Introducing Gary Franco, one of our original Mile2Marathon Vancouver group members, a healthcare worker at Vancouver General Hospital in the Intensive Care Unit and an amazing individual who exudes positive energy wherever he goes. It’s individuals like Gary that make our M2M community so special. As Coach Rob shares “from bringing Timbits to practice, or the thousands of selfies he has taken with the team he is just a really positive dude and everyone loves him— he is a great M2M ambassador.” This week we caught up with Gary to hear how he’s balanced work and training during the pandemic, what drew him to M2M years ago, individuals that inspire him and what races he has in store for 2022.
Working in the ICU at Vancouver General Hospital I can only imagine how emotionally and physically demanding your work environment has been the last two years. First off, I think on behalf of myself and everyone else we thank you and all of our essential workers for your resilience over the pandemic. I’m curious to hear about your experience balancing those long exhausting work hours with training?
There was a lot of uncertainty facing this pandemic. We’re given a lot of knowledge on what to expect, lots of info about how we deal with it. The protocols of getting in and out of our PPE’s, isolation rooms, elastomeric masks… I was pretty nervous but all the staff were ready. It’s like a war that you have never been into until you get through with it.
After days and days, I realized I was developing anxiety, not getting enough sleep and was very stressed out. All of us experienced those issues first hand. Running was my only outlet to ease my pain of uncertainty. With no support from the crews as we don’t see each other due to public restriction. I remember my very first evening where lockdown was implemented that evening at 11:00 as I went home the city was in silence, not a single person I saw in the street walking by, just like a movie.
As COVID progressed in our health care facilities, cases of infections rose… staff in our unit were exhausted from working day in day out. One day I was running on my usual training runs, and I was crying while running… thinking about what will happen to me and how I would face death in our cases at work. I remember crying when we had our first casualty of COVID… it wasn’t easy, we all cried but we have to be strong and resilient to keep going.
Running was my outlet to keep myself sane. It was a huge factor in dealing with my frustrations, anxiety and depressing situations. Every single time I communicated with running crews by social media and shared the mantra “Stay safe and stay on guard” to keep reminding everyone that this is serious and we have to protect our life and our family.
It was hard not seeing the M2M crews and friends as well, thanks to text messages and cheers and the love of the crews by cheering us in spirit as well the community cheering the Health care Worker doing their job in critical situations.
Thanks as well to Coach Rob Watson for keeping me in contact with my training runs to keep me in consistent. Those zoom face time as well, initiated by Rob, it helps a lot to share what we’re getting through the pandemic. There were days I couldn’t run just from being burned out and exhausted at work especially in the second wave and third waves.
I can say that running was more than a therapy to ease my predicament. It became an outlet to shout and bring my body to work and keep going to be healthy and boost my immune system as well.
Stay safe and be on guard.
You’re one of our OG Mile2Marathon members, running with the group from the very early days. I’m interested to hear what originally drew you to M2M and from your perspective how it’s been watching it grow over the years?
I got into running because one of my friends, Karen McCullough, a staff at VGH, invited me to join the Vancouver Sun Run in 2013 as a corporate group. At the time I refused but eventually joined. I was out of shape and never ran a 10K or had done any sort of running in my life until I did the Sun Run— I finished with a time of 1:11:00.
Following a few years of running the Sun Run, In 2016 I entered the Scotia Half Marathon, again this was with encouragement from Karen McCullough… following a training plan online. I was happy with my first half marathon, finishing in 2:25:07, again with the support of Karen during our runs, but after that race I sought out a running club online.
I encountered Mile2marathon and read the details about the crew online. In Sept 2016, I went to Sunset Beach and introduced myself to Dylan and Rob and the rest was history. At the time it was a pretty small crew, and now it’s a huge and successful running group. My running progress, getting better and meeting a lot of runners is due to this running community. I owe Karen McCullough for being an instrument and mentor to be a runner and everything that changed my life for the better and healthier.
With your years of experience balancing work and training, can you offer any tips or words of advice for others in a similar situation as yourself?
Never, never, give up whatever you do. In terms of training, always listen to your body — give it time to rest and recover properly.
It’s a mindset to be disciplined in what you do. Always plan ahead, eat properly and hydrate all the time. In my case, sometimes I couldn’t meet my training runs due to my work schedules and sometimes I can’t go to group workouts. I tried to always keep it up when I was behind by a day… Sunday long run becomes my Monday run. It’s important to be flexible, if you can’t do runs on a certain day, at specific requirements, you can adjust to when you’re free.
For me, after work I rest a bit and take a nap, and run in the evening as long as it permits me. Rain and cold outside is one factor you hate. Invest in some better gear and protect yourself. Sleep is a priority to every runner, not getting enough sleep is bad when you run… you’re exhausted and can’t keep up. Running has made me more mature over the years. Sweat life is rewarding all the time.
For anyone who hasn’t been to a Vancouver workout, you’re quick to find out that you bring a lot of positive energy, good vibes and rock a big selfie. You’re a phenomenal ambassador and role model for our group and we are grateful to have you part of our community. Is there an individual that inspires you in running, sport or life?
I’m always inspired by the running community as part of our life. Their goals and way of life and managing day in day out with the training. Just looking at the Strava is already a factor to motivate me to be active and keep it up. It’s a virus to be motivated to be pro- active.
Lastly, what’s next up for you in training? What races are you targeting this spring?
Coming off the First Half in February I’ve got these races lined up for 2022:
Chase the Pace
Hopefully next year 2023 in Tokyo marathon
A big thank you to Gary for taking the time to have a chat with us and for your resilience these past two years. We wish you the best with the rest of your races this year!