Ohhhhh tree planting! The great love and hate of my life. I remember one of the first things my foreman, “Mr. the Bag”, told me when I arrived fresh, naïve, and ready to go in Prince George was, “You’ll never run again, planting is going to ruin you” (or something closely along those lines)…
Being the stubborn person that I am, I decided that tree planting was in no way going to end my running career and instead was going to act as, let’s say, supplemental training. Little was I to know that it would turn into somewhat of a career and teach me a whole lot more along the way.
First, I will explain a little bit about tree planting in Canada. It is tough, no matter how you spin it. You wake up at 6am, eat and stumble to the trucks, and usually start planting around 7 or 8am. Then you bag up 400 trees and plant them. Then you repeat that as fast as possible for the rest of the day. The truck rolls around to pick up at 5 or 6pm, and hopefully you have planted around 2500 good quality trees by that time in order to make a decent paycheck. That is the easy part.
Sure, you can have great days where the sun is shining, the prices are fair, and you can count the number of times you fall down on one hand. Then come the curve balls that make you second guess your life choices that have led you to be stumbling along in a mess of stinging nettle and devils club, freezing in the rain, covered in bugs, aching, and making no money at the same time. Those moments are what make or break a tree planter. Anyone can survive the good days, but it’s the challenges that count…
However, as much as I can hate on tree planting for many paragraphs here, I also have a lot to thank planting for. It has basically been a method for me to pay for my education, and to be debt free after 7 years in school. I have met countless characters, with nicknames ranging from rusty to the lactating lobster. Yes, there are good stories to go along with those names and we are a classy, surprisingly educated, bunch. I have had the opportunity to commute to work in an argo and a helicopter, and and see so much of northern B.C., Alberta, and Nova Scotia that I never would have had the opportunity to see in any other scenario.
More importantly, tree planting has taught me that 90% of what you do is mental. You can be planting on a slashy hill, swarming with blackflies and mosquitoes for chincy tree prices, but if you have it in your head that you are having a good time, then you will. I realized I can love or hate anything I do, and this was extremely powerful for me. This mindset works for almost any situation, but is especially relevant for long distance running. For example, during the Bluenose marathon last year it was pretty hot for Nova Scotia. At times I would think, “I’m not prepared, I’m thirsty, I’m tired”, but as soon as I realized that my negative thoughts were making me more tired, I could immediately turn it around. Instead, I would start thinking, “Isn’t it nice the sun is out for once, what a good tour of Halifax this course is, life is good,” etc. etc. etc. Sure enough, the steps get easier, I start running faster, and life actually is good.
This is the mindset I plan to take with me to The Gambia this summer, when I will be running over 25km each day in 35°C or more. I can train physically for the kilometers. But when it comes to dealing with the heat and other unpredictable factor, I know that it basically comes down to mental training. Luckily I have a half million trees worth of training logged for that. Gambia here I come!
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