a bad ice storm mid-March a few years back.  But I guess it’s part of the job, so I might as well make the best of it 😊  I’ve even caught myself a few times considering bringing my phone with me so I could take a running selfie of the sun coming up over the ocean, shining down on the city skyline.  (But I didn’t – I hate running with anything other than a hotel room key, and posting something like that on social media is just asking to be unfollowed.) 
Don’t worry though, things even themselves out: Mexico in June and Dominican in July was so sweltering hot that my little plastic baggy of liquids and gels couldn’t hold the amount of Vaseline required to keep my sensitive areas from chaffing.
Getting out of Canada for a week during the winter to run is definitely something to look forward to.  But when it’s on the company dime?  Now that’s good for employee morale!

13) When you bump into a buddy during an otherwise solo long run

Early in my marathoning career there was one constant that kept me getting out there for hours at a time on a Sunday morning week after week: knowing that I had people of similar ability expecting me to show up at “the club” at 8am.  It almost required no advanced planning.  It was a given that if you were in your gear at a certain place, at a set time, and with empty bowels, you’d have a pack of people to run with.  Really good friendships are often formed 20 miles into a long run.   Nowadays, in my geographical/VO2max sphere, that doesn’t seem to be the case.  For whatever reason, the guys that live around me and are my pace often have different things going on and there’s not a reliable nucleus of people to meet with any given Sunday.  (Or maybe there is, and I’m just not invited?) Thus, the majority of my long runs are solo.  I recall one fortuitous morning last winter though where I was only a couple miles into a long run and bumped into my buddy Matt who was also just starting.  He stopped, pulled his headphones out and said, “Hey, what are you running?”
“Doin’ a long run”, I replied.
“Cool me too.  Sorry, I didn’t know you were around or I woulda messaged you.”
“No worries, wanna head out Purcell’s Cove?”
And a solid long run ensued.  What I was expecting to be a solitary space-out for 2.25hrs went by really fast having someone to chat with.  As we were getting close to home I said, “You around next Sunday?”
“No, I got (I forget what) going on, but we should do this again in a couple weeks.”
I don’t believe anything came to fruition, but I was still glad to run into him when I did.  These days, I’ll take whatever company I can get, and a chance run-in with a buddy I haven’t seen in a while sure helps pass the miles.  When you’ve initially set out having mentally prepared yourself for a solo grind, this is a small win! 

12)  Seeing a donated running item on someone less fortunate

515 miles.  That’s the magic number I will run in a given pair of training shoes.  Very early in my marathoning career I started a long run with about 500 miles on my kicks and imploded at the 516th mile.  Ever since then I don’t run a mile over 515 for fear of self-destructing.  Thus, I go through shoes about every 6 or 7 weeks.  After several months I’ve collected a few pairs of worn trainers that take up too much closet space and need to find a better home.  I’ll either take them to Aerobics First on Quinpool Rd. in Halifax who have various donation initiatives throughout the year, or drop them in one of those bins outside of grocery stores.  Many of my trainers are fairly non-descript, and wouldn’t necessarily catch my attention if I passed a new owner who was later sporting them.  But do you remember back around 2011 when New Balance came out with those really loud 890s?  You couldn’t miss them.  I couldn’t resist buying a pair of bright purple/pink/orange and strutting them around town.  They were a real conversation starter.  Later, after they had out-lived their useful life for me, I gave them away the same way I would any other pair.  These shoes were different though.  Anytime I would run by the Salvation Army mission on Gottingen Street I would glance down at the feet of those standing out front to see if they had found a new owner.  I remember telling Luke MacDonald, owner of Aerobics First, how I hoped to one day run by someone wearing my old New Balance rainbows, and he assured me I would.  I wish I could say his prophecy had come true, but alas it never did.  If it had though, it would’ve been a nice win.   I hope one of you out there get to experience that type of win some day. 

11)  Daylight running on a winter weekday

Throughout the majority of Canada, the period from December to March can be tough on the psyche at times – when you’re getting ready for work it’s cold and dark, and when you return home from work it’s cold and dark.  Sure, the sun may come out for a few hours in between, but you’re generally stuck inside doing whatever it is you do to finance your running habit.  On special occasions you may be fortunate enough to get out during the daylight hours between Monday to Friday.  Maybe it’s a meeting that ended early, getting out for a lunch-time run, or just taking the day off work.  Vitamin D is a scarce resource, but the few square inches of exposed skin are soaking it all in.  Regardless of what circumstances are in your favour, it is a glorious treat to get a daylight run in during a winter weekday.  Small win!

10)      Sacrificing a shirt you didn’t really need anyways

Back in 2007 I was a marathon pup still wet behind the ears.  I was very fortunate that two grizzled veterans took me under their wing and invited me to join their small training group in preparation for Boston 2008.  I’d show up to Rod’s place every Thursday after work for the specified workout.  Long hill repeats were a regular staple in the training plan, and Rod and I would head out on our warm-up and meet Jim en route, who lived a couple neighbourhoods over.  Rod lived on the outskirts of town and their designated hill was a quiet side street surrounded by woods in London’s west-end.  It was the dead of winter, and being new to the game I was still trying to figure out appropriate layering for particular temperatures and weather conditions.  That evening I recall starting the warm-up wearing a base layer, long-sleeve technical, and short-sleeve technical T-shirt on top.  A few miles into the warm-up I realized that even though it was January, it was still mild enough that I was on my way to overheating.  I also looked like the Michelin Man wearing all those layers.  Now I mentioned earlier that this area of the city was quite desolate; no Timmies, no arenas, no anywhere to do your pre-workout purge.  There were, however, two key amenities that the base of our hill repeat hill offered an abundance of: woods and darkness.  At that point, beggers can’t be choosers and I darted off into the woods to do my business.  I emerged out of the brush a few minutes later and a few pounds lighter.  Rod and Jim were ready to start into the first hill and both looked at me perplexed.  “What happened to your red t-shirt?”
“Uh, I was getting too warm and didn’t need it for the workout.”
And then we proceeded to have a great hill session: 6 x 800m @ VO2max up, jog down.  I felt strong, comfortable, and glad that I could hang with guys whose PB’s were well below mine.  Sure, it had cost me a t-shirt, but I was starting to enter more and more races and amassing a collection of swag anyways, so no big deal.  Having a successful hill session under my belt was worth the sacrifice.  Small win!  

9)      Later retrieving that shirt you thought had been sacrificed

In January 2008 I had been dating this girl Maura for a few months.  Things had progressed to the point where the majority of our spare time was spent together.  One Saturday afternoon we were out running errands in London’s West-end and happened to be driving in the area close to where I had just done a hill workout with two of my training mates on Thursday evening.  As we got closer to the hill, I said to Maura, “Do you mind if we pull off just over here?  I left an extra layer that I didn’t need at the base of the hill before Thursday night’s workout.  I want to see if it’s still there.”
                “Uhh, sure,” replied Maura, just going with it.
She pulled her Honda Civic off the side of the road on the secluded side street, and I darted off into the woods with a plastic grocery bag in hand.  After a brief scan, I found my red T-shirt, covered with a light dusting of fresh snow.  Jackpot!  I picked it up with my hand through the plastic grocery bag and headed back to the car victorious.  I put the bag in the trunk and got back in the car.  Maura wasn’t born yesterday, and pointed up at a sign beside where we were parked.  “Good thing a bylaw officer isn’t here to ticket you.  Didn’t you see that sign right there? It says NO DUMPING”.
                “Oh, woops. It was pitch dark, I didn’t see it.”
Retrieving a shirt you thought you’d never see again? Small win!  Going on to marry the girl who let you de-thaw your frozen shirt in her bath-tub? Big win!

Epilogue:  Even though I retrieved the red T-shirt from the 2006 Around the Bay 30km, I could never bring myself to wear it again.  Two years later, after Maura and I had married and decided to start our life together in her hometown of Halifax, my parents had a garage sale to get rid of all the miscellaneous stuff I wouldn’t be taking with me out East.  Included in the items for sale was my red technical T-shirt for $2.  Was I terrible person for displaying this item for sale, knowing it’s storied past?  I figured “let’s put it out there and see what happens.”  Along came my parents’ friends whose son I’d grown up with.  He was a practical joker and gotten a few on me over the years.  His mom made her way over to the table where I was selling old running gear.  She picked up the red T-shirt and held it up.  “Darren’s started dating a girl who’s really into running.  She did a marathon last year! Ooh, this shirt is made of that new fabric that’s supposed to keep sweat away.  He’s been going for runs lately to try and impress her, I bet he’d really like this shirt.” And with that, she reached into her purse and gave me a toonie.  I had just gotten two bucks for something that easily could’ve been left in the woods to decompose, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her the story behind that shirt.  And besides, I finally got the last laugh on Darren.  Another small win! 

8)    That first run after an injury where nothing hurts

Unfortunately your muscolu-skeletal system doesn’t often give you much advanced warning when it’s about to break down on you.  I can think of numerous times over the years where I was running along pleasantly when out of nowhere I’d get a random strain or knife-jabbing pain somewhere.  Within a few strides I’m reduced to a hobble and on several occasions have had to stick out my thumb and hitch-hike back to my starting point.  Recovery times can vary depending on the nature and magnitude of the injury, and the return to running doesn’t necessarily follow a predictable schedule.  The first good sign is when you can walk normally without limping or feeling an uncomfortable ache.  From there it’s natural to have to psyche yourself up to attempting that first run back.  I get that similar anxious feeling that’s normal prior to a big marathon and various questions run through my head:
“How far should I go?” 
“I’ll just stay close to home in case I have to walk back.”
“Should I give it another day or two of cross training?”
“How much is this going to hurt?”
Seldom, if ever, have I gone out for that first run back and everything is A-1.  There’s almost always some degree of suck involved.  My wife is my physio and her rule of thumb is that if it’s a 2 on 10 pain, you can run through it so long as you don’t attempt to go too fast or too far.  When I return she’ll ask, “how was it?”
“It was ok.  I still noticed it quite a bit and was glad to stop after 4 miles.”
Things are definitely going in the right direction a few runs later when my answer is, “It wasn’t too bad.  If I didn’t think about it, I didn’t notice it too much.”
Next is, “If it wasn’t mangled so badly a couple weeks ago I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it.”
Then the day finally comes.  You lace up your kicks, head out the door, and do that mental scan.  You focus your pain receptors on that area that caused you so much grief a short time ago and realize, “Wow, it’s gone!  I don’t feel anything even if I think about it!”
“I’m back!” 

7)  YouTube and wireless headphones

Remember going to Goodlife circa 2004?  There’d be a bunch of TV’s mounted to the wall and if you were lucky enough to secure a machine in front of a program you could tolerate, what were the chances that the headphones you plugged in emitted more than just static? Or maybe you had one of those slick new MP3 players where you could listen to your own favourite jams.  That’s cool too, until your hand hits the cord and your iPod falls and goes sliding across the treadmill.  For me, being at the gym means I’m either injured or the weather is really crappy outside.  The dread of watching Judge Judy on mute or listening to my 90’s grunge playlist on repeat often led me to run outside when I really shouldn’t have.  Fast-forward to 2018 and working out at the gym isn’t all that terrible.  I had a hamstring strain this spring that kept me on the elliptical and stationary bike for a few weeks, but no biggie – I just got a Wifi signal on my phone, synched my Bluetooth wireless headphones, and watched every marathon major for the past 5 years.  It’s like watching a movie and really isn’t all that bad, and kinda cool when it’s a race you yourself participated in.  “So that’s what those pros were doing miles ahead of me?”  Gone are the days of glancing at the clock every two minutes and wondering how much more of this you can mentally handle.  YouTube and wireless headphones have allowed me to return from injury with my aerobic capacity and sanity still intact, and for that I will be forever thankful for today’s technological advances.  Thank you, On-Demand era for the small win!

6)    When getting out for a run only requires one layer

Winter running can suck to the exponent ⁿ.  Snotsicles and bad footing aside, the time value of winter running also stymies forward progress.  That first really cold morning I will have to set my alarm 5-10 minutes earlier to allow time for putting on and later taking off all my extra gear:
·         Balaclava
·         Toque or headband
·         Base layer
·         Coat
·         Reflective vest
·         Saxx undies
·         Tights
·         Shorts overtop of tights
·         Socks
·         Thin gloves
·         Thicker gloves overtop
That’s the opportunity cost of an extra mile of running plus more time doing laundry.  And if you have to pack all that stuff to run on your lunch break, what if you forget a key piece of gear?  I’ve lost count of how many runs I’ve done wearing my business socks on my feet or hands because I forgot my Balegas or gloves.  After a while, sure, you get into a routine and have fine-tuned your mental checklist, but when that first 10°C day hits in the spring and you only have to wear one layer, even if it’s a long-sleeve, isn’t that awesome? Your mental check-list has been reduced dramatically:
·         Socks
·         Shorts
·         Shirt
Whether that upper layer is a long-sleeve, T-shirt, or singlet, it doesn’t matter.  It’s just one item.  One item you have to set out, one item you have to put on, and one item you have to launder.  You are now set to grab this spring season by the cojones.  And that, my friend, is a small win!

5) When your loved one rounds the final corner towards the finish of a marathon

Going to “watch” your friend or loved one run a marathon is somewhat of a misnomer.  You may see them start the race, and perhaps come through the Half, but it’s often an anxious couple of hours of waiting around, wondering where they are and how they’re doing.  If it’s a major marathon, there are often timing mats every 5 or 10km so that you can track their progress on your phone.  But if it’s a smaller race, who knows if they’ve bonked, cramped up, or really done a number on themselves and are stranded somewhere in the middle of nowhere.  That special someone in your life has probably told you what their goal time is, and as that time approaches you find yourself doing a constant head-swivel of checking the race clock, then checking the final bend of the race course.  “They should be coming any minute now”, you keep saying.  Minutes pass. “Ok, it won’t be a PB today but they can still get their BQ”.  Another few minutes pass.  “I guess today just wasn’t their day”.  Another few minutes pass.  “Geez, I hope they’re ok!”.  Then finally, you recognize their singlet off in the distance.  You peer closer to make certain it’s them.  Then you begin cheering frantically for them.  It doesn’t matter that months of preparation have ended in disappointment because they’re upright, moving forward, and accounted for! 

4) When you make a new running buddy

If you’ve been running in the same hood for long enough, you come to recognize a lot of the same faces and may even be on an acknowledgement basis with the people you cross paths with frequently.  For me, it’s always nice to get a friendly greeting from Purple Coat (who wears the same purple running coat whether is -20° or +20°, Moustache Man (who celebrates Movember all year long), Wealthy Woman (who is very put together and I bet has the great life that every woman dreams of), as well as certain other anonymous characters that I know nothing about.  They don’t run my pace, they’re not in my age demographic, and if I saw them in another context I probably wouldn’t recognize them.  I hope they all have a good life and everything, but realistically my relationship with them will likely never advance past the “wave good morning” level.   But then once in a blue moon if you’re lucky, you’ll see someone in the park, at a group run, or local race that you are destined to become besties with.  They run your pace, live close by, and are someone you could pass a 2 hour long run with in no time.  Having another running buddy in your rolodex to meet up with for some miles turns any run into a social outing.  Given that my Saturday evenings are generally quite lame, interaction with a new member of my peer group on a Sunday morning is a small win!  

      3) When city park staff have just cleaned the washroom as you arrive

If you’re fortunate enough to live in a city that has a trail system or large park which serves as a running oasis, you have already won the geographic lottery.  For me however, having miles of pathway without public washroom facilities scattered alongside is often akin to playing indecency Russian roulette.  Knowing you have washroom options at least every few miles is great for your piece of mind, although they often require you to be well-versed in the “hover” technique if you’re a female or male going #2, as cleanliness can often be highly questionable.  Every so often you may run up on a bathroom hut, bowels about to explode, and find a City Parks & Rec truck parked out front.  Timing is everything, and this could either be a really bad surprise or an awesome surprise.  If the bathroom door is locked with a “Closed for Cleaning” sign on display, it’s panic time.  Do I wait it out? Can I make it to the next available bathroom?  Are the woods dense enough to provide cover?  These desperate times require quick, decisive action.  Some days, however, you may be just #blessed enough to stop your watch just as the City Park Staff is exiting the bathroom, mop in hand.  Here before you is a pristine palace of bathroom hygiene: toilet paper fully stocked, chemical soap topped up, toilet water a pale blue, and a seat you could eat your lunch off of.  There’s no need to burn your already-tired quads in the hover position, and if you take so long in there that your Garmin auto-saves on you, it’s all worth it.  Just relax and savour the small win!

 2) Outpacing a surging Millennial weekend warrior

You’ve seen them out there.  They usually emerge after 11am on a Saturday morning sporting a cotton shirt or hoodie, track pants, and head phones.  They were probably out late having a few drinks last night but are now ready to get their weekend started with some cardio.  They are a Millennial, and they want on-demand fitness!  15-20 minutes of given’er should be all it takes.  Don’t get me wrong, I applaud anyone who gets out there for a run.   And I was born in the early 80’s, so I’m allowed to make fun of my own generation.  But seriously, how many times have you been out for an easy run when someone in their 20’s approaches an intersection at the same time as you and are now running in your direction?  It doesn’t matter who you are, their ego won’t let them be beaten by someone who dare share the sidewalk with them.  You hear a loud panting coming up behind you, they pass on your right without a glance of acknowledgement, and keep surging as the lactic acid begins to pool in their under-trained muscle cells.  They run ahead of you for less than 100 meters until the next side street, and randomly make a hard turn.  You glance over to see them hunched over, hands on their knees, gasping for breath.  Like that was really where they planned to stop their run?  Congratulations Millennial, you beat me during a short segment of my recovery jog!
Last spring I recall one instance where I was just starting a jog around the Halifax Commons when a young man sporting a white cotton beater, black tear-aways, and GNC muscles went by me.  I’ve been doing this long enough that my pride doesn’t get bruised when things like this happen.  It usually takes me a mile or two to get warmed up and settled into pace, so I ended up catching him again about a half-mile later.  No way was this guy letting me go by him.  My pace was naturally drifting down from a 7:30 mile, to a 7:20, to a 7:10, and this guy’s cadence was matching me stride for stride.  I crossed the street and so did he.  Without saying a word it was clear that this guy was looking to race!  His testosterone was increasing with each laboured pant and he was not going to let some guy in split shorts and a technical shirt run away from him.  We were running side-by-side for about 400 meters and it was starting to get really awkward.  He had this really intense look on his face and I was worried he was about to throw a punch.  After a couple minutes of this, enough was enough, and I dropped it down to about 6:50 to get away from him.  He charged hard for a few strides, but then backed off, and accepted defeat.  It was a valiant effort buddy, but now you are going to feel the delayed onset muscle soreness tomorrow morning.  That was more entertainment than I was expecting that morning, as there’s no better way to spice up an easy run than to deflate the ego of a Millennial weekend warrior.  Small win!

  1) Returning from a workday lunch run to find no one’s been looking for you

If you’re already balancing work and family commitments, you know that time is a precious commodity and getting out for a run often requires intricate planning.  The morning or evening may not be feasible and the only window of time to sneak out without shirking your other responsibilities is during the lunch-hour at work.  On Thursdays I block off 12 – 1 like it’s an important meeting.  When I make it out of the office it’s like I’ve escaped from Shawshank – nobody can reach me unless they can catch me, and whatever urgent fires need putting out will have to wait until I get back.  It takes me a mile or two to decompress and not feel guilty about being out there.  By the time I get to Point Pleasant Park my stress hormones have temporarily subsided and it’s serenity now (like from Seinfeld).  All is calm until I return to my office and do the scan:  Red message light flashing from my desk phone?  Nope? Sweet!  Any texts on my iPhone? Nope? Holla!  That little envelope in the corner of my computer screen indicating I have unread e-mail? Nope! Awe-yeah! (like 90’s rappers say “Awe-yeah”).  These are sometimes offset by those times when you have an IM at 12:03 from your boss who needs something important, but when you return from your lunch run to discover no one was looking for you, that is a small win!