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21.1 Step Program … Kilometre by Kilometre…

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Don’t you just love the delicious wafting scent… the blossoming of ammoniacal urine and floral faeces running through Vancouver’s early spring air ?

Hundreds, no, thousands of anxious runners strung themselves out like soldiers in a mess-hall lineup in front of the sky-blue Porta-Potties for one last disposition of “jitter’s urine”.

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The BMO Vancouver Marathon… or in my case, Half Marathon… 21.1 kilometre run.

The daybreaking sun playfully jumped in and out of the clouds… sometimes making itself visible, other times hiding away in the fluffy bushes like a roguish child.

A blanket of heavy saturating dew hugged the grass beside the roadway in Queen Elizabeth Park, and despite the breezeless calm, a chill still permeated through to my bones: one part cool air, one part pre-race nervousness.

And then the march began… packed into tight “corrals”, fenced in like cattle on our way to the abattoir, the swarms of NIKE-foot’ed, UnderArmour short’ed, Adidas singlet’ed runners moved enthusiastically forward like a hungry serpent… forward… towards the large overhead banner pronouncing RUN|START.

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We sang O Canada loudly and badly and then bass beats of thrumming heart-racing music cranked up… the gun fired and the slow crowded shuffle began, a shuffle that attempted to look something like a run, but was still really a walk.

Thousands of nervously energetic feet and bodies jostled for space and tried to avoid tangles and tumbles. That’s how it is at the start of any large race.

For the first 10 minutes, intense concentration is needed to ensure a safe progression forward. It would be devastating to train for months only to be injured in the first kilometre, or worse, 100 metres.

And then the concentration slowly drifts and slips and finds itself anchored in shady bays and bright harbours never anticipated.

If you’ve ever participated in a run like the half marathon, or any other kind of race, you know the mental games that play over and over in your head…. kilometre by kilometre… the body at work, the mind at work…

Here’s how my mind “played” while my body worked last Sunday morning.

  • 1 km – I could be sleeping in right now. But I never do… so… Why did I sign up for this again? Oh, right. Food at the finish line. This man’s stomach rules. Well, along with another little part of his anatomy. The song running through my head? St. Elmo’s Fire … Rick Hanson’s Man In Motion theme music from years back… I’m psyched. I feel fantastic!

 

  • 2 km – Hey, don’t they film The Walking Dead in Vancouver? Maybe we’re all zombie extras being filmed for the series… Boy does that Cambie Street Bridge ever look majestic in the sunshine. Vancouver is THE best on a bright day.  I could eat it up.

 

  • 3 km – The first water station… I kinda forgot how I’m really bad at drinking water while running… cough, hack… All systems are feeling pretty good…. You never notice the uphill on a bridge when you’re driving but whilst running? Oh yeah…

 

  • 4 km – That downhill side of the bridge makes me feel like Superman, I must be moving at 20 miles per hour…. NOT! Hmmm… BC Place stadium really is BIG! If I were Donald Trump, I’d say it’s ‘UGE!

 

  • 5 km – I wonder what essay question I’ll formulate for my tutoring student next week? … Isn’t that young couple ahead with the matching running shirts and shorts adorable? I’d better slow just a bit, I’ve done this enough times to know about the killer hill coming up… conserve energy!

 

  • 6 km – I really must set myself down and do some songwriting soon… I procrastinate too much … OMG, there’s a McDonalds, I’ll bet those people clapping and cheering are drinking hot lattes… mmmm… alright, another Aid Station… grape Ultima drink by the cupful… tasty, but nowhere near as good as a latte.

 

  • 7 km – I wonder if I could make up some Gaelic curse words? But how would I start? Oh, they probably would just say “Téigh Dtí Diabhail”, but it would be pronounced “fuck” or “feck” to make it simple and universal. Oh oh, I feel a twinge in my left calf muscle. I hate it when I get a twinge, sometimes they become full out cramps or muscle pulls, please let it pass… Téigh Dtí Diabhail…

 

  • 8 km – OK, we’re coming into Chinatown, just listen to those Chinese musicians playing at the side of the road, they’re good… I could stop and listen to them for awhile… nope nope nope! don’t fall for that trick, keep moving along. Calf settled down now, good… the sweat is making my shirt all clingy. I just hope my nipple bandaids hold on.

 

  • 9 km – And I see the hill ahead… here it is… OK, this is good, the hill is pretty long and fairly gradual, but you’re keeping up a good pace. I’m passing quite a few runners, I like that. Last year, I got passed by a lot of runners at this spot, that deflates the hell out of me. Around the corner now and the hill should be finished…YAY!… What? Oh shit… I forgot, the hill continues for another 2 or 300 metres… alright, dig in, you can do this…

 

  • 10 km –  Is the Oxford comma really important to the world, I know I like it, but is it truly necessary? Conclusion? Yes, we need that comma as much as world peace… as much as political truth… Oh no, my mind is totally slipping away. Shouldn’t there be another aid station by now… and where the hell are the gel packs with chocolate goo in them?
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That would be me humming along in the red sleeves and blue shorts…

HALFWAY MARK

  • Great! I loved that nice long, gradual downhill into Yaletown… and the aid station had GELS… I can suck on that chocolate goo for 2 or 3 kilometres and I’ll feel great again. Hey, there’s that restaurant where I played at Open Mic last year. Hmmmm, I think my pace is slowing a little. Holy Smokes that view over the Burrard Inlet is gorgeous…

 

  • 12 km – the crowds are getting bigger at the roadside… I loved that sign back there that said, “Run like United tried to take your seat!“… or another… “Worst Parade Ever!“… the cheering folks help to lower the pain levels… thanks everyone… drinks on me at the finish line!

 

  • 13 km – time for a full physical assessment. Checklist: Lungs are doing great, no hard breathing or going anaerobic… that’s the Devil’s Kiss. Upper body is relaxed and comfortable. Nipples are still bandaid’ed and happy. Feeling some stiffness in the hip flexors, I’ve worked hard on building strength in those babies, maybe not enough though… I’ll have to keep monitoring that area… Mission Control says all systems still GO!

 

  • 14 km – Let me overthink a bit here… Investing in my head… is Apple becoming too expensive to continue holding, did I inadvertently buy L Brands (Victoria’s Secret) for “boyish” reasons other than a great investment thesis? What was that song that Johnny Cash sang? 25 Minutes To Go… a countdown to an execution, a certain death… why would that song be coursing through my head right now?

 

  • 15 km – Good thing I released that blog post last night and didn’t wait until early this morning. I wonder what I’ll write about next week… hey, perhaps a chronicle of this race kilometre by kilometre… maybe? OK, just entering Stanley Park, the sun on the tall cedars ahead is so lovely. I’m in a good group of runners right now, we’re all pacing each other perfectly.

 

  • 16 km – I wonder if all of these runners know that the BIG secret to having a successful race is to have a complete BM before the run… so important… the look on some of their faces says to me PROBABLY NOT! What an enchanting tunnel of trees we’re passing through… I feel like Anne of Green Gables riding a buggy through the Lane of Apple Blossoms.

 

  • 17 km – OK, this is where I know I often run into huge fatigue, should I slow my pace to conserve some energy for the finish… did my track training do enough to boost my stamina for the last 4 kilometres? Decision time? OK, I’m gonna stay on this pace for as long as I can and we’ll see if those old hip flexors hold up… fingers crossed.

 

  • 18 km – Damn, I hate being a guy, the tight bums on the two young ladies ahead of me are mesmerizing. I’ll try to use them for distraction to cover the pain that’s seeping in and make the next kilometre pass quickly. I really think those chocolate gels give me a boost. I may not have the energy that I had at the start, but I rarely feel this good this far into the race.

 

  • 19 km – Jeezus, even these small climbs in Stanley Park feel like mountains now. I can look over the water to the North Shore mountains, but the scenery is losing its awe-inspiring luster. I can feel dry salt on the palms of my  hands… dehydration signs. We’re heading into survival mode from here on out. The discomfort levels are climbing… climbing… climbing…

 

  • 20 km – Gimme a break buddy… we’re on a narrow pathway just before we veer into downtown Vancouver and you just have to take a selfie while you’re running… and veering back and forth in front of a few of us runners who are looking ahead to the finish… IDIOT, you could have caused a major crash and for what?? OK, I can tell I’m getting really tired and grump…. wait a sec…. I can see the FINISH LINE!! Pick up the pace lad, you can do it!

21.1 km – THE FINISH – the crowds are as big and loud and as enthusiastic as ever… hey, I see my gang over there cheering… Hi Guys, it’s me! I hear Steve King’s famous announcer’s voice calling out our names over the loud rock music as we near the line… there’s fire raging through my lungs, lead weights in my legs…

Keep pushing, faster, harder, stronger… and… AND…. we’re there!!!

YAY! Holy Smokes… sunshine and orgasmic exhaustion, a pretty special combination, a good combination, a life affirming combination.

OK, 2:02:16, not my best time ever, but I feel pretty good, maybe a bit wobbly, nothing a sandwich, a cookie, a banana, and lots of fluid won’t correct. Thanks for the finisher’s medal, smiley lady! Look at all the race photographers snapping pics of us beat up but smiling finishers.

I think I’m glad that I got up this morning.

It’s a Téigh Dtí Diabhail’ing good morning.

 

 

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Nostalgia In The Water…

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There was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, just arms and legs violently slapping and punching into my head, my legs, my torso.

OMG, what am I doing?

Bedlam and panic ruled for 10 minutes that felt like an eternally long sleepless night before the dawn calmly re-established itself.

A thousand wetsuit-encased bodies thrashed and maneuvered like spawning salmon rushing upstream in claustrophobia for the first few hundred metres… Men, Women, Canadians, Americans, Germans, Japanese, Australians, Brits and so on, all attempting to move forward, immersed in the chilly dark waters of Okanagan Lake.

Raising my head above the roughly churning water, I gasped desperately for air, moving my arms in an unfamiliar breaststroke motion.

Attempting to efficiently freestyle swim wasn’t a possibility without adding to the chaos and physical harm of others.

Momentarily, I distracted myself from the hysteria by trying to guess how many of the swimmers around me were peeing into their wetsuits at that moment. Take a deep breath…

BANG. Oh Shit!

An arm crossed in front of my face and dislodged my goggles, water flooded in and my sightlines suddenly blurred as I coughed up a mouthful of unwanted water from my lungs. Please let me out of here before I drown!

……………………..

You’ll have to excuse me this morning but I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. Funny, isn’t it?

I’m at a time and age where significant events of my past occupy a significant part of my present moments, sweet fragrant flowers blooming over and over again for me to enjoy and savour.

Nostalgic?

Yup, I’m feeling nostalgic over suffering an anxiety attack for the first 10 minutes of an IRONMAN triathlon race that I swam, biked and ran in 26 years ago this weekend. I’ve spoken to many triathletes since that day and my experience of panic was and is a common one.

26.YEARS.AGO.

August 26, 1990.

I had plenty of dark hair, few wrinkles at 33 years of age, and well-defined quad and shoulder muscles.

Although I loved participating in most sports, I was never a great Olympic-style athlete, but here I was razor thin and fit beyond my own imaginings.

I was an ordinary everyday Joe doing something that at the moment felt unimaginable and extraordinary.

My now-grown kids were so little and dependent, wearing tiny cute T-shirts that said stuff like: “Iron BabyandIron Tyke“… Maureen should have been wearing an Iron Widow” shirt given the hours and hours I spent out on the roads training for a full year ahead of time.

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My youngest Emma gets ‘psyched”…

In so many ways it seems like yesterday and yet I can see a whole generation of people have been birthed, grown up and been schooled, married, started jobs and families all inside that very time frame. And all those years somehow happened in the span of an Okanagan minute.

If anything should send me to the cliff’s edge of a panic attack, that knowledge alone should do it.

Nostalgia is a wonderful, happiness-inducing, but nonetheless bittersweet part of our humanness.

All of our sentimental, happy, heart-lifting moments are harmoniously stirred in a Mix Master with strains of melancholy sadness for times when others we loved – relatives, friends, pets – still inhaled the delicious wonder of the morning air and were a special part of our daily lives.

Inside our heads we hear long-gone voices and laughter, we smell a familiar perfume or cologne, we remember a kitschy expression used only by a grandparent or an aunt we loved.

Time and nostalgia are like ice cubes melting in our glass where we try to catch the best of the potential that exists inside.

Yet slowly and inevitably the energy dissipates until the last vestige of ice disappears and for a time we still enjoy the stimulating chill that fortified us but can never again be re-captured totally.

………………..

Touching the sandy lake bottom 3.8 k. and an hour and 18 minutes later, a brief sense of relief set in. The pressure and worry of the crowded swim portion was burned away in the early morning sunrise.

Strangely now – comically really – the only real pressure I felt settling my chilly bum onto my bike seat for a 180 k. ride through the sultry Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys was the need to hit the finish line ahead of Sister Madonna Buder from Spokane, Washington.

I’m not an uber-competitive person.

I compete to improve myself, not to better others… but I wasn’t going to allow Ms. Buder, aka the Iron Nun – 86 years-old now and still participating in triathlons, but a mere 60 in 1990 – break the finish line banner before me.

My sexist/ageist/secularist ego couldn’t handle that small measure of faux disgrace.

………………..

I’ve learned other life lessons along the way, but the ones that I’d look back and tell my twenty-something self now are: It’s not what you say, it’s what you do; don’t pay attention to how old you are, only focus on how old you feel; and be patient — one of my worst enemies is patience, I’m still trying to fine-tune it so that I’m able to stop and smell the roses.”

Madonna Buder

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………………..

It was time now to settle into a rhythm on the bike ride that would last for over 5 hours, followed by a run of a similar time.

The hours passed by like minutes.

There were so many distractions along the way, from tossing used-up water/Gatorade bottles into hockey nets at the numerous Aid Stations, to interacting with other athletes along the route, to watching for salty urine spray coming from the rear bike tires of those who refused to stop at the side of the road and pee. What the…

Making the transition from the cycling motion of the bike to the running motion was like handing me a 50 lb. medicine ball and asking me to go for a light jog.

A quick massage (and the… ummm… surprise of the massage volunteer slipping her hand beneath my shorts to rub my weary gluteus muscles back into running form!) helped the transition go slightly less difficult.

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But honestly – truly? – the highlight of the 5 hour marathon run along the shimmering afternoon waters of Skaha Lake was that amazing … sensational… joyful… moment when I closed in on, then passed, the Iron Nun and felt the elation of knowing that my young male ego would survive the long day intact.

The hours passed, I chatted with a panoply of painfully downtrodden as well as cheery runners, one foot ahead of the other plodding at a terribly slow but consistent pace. Amazingly supportive family and friends boosted my spirits throughout the long day.

Finally, I saw the sign at the side of the road: “1 Kilometre to finish line“.

That final kilometre coming into downtown Penticton, as the sun hugged the western horizon over the West Bench was where I lost any sensation of fatigue or pain and ran as if supernaturally possessed.

I had pushed my body for well over 13 hours but the endorphins flooded in, the euphoria pushed me at a pace I didn’t believe possible.

And then… then… the sight of the FINISH banner floating in the twilight haze in the near distance.

Spotlights blazed brightly, rhythmic music saturated the space around me, a huge cheering crowd and the familiar British-accented voice of announcer Steve King in the cozy, thick evening air beckoned me closer and closer to the welcoming light as if I were entering a rapturous near-death experience.

Ironman 1990

………………..

I’m always happy when I feel nostalgic.

Nostalgia means we’ve lived and loved and felt something deeply, memorably.

We should seek out and create the experiences in our lives that lead us both forward and backwards to nostalgia.

Then, when the endorphins fade from those special times, we can sit back with a big bag of popcorn and enjoy our own life movie.

To be laden with nostalgia is a gift, a wondrous Santa bag filled with joy and warmth that supports and sustains us in good times and bad.

It’s a gift we give ourselves even if we have to outrun a nun to get there.

 

 

Are You a Good HABIT… Or a Bad HABIT?

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I like to sweat.

I must ’cause I do it so often.

It’s a sweat habit.

I should have been born with a moisture trap built into my forehead to siphon off the saline river that flows into my eyes.

My boyhood friend Frank had really sweaty palms. I hated shaking hands with him. It was like dipping your hand into a chilled salt-brine bath, a swim in the Dead Sea.

I seem to encounter folks regularly who sweat without even trying. Life and breathing alone bring forth a pop of perspiration. I feel badly for those who don’t even have to try….

Sweat comes from different places, different times in life… hot weather, saunas, exercise, anxiety, anger, spicy foods, afternoon delight, medications, menopause, porn sites (hello – just making sure you’re awake!)...

Salty, smelly sweat is my friend almost every day of the week… a companion that I love to hate… a playmate that I miss terribly if I can’t share some time with… a kindred spirit that brings out the best in me even when I curse up a blue storm and don’t want to share time with him.

My sweat generally wells up while I’m biking or running, lifting weights, studying intensive Spanish, mixing and pouring fluffy blender drinks and Shirley Temples at a frantic pace… and even… it might seem strange to you, even when I’m swimming.

Yup, years back when I was feverishly training for an Ironman race, I’d step on the scale before I hit the pool lanes. After 100 laps or so of the pool, I’d step on the scale once more and my weight would be 3-4 pounds lighter. Underwater sweat. I don’t think it was because I peed in the pool…

I guess you’d call my sweat penchant a habit. A good habit.

Habits can be good or bad.

bad habits

A bad habit? I like to smoke 1 Cuban cigar each week.

I sit outside on my patio in the cool of the morning (usually after some form of sweat session) under the shade of the leafy grape vines on the arbour overhead … or sometimes in the early evening when the sun sinks low and the summer air breezes from the apple orchard next door begin to cool and lightly waft by.

I hold the flaming match to the tip of a QUINTERO or a GUANTANAMERA and enjoy the sweetly fragrant cumulus clouds of smoke rising and spreading in molten marshmallow fluff. It sends me on a satisfying cruise to the long, undulating dance that is the beautiful seawall, the Malecón of Havana, sweet Besame music floating in the Caribbean air.

That’s a bad habit.

We all have a bad habit or two. I uttered a four letter word once… ok, twice but that Douche Nozzle  f*&*ing deserved it.

I probably have a bunch of bad habits that you would be disgusted by, but the good habits are the ones where I try to focus my energies and enthusiasm.

………………….

 HABIT

An acquired mode of behaviour that has become

nearly or completely involuntary.

………………….

I remember years ago when my friend Denise was trying to quit smoking (successfully I might add), where the habit of smoking a cigarette with a cup of morning coffee or at the end of a meal was a killer. A nearly involuntary mode of behaviour.

So she placed a glass cup on the breakfast table half-filled with water.

Each cigarette she finished went into the cup and in time became a disgusting sight and revolting smell that sat staring back at her when she most wanted a morning “fix”.

Her smoker’s “habit” died soon afterwards and she’ll probably live ten years longer as a result.

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An exercise habit is a great boost to your health and quality of life.

Exercising with some vigour makes napping … and eating… more fun. Shouldn’t napping and eating be fun?

Good habits and bad habits shape our daily lives. Gretchen Rubin, in her book, Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, talks about the importance of habits: “Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life. We repeat about 40 percent of our behavior almost daily, so our habits shape our existence, and our future. If we change our habits, we change our lives.”

Writing a blog has become a habit, playing my guitar daily has become a habit, saving 10% or more of my paycheque each month through forced saving was a habit I had for many years, drinking morning lattes, brushing my teeth twice a day but forgetting to floss (this drives my dental hygienist daughter crazy), sweating at boot camp class … all habits. Good habits.

We’re all a constant work in progress.

Habits are a part of who I am, the stuff that motivates me… overall, my good habit concept is to get rid of anything in my life that doesn’t bring me an inner feeling of enthusiasm, a good habit where time passes in a flash and clocks no longer seem to exist.

My job is to root out those routine, mundane habits that serve no purpose, the ones that suck away the marrow juices that fuel my drive and enthusiasm.

It’s about coming to know yourself.

Once you do, you will know how to change, create, and stick to the habits you want in your life… good habits and maybe even an occasional bad habit.

Choose your habits, don’t let them choose you.

Unless you’re becoming a nun.

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