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Will Run, For Food… or Sucking Face

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Veni, ego ran, comedi…

This is a running story.

I came. I ran. I ate. 

It’s also a story about appetites.

It sounds pretty simple but it’s that middle part about running that always hurts. Sometimes the hurt is good, sometimes it’s the shits.

Either way, it’s a lot of work for a banana and some energy juice like Gatorade…

Actually… this year’s energy drink at the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon Aid Stations was called NUUN… as in NUUN of the good tasting stuff… it should be renamed … YUCK.

Finally, this is a story about different reasons for running.

CAVEAT EMPTOR: Not all of the words I write in this post will caress the politically correct or gender-sensitive #MeToo notes that will please you all.

Don’t shoot me, I’m only the messenger.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Running Reason #1 – As a man, I figure it’s important to subject myself – as if I’m in the throes of childbirth labour – yes, to subject myself to a mere couple of hours of discomfort building into a major pain in my lower half by the finish. Surely this makes me more empathetic to the suffering of my female brethren who bravely bear little vernix-greasy ragamuffins.

Understanding in all its forms makes the world a better place, right?

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Running Reason #2 – One of the big reasons I used to run in marathons and half marathons and 10k races was for the food.

They say that running is supposed to make you a healthy stud but MY big motivator after the gun or horn sounded to begin the race was to drive a mad headlong rush towards the food table at the finish line.

In years past, the food table… sometimes called the refreshment or recharge zone, was an enticing spread: lots of fresh fruit and muffins and donuts and bagels, chilled chocolate milk, occasionally yogurt or ice cream, even pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream. Wine or beer. Guilt-free gluttony.

I’d walk the line, sweat dripping profusely and load my arms to the gunnels with carbs aplenty.

Who wouldn’t run 21.1 or 42.2 kilometres for this buffet of gustatory delight?

More recently, on a tragic note, my experience has been a dwindling of the repasts that greet us sweaty, smelling-like-The-Walking-Dead-zombies at the finish line. They boost entry fees ever higher while trashing the carb quotient… WTF!

In future, I’m going to stage a sit-in at the halfway mark and disobediently refuse to run further until the food situation is remedied… or… they institute a tradition akin to that at the Boston Marathon as outlined below…

Running Reason #3 – The Boston Marathon offers another type of buffet… another appetitic (my word!) temptation for the runners.

Thousands of young women from Wellesley College, scholarly ladies all, line the halfway point of the route in the renowned “Scream Tunnel”.

Kiss Me, I’m an International Student”; “Kiss Me, It’s My First Marathon”; “Kiss Me, I’m an Econ Major”; “Kiss Me, I’m Single”; “Kiss Me, I’ll Try Not To Puke”.

Yes, for decades now, freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors from Wellesley have mobbed and “signaged” the 21k. point of the marathon: screaming, high-fiving… and… kissing the athletes.

Like ghoulishly-garbed kidlets candy-counting their Halloween loot, the young women compare kiss counts at the end of the day.

And a large group of sweaty, blotchy runners get a joyful moment of reprieve from their discomfort.

OK, it’s maybe not #MeToo friendly, but I won’t judge!

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Running Reason #4 – the final, and for me, the most important reason for running is the endorphin-laced sense of achievement.

Crossing the final few metres of a long run where your Prussian blue New Balance shoes feel like they have gooey bubblegum attached, body caked in salty sweat, scanning the timing clock ticking off the seconds, hearing the cowbells and the announcer’s voice and the loud music is high on the heaven-on-earth scale of inner joy.

Running is a solitary challenge to the body, mind and soul.

Solitary while surrounded by thousands of other human passengers all in alignment with their personal dreams and goals, the joys and sorrows that brought them here to persevere through the taxing kilometres.

Solitary while jostling along the imagined food table line, angling for the freshest, yummiest, chocolate-dipped donut on the serving platter. The final endurance test.

Soul food for the soles.

 

Starting Near Zero

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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?

…………………..

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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.

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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