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The Clock Stands Still… The Race That Isn’t…

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BMO Vancouver Marathon / RUNVAN®

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SUNDAY, May 5, 2019.

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BANG!

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YAHOO!!

17,000+ of us fresh-faced/fresh-bodied fools smile and joke as we break into a slow jog down the long tree-lined tube … the chute leads us out of bucolic Queen Elizabeth Park… first into a gentle uphill climb… then turning hard right onto Vancouver’s Cambie Street and immediately into a 2 km.-long downhill slope leading onto the Cambie Bridge… overlooking some of this world’s finest ocean-mountain scenery on an early Sunday spring morning.

The beginning of any large race like this – the Vancouver Marathon/Half Marathon – is the danger zone.

All of us runners are looking down and sideways, gingerly avoiding bumps and crashes and possible trips over others’ feet that send us ass over teakettle.

The newly-risen sun is brilliant but the air is cool and delicious, filled with scents of fresh-brewed coffee and mentholated body rubs.

Families and friends already line the long asphalt route with funny signs and cantankerous noisemakers to stimulate and energize the jogging throngs.

Simultaneously run-breathing and laughing can be complicated sometimes.

OMG it’s breathtaking and inspiring and likely as close to endorphin spiritual nirvana as I can come. I’ve done this particular race for maybe 10 years now and I get monster goosebumps every time.

Yes – right as I publish this week’s post – this Sunday is the annual Vancouver Marathon/Half Marathon race.

EXCEPT. NOT. THIS. YEAR.

Cambie bridge running

No boisterous crowds, no joyful noise, no communal sweat.

*sigh*

The first Sunday of May is a perennial event day like a hundred… a thousand… a million other world-wide events that won’t achieve their “annual” billing this time around the sun.

The year the earth stood still. The clocks stopped and went silent.

You and I can count on our fingers and toes all of the things we might normally do over the coming weeks and months… but not this year.

We take it all for granted because our lives have always been this way. (This is a needed reminder to us to avoid using the words ALWAYS and NEVER)

Remember Y2K?

We chewed our fingernails, anticipating and worrying for a couple of years leading up to the stroke of midnight.

It was going to be an end-of-the-world happening.

Respirators and electricity and computers would seize up and go to sleep. People would perish and insurrection would flame like Dante’s Inferno around the globe.

Nothing would be the same afterwards… except… everything was the same afterwards. We worried and anticipated needlessly.

But how many of us woke up on New Year’s Day of 2020, rubbed our eyes, and thought to ourselves… I wonder what strange and possibly horrific event will take place this year where my life will be turned upside down in ways I can’t imagine?

Now, 1/5th of the way into this new century, we’re barely a third of the year in and EVERYTHING looks different and none of us had the slightest clue of it all.

The Black Swan caught us in her trap.

black swan

So, this Sunday morning I’ll wake up early and slip into my running tights and shoes and head out into the early morning air.

Quiet. Still. No 17,000 runners. No noisemakers. No crazy signs.

I’ll absorb the (hopefully) gentle warmth of the sunshine on my face. I’ll smell the heady scent of spring apple blossoms and lilac.

It will seem just like a thousand other beautiful mornings throughout my life…

… everything will look and smell the same, but inside… in my inner core…

… I’ll feel a slight difference, a little like you feel shortly after a loved one has died and you know that your world will never be quite the same again.

On the surface, nothing has altered… the sun rises and sets, the moon continues to wax and wane… but beneath the still surface waters… the undercurrents have turned decidedly chillier … for a while at least.

And as I run along solo, I’ll miss the comradeship of those 17,000 people.

People of all colours and ages and genders and body types that shared with me a couple hours of intense sweaty physicality… a physicality we can only experience alone … for now…

And… ultimately friends… this is all small potatoes in the larger picture where many many people are coughing and feverish… people gasp a final breath in wards surrounded by gowned and masked angels… people are separated from family and adequate housing and food.

It’s all a stark reminder to me of how friggin’ fortunate I am to exist in a bubble of health and goodness…

I can wait for the clocks to start ticking again one day.

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Mental Mental, bo-bental… The Mental Game…

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mental stregth upgrade

Can you give me a mental strength upgrade please?

I’m thinking along the lines of one of those computer games where you can earn and accumulate mental strength points.

I used to get up at 5 am (even earlier sometimes) and go for a 15 or 20 k run.

In the dark, in the rain, in the snow… didn’t matter.

Say!
In the dark?
Here in the dark!
Would you, could you, in the dark?
I would not, could not,
In the dark.
Would you, could you,
In the rain?

Dr. Seuss

Turn on the Sony Walkman and just go.

I’d listen to Gretzky’s old girlfriend Vikki Moss singing IF I TURN YOU AWAY (David Foster song) … and I’d fly, especially in the chorus. I could shave a minute off my mile time when Vikki sang. (Talk about the power of song… and big hair)

Along the way, I’d pass the bearded dude on his bike (you could set your clock to his daily ride) who’d sometimes stop and tell me about his porn website business (WTF?)… then I’d come home, shower, eat breakfast, help get the kids out the door to school and then head off to work.

It was challenging and often even painful for sure, but usually I felt pumped to slap my Nikes on the pavement and push to improve my speed. I’d be dripping buckets o’ sweat afterwards but ready to face my Microbiology agar plates in the lab.

Later, at the end of the day, I might go for a 20 k bike ride, or a 1 k swim in the pool or the lake.

Next day was similar. Wash, rinse, repeat.

That was me in the late 1980’s.

I look back now and think to myself… “Who was that friggin’ guy?”

Ironman 1990 Run Larry

Me… Ironman Canada 1990

It couldn’t have been me cuz I don’t have the mental energy to begin to contemplate anything like that.

I did a 12 k run this morning and it was a struggle… not a physical struggle really, my body can handle it… but it’s the mental struggle that exhausts.

I have to play mental games and tricks to keep myself going.

I go to a one-hour yoga class every Monday. I love the yoga stretches, but I don’t go to the later class because they’re longer than an hour, and strangely, even yoga takes mental energy…

Mental energy takes… *surprise*… energy. Energy that, like drilling for oil, sometimes comes up a dry well.

My mental energy rises when I play my guitar. It strikes a “chord” that invigorates, and now I worry a bit about the day that might come when even guitar is a drain. W?W?What if, what then?

Happily, my inner voice whispers insistently… I don’t think it will happen.

The mental energy needed to play guitar, or for you, whatever gives you a unique feeling of pleasure and release (pets, genealogy, sewing, bible-reading, star-gazing) has an amazing additive, restorative effect.

We know from our high school physics classes that energy is neither created nor destroyed… shifted, adjusted, moved… sure… but not destroyed.

I’m learning and adjusting as I age and coming – slowly – to accept that the mental energy I once bottled for use in long runs and triathlons, is now being utilized in other areas of my life.

Today, my mental energy supplies are doled out in small dollops to blog writing and volunteer jobs like soup kitchen, school lunch programs, grandparenting, and tutoring… and yes, I still save a small aliquot (that’s old “lab” speak) for running, swimming, yoga.

And of course… listening, practicing, writing, and performing music.

Most days now I still wake up about 5 am, but the exuberance for throwing on my New Balance running shoes (yes, I’ve changed brands) and knocking off a dozen kilometres first thing, well…

… those days and that form of mental energy have dissolved away like an Alka Seltzer tablet I’m saving for my older days yet-to-come.

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The Carousel of Cardio & Pain*

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MoS2 Template Master

Is there anything better than waking up to the screaming voices of tortured muscles and limbs?

Don’t answer that … yet!

You know, the body parts that have been stretched and run and twisted and pushed to a moderate degree beyond comfort while exercising.

It’s no secret that I’m a goal-oriented dude who, paradoxically prefers nothing better than hours and hours of slackadaisical repose… unless… a venture lays before me in the near future that requires a steady simmering build-up of energy.

I met a guy my age – Cary – at the gym the other day, he said… 10 years ago, I ran 10 kilometres in about 42 minutes.

I told him that my “younger” man goal had been to run a 40 minute 10k. I came up short by 21 seconds in 1990 and was never able to get my running fitness to that level ever again.

Cary had a pulmonary embolism 7 years ago and now pushes hard to run a 55 minute 10k.

I didn’t have a pulmonary embolus and I have to run hard now to make a 55 minute 10k.

Training for those runs as a young guy was stimulating … and also came with a modicum of pain. But back then, my mental stamina was strong and pushing hard through the pain was a price I happily paid to myself to compensate for the payoff of attaining my goals.

The training needed to run a 10k in 55 minutes or a half marathon in 2 hours now leaves me with about the same physical pain I experienced in 1990 with 40 minute 10k’s and 1.5 hour half marathons.

tough mudder

What has changed for me, above and beyond the natural aging process, is my mental strength. I can’t crush the gas pedal the way I once did.

Like a cascading river washing over rocks for centuries and millennia, the smoothing and wearing down over time has worked the same process on my mental stamina and grit.

The mere act of physically pushing over decades has polished down the keen edge of mental competitive spirit that once filled my head and body.

It’s kind of funny to me because the mental edge of sharpness that was present for running (and swimming and cycling) has more recently transferred – transformed – into an eager mental edge for improvement on the musical side of my character.

Today, I’m willing and passion-filled to push myself to refine and enhance my guitar skills – skills where I tended towards laziness in years’ past.

Do you find something similar happening to you in the areas of your world where you embrace an enthusiasm and zest – are you too morphing from the ardour of one facet of your life and experiencing a surge in another?

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence
And so the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same…

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange

David Bowie

I’ve changed … I’m always changing but …

I still love pushing myself and feeling a bit of muscular pain in the morning.

I still love crossing the finish line of a running race.

I still love the rush of endorphins when I strum the last chord of a song and I hear the whoops of the audience that felt a tiny river of joy … or memory … or love … that my song gave them.

The carousel that sometimes gives us pain may also leave a beautiful aftertaste of pleasure in its wake.

* with thanks to Margot H for the blog title.

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EXERCISE!…

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comes in lots of forms

… they all hurt until they feel great.

 

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  • Writing this blog exercises my writing mind, pushing me to be as clear in my communication as possible.

I spend a good deal of time writing, rewriting, editing and re-editing these posts to make them as understandable and relevant as I can manage (you may think I fail terribly… oh well!).

It’s frustrating and sometimes hurts my head trying to finding new ideas and new approaches that fulfill my needs while also hopefully finding a message that occasionally intrigues you.

A satisfying payoff comes every 4 or 5 blog posts when I hit on a thought, maybe a metaphor or a way of thinking that sends a chill of thrill up my spine.

It’s like finding a hidden cinnamon bun in the freezer and no one is around to catch you eating it… 0 calories!!

  • Playing and practicing my guitar exercises a part of my brain that requires coordination and memory and nuance of tone, timing, and volume.

I rehearse and practice songs over and over, trying out different keys and styles of approach (is this better in country format, jazzy, or slow and soulful?).

Jackson Browne would sit at his piano practicing a song, or even just one line of a song for hours until he hit on just the right sound he wanted. I think the best musicians follow a similar pattern to Browne’s.

Tonight I’ll sing his song THESE DAYS at an Open Mic with my own interpretation that I’ve practiced over and over.

The hurt heals to delicious pleasure.

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  • Investing exercises another part of my brain.

It’s the numbers part, the analytical and decision-making areas that weigh and decipher and calculate risk vs reward.

There’s a large set of reality-based and psychological components that need assessment and a steady mindset to produce a High-5 satisfactory return on dollars invested.

The level-headedness required to persevere when bad stuff happens to good investments is challenging, but ultimately rewarding when good analysis turns into good returns.

  • Running and other physical activities like spin class, yoga, and boot camp exercise my body.

Physical exertion forces large volumes of oxygen-rich blood to the areas where it’s needed to perform and work hard.

I try to work myself hard for at least a small amount of time each day… sometimes as little as 20 minutes with high intensity stuff. Half marathon training can consume a 2 hour period for long runs in preparation for a race.

I don’t mind if my body screams and hurts a little. Sorry to disagree with the “experts”, but sometimes… a little pain does produce gains.

The best showers are the ones that rinse away a ton of salty sweat.

sweaty guy

Exercise of all kinds comes down to habit and focus. Yes?

Self- discipline. Yes?

We all know that exercise in all forms is important in our lives.

Wrong… MOST of us know.

Here’s what Donald Trump thinks about exercise.

In a book (Trump Revealed) by the Washington Post’s Mike Kranisch and Marc Fisher:

After college, after Trump mostly gave up his personal athletic interests, he came to view time spent playing sports as time wasted. Trump believed the human body was like a battery, with a finite amount of energy, which exercise only depleted. So he didn’t work out. When he learned that John O’Donnell, one of his top casino executives, was training for an Ironman triathlon, he admonished him, “You are going to die young because of this.”

And, like all things TRUMP, I disagree. Every reputable scientific study disagrees… but there I go off on an unfocused tangent. Bad Larry. Yes, I digress.

Exercise is about habit and focus and self-discipline. But we also know that exercise is usually hard, a challenge to body, mind and soul.

Sometimes to pocketbook. OUCH!

For me in my life the hardest exercise is the creative process.

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Being creative exercises my sub-conscious mind and my powers of observation and interpretation and Idea Sex.

I can procrastinate my life away when I become lazy and try to avoid the creative process that I both love and hate.

I love the end result. I hate the process that takes me there.

We went to see the movie DEADPOOL 2 this week. WTF, Another tangent?

It’s the kind of movie you either love or hate.

It’s the 21st century equivalent of those 80’s and 90’s movies like AIRPLANE! or NAKED GUN… a bit of silly slapstick, a bit of Monty Python, buckets of blood and comic “violence”, even a kiss of romance.

But OMG, its approach to the superhero genre is so irreverently abrasive and inventive and original and CREATIVE.

I am in awe of the thought process (plus the multi-millions of dollars spent in its production) and independent manner that led screenwriters down this path.

I must have had some exercise in watching the show because my laughter muscles hurt afterwards.

Laughter can be THE best exercise, right? Shower time!

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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

Madonna Buder.jpg

………………..

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.

Ironman 1990 Run Larry.jpg

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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Sweat3

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.

cigarette butts in coffee

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.

smoking nuns