Running with the Land: An Interview with Marathon Champ Ryan Day | by Dongwoo Kim and Emerson Csorba

When the gun went off on August 19 2012, Ryan Day assumed first spot over his nearly 600 competitors, and didn’t look back. Two hours and thirty-six minutes later, Day crossed the same line, claiming the prestigious Intact Edmonton Derby Marathon. The Wanderer Online recently interviewed Day, talking about everything from his reasons for running, to his tips for those just starting up and one unforgettable multi-week expedition from Vancouver, B.C. to Anchorage, Alaska.

1. Why do you run?

There’s a really long answer to this one because it has evolved over time. Currently I run because I feel there are few better ways to connect to the environment and land around you than running. In the last year or so I have gotten into doing what you could call “ultra” distances, but really it’s just going out and running on trails or dirt roads for up to eight hours at a time. You can get to some pretty awesome places in that amount of time and it enhances the appreciation of these places by going there on foot.  As an Indigenous person, the connection to land is a fundamental part of our existence and for me running plays a part in this.

2. Going into the race, how did you prepare? Are there any routines that you follow before the marathoning?

In the last couple of years I have been much less serious about racing than I was in my earlier twenties and so now the pre-race routine is more relaxed. My last big training session will be seven or eight days out, then I will take it relatively easy for a couple of days and depending on how recovered I’m feeling, I will do a half or one-third workout on the Wednesday.

Sometimes I will make sure I do some amount of work at my goal marathon pace, just to prime the legs and mind a bit. Two days out, usually a Friday, I take off from running completely, then the day before I go for a fifteen to twenty minute easy jog, just enough to get warmed up.  It’s important not to feel stale going into a race, so you want to go for that ‘shake-out’ the day before. Taking the Friday off is to make sure you are completely rested, and serves the dual purpose of resting more on what is often a travel day. It is also important to get a good sleep Friday because Saturday night your sleep is usually cut short or might be nervous.

3. What did you tend to think of, if anything, during the 2 hours and 36 minutes that you were on the course?

During the race I am typically thinking about tactics. For instance in the Edmonton marathon, I did not recognize the two guys who went out quick. They were also not running super fast, but enough for me to be a bit concerned. So I concentrated on running a pace that was within myself, but still keeping an eye on them. As long as I am behind someone, I’m studying how they are running so I can tell if they are getting tired, how much water they are drinking, are they eating gels, are they running the tangents(shortest distances) diligently, etc. This way you can strategize how you are going to overtake them should the time arise.

When you are out front and on your own you just try to run as efficiently as possible and in a race as warm as Edmonton drink lots of water, really pay attention to the signals your body is giving you. So in a race like a road marathon you need to be pretty focused the whole time. I would say in any race where you are competing you need to focus a lot. You can doze off on your long training runs.

4. Upon crossing the finish line, how did you feel? And how did you spend the rest of the day?

I had a rough time in this marathon, so I was super dehydrated afterward. My guts were a mess so I couldn’t eat for several hours afterward. In the afternoon I watched a movie with a couple friends, then when for a pint and nachos and then checked out the Latin festival downtown since I stayed another night in town. It’s important to reward yourself after a race too, as part of your mental recovery.

5. For recreational runners, or even those looking to become more active in their lives, what would you tell them about running?

The number one piece of advice I would give is that you must fit your exercise into your life. It should not be a chore, but you have to recognize that it is an important part of overall well-being. If it becomes a chore, you need to make a change and analyze why it isn’t working for you. For the recreational runner looking to get fitter or faster, consistency is key, and that goes with fitting training into your life, as a part of your life – not forced – but a recognized part of your well-being, like sleep.

6. Aside from all of the running training, what sorts of things are you up to?

I am currently completing my Masters degree in Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria. The remaining portion is called Community Governance Project. It takes the place of a thesis (as being functional) as opposed to sitting on the shelf in the University Library. I also just started a new job with the Secwepemc (Shuswap) Health Director’s Hub. Secwepemc is my nation, in the interior of B.C. My role is to assist in the process of transferring the authority over First Nations Health from the federal and provincial ministries of health to what will be the First Nations Health Authority. It is a massive undertaking and very exciting.  Aside from that I spend time with relatives up in the hills gathering berries, and traditional medicines and stuff like that. Trying to be involved in my community that I have recently moved to, after being born and raised away from my traditional territory.

7. What is one meaningful running experience that stands out above all the rest?

In 2006, I was asked to run with a group of Indigenous youth from South Dakota and Minnesota on what was called a “Prayer Run for World Peace.” It was in conjunction with World Peace Prayer Day which is on the summer solstice of each year. This a worldwide event where Indigenous people are asked to go to their sacred sites and conduct ceremony with the aim to heal our sacred mother the Earth, among other things. This run was from Vancouver, B.C. to Anchorage, Alaska, very far and very hard. I had to finish up some work so I met them near my hometown and ran for several weeks with them. It was an unforgettable and life-altering experience. It really introduced me to the spiritual aspect of running and sacrifice.

Like this interview? If there’s anything you can do, start running! The Edmonton Derby Marathon takes place again next August, and if you begin training today, you’ll be ready for it. If you ever need a running partner, there are some Wanderer writers more than happy to join you. 

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  • Gabriel

    My friend and I are actually planning to start running now, so I am wondering if you could give us some suggestions of the running trail which are good for beginners. Thanks!