Home

21.1 Step Program … Kilometre by Kilometre…

4 Comments

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”.

portapottyline.jpg

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.

Start Line.jpg

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?
IMG_9006.jpg

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.

 

 

IMG_8167

 

Starting Near Zero

3 Comments

bmo-marathon-finish.jpg

WOOHOO… Way to go!!

The crowds lined up behind the fenced barriers are cheering, clapping loudly, happily for the ragtag mixture of runners:

  • the hangdog ones scraping their exhausted feet over the pavement
  • the energetic gazelles with beaming smiles
  • the coolly oblivious with their iPod buds firmly affixed in their ears
  • the proud Moms or Dads pushing their sleeping wee ones in jogging strollers

The FINISH line banner arcs across Vancouver’s West Pender Street like a welcoming Pot O’ Gold rainbow.

Hallelujah!

This is my favourite time of the year.

Spring.

IMG_7744.JPG

Candy-scented pink and white fruit blossoms unfurling like little cocoons releasing their multi-coloured butterflies everywhere.

Leaves laying a carpet of emerald green across the sky overhead.

Furry tan-toned marmots along the side of the road tilting their heads upwards to their gods seeking the warm sunshine after their winter nap.

Even the backyard chickens look like they have bigger Disney smiles on their beaks at this time of year.

It’s also the time of year where I start out once again from near zero.

I’m talking about my drive to exercise – to sweat intensely.

sweat2

 

In mid-winter I’ll sweat in the gym most days, but my levels of enthusiasm and drive drag and slow, as if the plow blade is digging into rocky soil making the workload heavy and cumbersome.

I manage to continue because it’s become a well-ingrained habit and part of what makes me, well… me.

But the fitness peaks I attain each spring and summer begin dwindling bit by bit over the autumn and winter. The daylight length shrinks in concert with my muscle strength and stamina.

And even though I rarely think about it, the inner knowledge of my parents’ relatively early deaths (ages 61 and 73) from heart disease spur that internal drive; the drive to do the things I can and am able to do to stave off the Grim Reaper for one more day, one more year play quietly but insistently in the back of my mind.

In early spring, my physical activity motor revs and builds more and more until it crescendos like an orchestra reaching the climax of the symphony. My energy levels and desire to push myself grow Viagra-like day-by-day in concert with the lengthening of the daylight hours. I love it.

Every year for a long time, I’ve entered running or triathlon races of varying distances… the shortest would be 5 kilometres but I’ve run lots of distances … 5 k, 10 k, 15 k, half marathon, full marathon.

Running has taught me lessons about life. There are lessons to be found everywhere we look, in everything we do for pleasure or for work.

Akin to looking out over the flat prairies and thinking that there’s nothing to be seen, some things are just more subtle and require a closer examination. The prairies are teeming with activity and life and visual excitement when observed more intensely, and so are the days of our lives.

And one of those lessons is that every race is just as tough as the next, no matter the distance.

Every running race – like all of life’s real challenges – is difficult and demanding.

graveyard runner

People say to me, “oh, it’s only a 5k, that should be easy”. Yeah… sorta. On the surface that would seem to be the case.

Shorter distance, easy. Longer distance, hard.

Makes sense, right? Not really…

It’s all about pacing.

A long race (eg. half marathon, marathon) means a slow steady pace, carefully doling out energy in small measured dollops so our legs can carry us the full distance. It takes conscious thought and self-knowledge to make it to the finish.

Too many flame out and “hit the wall” (I should be embarrassed by the number of times I’ve “hit the wall”) from over-confidence and endorphin highs that trick us into believing our superhero capes will magically carry us through.

Shorter races (eg. 5 k, 10 k) call for a different strategy where speed-work and mental toughness play major roles. Running at a near breathless pace for just 20 minutes to 1 hour  demands a huge mental effort and inner strength. It’s like running on a tightrope where a tiny excess of running speed will knock you down hurricane-like, wind rampaging through a forest. It calls for fine-tuning and finesse and a willingness to tolerate a taste of blood and vomit mixing in your mouth.

All of life’s “races” demand inner strength and stamina and self-knowledge.

Sometimes we succeed in measuring out the perfect amount of energy required. Heavenly exhaustion.

Sometimes, we push too hard and burn and crash, learning harsh lessons about ourselves and what we might do differently next time out. Devilish curse.

Sometimes, I might even add often, we grow cautious and move too slowly and underestimate our ability and strength and never accomplish the higher possibilities that lie inside us. Zootopia Slothdom.

Two Sundays from now, I’ll be lining up in Queen Elizabeth Park alongside 15,000 other nervously hopeful half-marathon and marathon runners.

The light embracing scent of a hundred well-used Porta-Potties will waft delicately in the early morning air. We’ll all sing O Canada together and anxiously listen for the sharp bang of the starter’s pistol.

And two hours later when I see that beautiful encouraging FINISH banner, then feel the weight of the Finisher’s Medallion around my neck, I and 15,000 others will have learned a whole new lesson – whether starting from Zero or Superhero – about ourselves.

Life's race

 

 

 

 

 

Pushing Past The Pain … The Non-Vagina Monologue

Leave a comment

vagina heart

I don’t have a vagina.

Surprise!

And so I should never try to compare any pain I might experience with the pain of childbirth, at least – and especially – not in the company of those who happen to possess a vagina.

Vagina owners do not like to be told that anything compares with the pain of pushing a camel through the eye of a needle.

Just as I will NEVER know if a GOD or SUPREME POWER really truly exists, I will NEVER know the pain associated with pushing camels through eyes of needles. It’s the burden I carry for having an XY chromosome structure.

I suppose the best I might do someday is to attempt to squeeze out a kidney stone … a small boulder scraping its way through a slender urethra is kinda like jamming a baby out of a vagina, don’t you think?

…………………..

kelowna marathon 2015

At 7:30 am, orange-tinged early morning fall sunshine snuck a peek over the Okanagan hillsides.

A fresh dewy scent of Ponderosa Pine trees filled the chill air, masking the chemical scents floating around the long line of Porta-Potties. Modern Porta-Potties smell so much better than the foul, fetid contraptions from years gone by.

The sight of a couple thousand enthusiastic runners in their happy, colourful spandex had my heart beating fast but joyfully.

I ran a half marathon last weekend in Kelowna.

CORRECTION: I attempted to run a half marathon.

Attempted? Sorry, let me take you back in time.

Just 13 days earlier, I was being attended to by ambulance paramedics after I decided to walk off a cliff in the early evening darkness i.e. my home’s raised patio edge, with nothing but air and some vertically oriented boards between me and the ground …

It hurt like a Son of a Bitch… I like to think it hurt like giving birth to a Son of a Bitch … but remember, I don’t have a vagina, so I couldn’t know that.

And it continued to be painful. It took a week before the yellow and blue and black bruising tattoos surfaced like continents rising from the seas.

IMG_7461

I’m always on the lookout for messages and lessons I can learn. (How about the lesson of not stepping into the abyss at night!)

This bruising event taught me a lesson about internal strength. Dealing with pain is far more than a physical acculturation to contusions, bruises and cuts.

Pain is a short word with big meaning. In all its forms, it’s a creature that requires a monstrously huge mental component to overcome, or sadly sometimes, to just tolerate.

Cancer patients know this better than anyone.

Fibromyalgia patients know this.

Crohn’s and Arthritis and Gout sufferers know this.

Pain is a life test.

Each time we suffer a significant hurt or an injury, a worry, an anxiety, we go inside ourselves and talk internally about how we’ll manage the next few seconds, the next five minutes, the coming five days.

Pain is tough stuff and it’s up to us to make our way through it all in a way that each of us, ultimately, deals with alone.

I had to push past the physical hurt – the searing pain in my legs and bum – while moving towards my goal of running a half marathon in less than 2 weeks.

I was in pain. It hurt to sit, it hurt to get up from a chair or bed, it hurt to walk. It hurt to sit on the toilet. Thought to self: consume a liquid diet so you can stand to pee for 2 weeks.

Pain is a learning and building process. Pain tests us and makes us stronger to withstand tough obstacles.

There’s a utility cupboard filled with ways of dealing with pain: deep breathing and meditation, numbing medication, distractions like activity or games or music, watching or reading funny stories …

And for me?

DISTRACTION. GOALS.

In my case, I found the “carrot on the stick” approach was my pain saviour.

Who is the carrot and who is the stick?

Who is the carrot and who is the stick?

I’m very goal-oriented under normal circumstances, but with the object of my affection i.e. a half marathon run, in just 2 weeks, I needed to push myself to recuperate … quickly.

Each day following my bumbling tumble, I worked to push myself a tiny bit further through the discomfort that ordinarily would have kept me bedridden. I love my bed, so spending more time there would have been a treasured reward.

After 3 or 4 days, I was able to walk/shuffle about 200 metres up my road. It hurt a lot, I said terrible words inside my head, but the carrot was still dangling.

If I could just add a couple hundred metres of movement each day, maybe… MAYBE… I could run the race.

At the end of the first week, I was slowly walking about a half mile at a time. By now, the bruises were beginning to surface, which was a colourful, satisfying distraction.

I massaged the bruised areas. I used a roller to help work out the stiffness and break up the bruising. I cooked myself with hot packs. I Arctic-chilled with ice packs. I hot-tubbed and let the water jets massage me.

Four days away from race day I was able to slowly shuffle/run a half mile on the treadmill.

I could “run”. PROGRESS.

Managing pain is all about mental toughness. I could feel my mental toughness muscles growing.

Two days away and I “ran” a full mile. Just 12 more of those and I’d finish the half marathon, time be damned.

I smiled to myself. I can do this I said to myself. Or, at the very least I can shuffle to the start line with the healthy multitudes and give it my best shot.

On THE day at the appointed time, I stood in the sunny, cool Okanagan air next to my Boot Camp workout buddies Cara and Margot … the ones who teased me weeks earlier about sharing the first 100 metres of the run together before I took off ahead of them.

We joked around and sang Oh Canada … then the gun sounded … the expensive-runners clad crowds moved forward like cheerful swarms of geese flying south.

Within 100 metres, Cara and Margot pulled away leaving me behind with their smooth running strides while I grimaced and shuffled.

I was smiling outwardly as the pain rippled inside. The first kilometre was nasty, brutish, painful. I couldn’t stop. Not yet …

The bottom line? The final result?

I pulled out at the half way point of the half marathon… 10 kilometres of uncomfortable shuffling and dragging my impatient, bruised legs left me a touch disappointed. But just a touch.

But really?

I was ecstatic inside to run 10 k. on a beautiful, mild fall day with the sounds and smells of the race and the crowds surrounding me. I was moving and doing what I love to do.

My pain was the result of a dumble (dumb tumble), a momentary unthinking act on my part.

Someday in the future, I’m sure to experience pain again.

Pain that may be far worse than I could ever imagine.

Pain that perhaps only vagina owners truly know.

But for now, I’ve learned a life lesson about myself and I’m gonna be grateful for that, even if I don’t have a vagina.

John Vagina

Repelling the Age Demons for One More Year …

Leave a comment

only-young-once

I was young once. Of course I’m still immature.

There are halcyon visions of my little toddler kids doing upside-down twirls while hanging from the swing set in the backyard on bright summer mornings.

Gasping, I watched helplessly when my 3 year-old son Will fell from a head-down position and landed hard on his crown on the sparse grassy ground underneath; when the momentary shock subsided, he burst into wails of tears from the stun and pain.

I laughed when they twittered (NO… not THAT Twitter) their excitement over red wiggly worms or chirping hens.

I fumed when they bickered and argued with each other about Fisher Price toys.

Those days were exhausting, but I miss them.

In those earlier days I would wake up at 5 am and throw on my running shoes and run 8 or 10 hard, fast (for me) miles before breakfast. Weather be damned… rain, shine, frigid temps or blistering hot. It didn’t matter. I was young and nothing would stop me.

A few years have passed and now my birth certificate claims I’m not so young.

I still canter around the block in my high tech New Balance runners, absorbing the sights, sounds and scents of cherry and Ambrosia apple trees. But it’s just at a canter pace, no galloping any more.

And weather? Well, it had better be mild and at least moderately sunny or I’m gonna stay indoors and find my stride on a comfy, dry treadmill.

Running Van Half Marathon 2015

This is what “experienced” runners look like at the end of a Half Marathon…

 

………………..

Life is a beautiful, precarious, frustrating, exhilarating, gut-wrenching, soul-satisfying wonder.

We’re all given one and some of us – the optimists – appreciate it and thrive and glory in everything, even the bad parts.

And others of us – the pessimists – find pig shit in the sunniest of days.

It’s all a matter of approach and viewpoint and self-talk .

I called myself an optimistic-pessimist for many years. The thinking in my head was that if I had low expectations, then anything that somehow rose above those depressed levels would make me a happy, contented soul.

Dawson

C’mon Dawson … Always Look on the Bright Side of Life …

 

But I’ve changed.

I try to look at all things in life now from an optimist’s perspective. I expect the best and if it doesn’t pan out, oh well, this too shall pass, and tomorrow or the tomorrow after that will bring a sunnier day that I can enjoy thoroughly.

Today, as in life, I’m approaching my runs from an optimist’s POV.

I used to enter running races and triathlons feeling enormous internal pressure to meet my goals for time. I needed the affirmation that I had trained hard enough and had sufficient strength to push myself just a bit more, a bit more.

I needed my internal Mommy to tell me I was a good boy. I wouldn’t kick myself if I didn’t reach my goals, but I felt let down. There was an intense pressure to succeed.

When I enter a race now, I have a goal time in mind. but I don’t invest myself so thoroughly in achieving it the way I used to. My laissez-faire stance just says to me, “I’ll do my best and if I make it, fantastic… if not, fantastic still” .

Just two weekends ago I ran alongside about 14,999 others in the Vancouver Marathon/Half Marathon (I ran the half marathon section). It was a gorgeous sunny Vancouver day that would make anyone wonder why the heck they didn’t move to Vancouver long ago (aside from $1 million dollar average home prices). Mountains, oceans and sunshine are human seductive candy.

Running inside bucolic Stanley Park on a bright day while looking over Burrard Inlet, cruise ships in the harbour, is the definition of modern-day heaven.

Sun-Run

My mind was in “runner’s peace” for the first time as I glided, almost effortlessly along the forested roads through the park. I crossed the finish line over two minutes sooner than last year, but it didn’t really matter.

I’ve silenced my inner Mommy.

Why?

Because I’m still doing it. Just doing it. Like Nike.

I’ve been a pallbearer enough times … I’ve been to ample funerals and Celebrations of Life to love and appreciate the rise and fall of my chest, the beat of my heart.

And how many of my friends and acquaintances stopped running years ago because of knee issues and hip issues and age issues and and and.

The body we’re assigned either holds up or it resigns.  I’m fortunate in knowing that my runner’s resignation is still somewhere, someday, further along in the future, and for that I’m content and happy.

I’m still doing it and feeling like I’m a little kid myself hanging upside down on the playset.

The aging demons in my head have gone silent and I’m just a running fool for one more year.

forrest-gump

 

 

I Get to Run a Half Marathon, and I’m A Lucky Guy

6 Comments

It’s easy to get complacent and lose sight of the luster, the shine.

I’m joining the (13) Mile-High Club again next week.

I’ll be running the Vancouver Half-Marathon (21 k) in 7 days and I’m worrying about:

  • my fitness levels – have I put in enough sweaty training miles to pass under the finishers’ banner in less than 2 hours (probably not)?
  • a nagging knee injury that has prevented me from doing the training I would like to do.
  • I’m waking up at night sometimes envisioning a nasty, sticky plaque in my arteries waiting to dislodge and take me down mid-race (there are far worse places to perish than in the middle of Vancouver’s Stanley Park on a sunny day).
After the 2013 Vancouver Half-Marathon (me in Red)

After the 2013 Vancouver Half-Marathon (me in red… my youngest, Emma in blue)

I don’t want to think about any of these bastard stray thoughts, but I can only control the voices so much. At least the voices aren’t telling me to kill anyone, or streak naked through my local McDonalds.

I’ve planned my life to be about as stress-free in this western world of 2014 as you can possibly get:

  • I work a 3 day work week at a lab job I enjoy with people I enjoy being around.
  • I’ve saved and invested and can afford a couple of nice vacations each year that stimulate my mind and quell my ADHD.
  • I live in an amazingly beautiful area of Canada that has mild (by Canadian standards), almost snow-free winters and warm, dry summers.
  • I have a great family life.

And I sometimes forget that it’s not like that for everyone.

Forgetting that is not good.

I also forget that it hasn’t been this way everyday for me.

Forgetting that is not good either.

I also forget that it won’t be this way every day into the future.

That is the way it should be …

… dwelling on possible future negatives is no way to live each day.

I have friends and relatives with:

  • cancer
  • joint replacements
  • pneumonia
  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • elderly relatives with serious concerns
  • children with major illnesses
  • jobs they hate but feel they can’t leave

They all SUCK. Oops, let me clarify that … the concerns suck, not my friends and relatives (mostly!)

vulnerable cancer patient

I’ve rubbed shoulders with most, but not all of these worries at one point or another in my lifetime.

You might say I was paradoxically lucky because my parents died at relatively young ages. My Dad pulled through a heart attack at my age (he didn’t survive heart troubles 15 years later) and my Mom died of a heart attack just 3 years beyond my current age. This means that, like what so many of you are experiencing right now or will someday, I didn’t have to deal with care homes and dementia and all those nasty elder issues. That’s life-luck lived on a double-edged sword.

On the other hand, I wasn’t serendipitous enough to escape those same ravages with my in-laws. I spent many days, weeks, and years in a milieu of their chronic pain and dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

After I spent 10 years lifting my tiny little kids out of car seats, I spent the next 10 years lifting and pulling my not-so-tiny mother- and father-in law out of car seats because their poor bodies had seized up like the Grim Reaper’s rigor mortis had forgotten to wait until they consumed their last breath.

It was challenging for me, but it was a rat’s-hole hell for them.

My oldest sister died from a rapid and aggressive lung cancer a couple of years ago. At our summer family reunion in the mountains of Jasper, Alberta she was fine. In November, just 3 months later, we held handsful of damp Kleenex, dressed in black attire at her vigil.

I’ve said goodbye to a number of work colleagues who suffered death by cancer. For a few years my one arm was stretched longer than the other from pallbearer duties and carrying caskets too frequently. Yes, I’ve been a pallbearer more often than I’ve been a wedding usher or best man. Apparently, people trust me more after they’re gone than while they’re here.

The other day on my way to work, I met an old acquaintance, Lydia, coming in for blood tests at my lab. She has hemochromatosis (iron overload that saturates the liver and if left untended will kill). She looked pale and tired but was upbeat despite her chronic weakness.

My son had a life-threatening infectious illness at the age of 9 that struck me deeper than anything I had ever experienced. Most of my bodily energy went into producing tears through the fears. He spent the entire summer in a hospital bed on IV antibiotics before getting out just the day before school returned in September.

And then I remind myself of Leo at the gym, 90 years old this November. He looks like he could be 70, trim and fit enough that he should be running in the half marathon with me next Sunday while his wife of 65 years sits confused in a care home.

Woman in care home

If you have any of these worries hanging over you, I hope they pass soon and life doesn’t ooze melancholy into your head. It could.

Joining this party here on earth means that there will be hangovers to be suffered.

Every delicious, intoxicating drink of life that lifts our inner spirit will be met at some time by a visit to the washroom where we’ll retch and puke our guts out and wonder why we ever came to this festivity.

It strikes every one of us to varying degrees and the only difference in the long run is how we absorb, cope, and move on.

I smile inside to myself as I plan and prepare for the long morning run next Sunday alongside 10,000 others.

Surrounded by healthy, fit people, I’ll glance out across the Vancouver harbour towards the majestic white-shrouded North Shore mountains and the stunning, crystal blue sky. I’ll deeply inhale the cool, fresh, cedar-scented air rushing by while my feet swoosh-swoosh-swoosh over the long stretch of asphalt.

I’ll run. I’ll think. I’ll remember.

  • I could have cancer or diabetes or another chronic illness.
  • I could have family members needing intensive daily care and attention.
  • I could have a son in jail for rape and a daughter in detention for prostitution.
  • I could have been born a Jew in Germany in 1935.
  • I could earn my livelihood pumping out putrid smelling offal from the backdoor of a slaughterhouse.

I’ll run. I’ll think. I’ll remember.

My runner’s high can be supplemented by gratitude and knowledge of the good things that run like rushing rivers through our lives. The laughter, the smiles, the vistas, the sweet tastes and succulent smells.

In those times we need to stay awake and hydrate ourselves in the gush of refreshing water.

I’ll run. I’ll think. I’ll remember. 

I get to run a half marathon, and I’m a lucky guy.

Now there's a RUNNER's HIGH ...

Now there is a RUNNER’s HIGH …