Monday, November 09, 2009


Yesterday I ran by a jogger, saluting him with my customary greeting, “Hey, there.” It’s my own acknowledgement of the community. My brother, wonderful man that he is, tells me if he sees the runner has earbuds in and isn't likely to hear him, he’ll say, “Hey! You’re pretty slow!”

Last night it was cold, the first run for the season wearing an undershirt, gloves and toque, long pants and a jacket. The runner I passed wore shorts and a short-sleeved t-shirt. And a toque. Inwardly I rolled my eyes.

Passing the dude wearing shorts in the cold got me ruminating about a new blog post. This one.

It feels like revisiting a comfortable place, the beginning of the cold season on the road. The first time I took up running was in the middle of December. The second time I took it up was late winter. I resumed running a year ago July, hitting a peak in February when I ran a half marathon called “The Hypothermic Half”. I’ve almost been more comfortable running in the cold than in the heat. When it’s cold (and even when it’s cold and wet), I know how to dress in layers and stay warm. When it’s hot, I can only get so naked.

I’m on the road again, running on sidewalks and in bike lanes, gravelly shoulders, boardwalks and sides of roads. I was hurt but now I’m feeling better. My goals are set higher. I think about what I’ve done and my achievements steer me to bigger accomplishments.

I remember being anxious about being able to run 10 kilometers.

I had been in the gym to lose weight and a personal trainer broke my custom of cardio on the elliptical machine and got me on a treadmill. If my goal was to lose weight, she said, then run. Fifteen minutes. Twenty minutes. Forty minutes. I moved outside to run. Running outside was a lot harder than running on a treadmill. Nervously, I aimed for a 10K race. Could I do it? I wasn’t sure.

But I did. And then another. After that it seems I had set my sights to a half-marathon, and I only recall this having recently read an earlier Blog post. But somewhere in this part of my life I started taking anti-depressants and two of the side effects were appetite and apathy. I stopped running. Looking back, I was training for it all wrong anyway.

A year and a half later, I stopped taking the pills and decided I was getting too fat. I started running again. “Lumbering” might be a better word. I lumbered from July until the end of September when a coworker named Sandra died of cancer. She and I had talked about running. Without being anyone you’d peg as being a runner or having a runner’s body, she told me once that she’d finished a half-marathon. I was impressed. I told her somewhat wistfully about my own aborted attempt at distance running. This was before she got sick. Later when she was undergoing chemo, she wrote me an e-mail to tell me how she was looking forward to the end of all that ghastliness so she could get out and train for another run at the Hypothermic Half.

But Sandra died. I decided to run it for her.

That October I joined a clinic with the Running Room and adopted their training schedule which required runs Five days a week. I was very dogmatic in my adherence to the training schedule. Four short runs during the week and a long run on Sunday. The first long run that remains vivid in my memory was the 9K. At the end I was gasping, appalled that I felt as bad as I did and this wasn’t even half the distance I was going to have to run. Some weeks later, we ran a Sunday 16K where I tried in vain to stay up with the lead pack. I was good until about 12K and then quite suddenly, everything hurt. I went back to my new condo and had a long, hot Epson salt bath. Climbing out of the tub afterward, I felt sick to my stomach and stumbled to my bedroom, still wet and with a towel only partially around me. Naked and nauseous, I passed out on the bed for about two hours.

Next week, another 16K. I took it easier and felt great.

In February I ran the Hypothermic Half. Some days when you run, you have it. You glide. Your head floats above your body and your legs and arms and torso all feel like they are on autopilot. You’re a passenger in your own body, looking around and enjoying the sites while the rest of you, somewhere below, turns it over effortlessly.

So it's the Sunday morning of the Hypothermic Half and this wasn’t one of those days.

I couldn’t find the pace. Every step was an effort. The footing underneath through the park was treacherously slippery. Many runners fell. But at the ¾ point, something clicked. It might have been the knowledge that this was the last phase of the run. We’d gone out and partway back and out again. At the point of the race where the only thing left was to get back to the start/finish line, everything loosened up. I started running. A fellow behind me from my clinic had spied me ahead of him and resolved to run me down. He confessed this to me at the finish line, having crossed it several minutes after I did.

I had finished a half-marathon.

The participant’s medal went to an engraver where I had them carve Sandra’s name on it, and I sent it to her mom with a note. She replied back with a very nice letter that I still keep with my participant's bib.

The “now-what?” moment followed. It seemed to me that five months was a lot of training time to spend on a single race, so I decided to run another one in May. I trained with the next serial of the clinic. On one Sunday I had finished the long run and was stretching out easy and comfortably, listening to a runner gasp and complain about how bad he felt following the 16K run we’d just finished.

“Yes,” I thought. “Yes.” I wanted to tell him that it would get easier. Maybe I did.

I ran the next race 15 minutes faster than the first one and walked 2 feet off the ground for the next few weeks, so delighted and amazed that I’d broken my “gold medal” goal of two hours by almost eight full minutes.

After I’d finished my first half marathon, my brother, the IronMan, wrote to me, “Wouldn’t it be cool if you ran your first full marathon with me at the Bluenose in 2010?”

Yes, I thought. Yes it would.

Forty-two kilometers. It’s going to be forty two point two kilometers. It’s a daunting distance. In the same way that 10K was daunting. And 21.1K was daunting. And that sub-2 hour Half was daunting and seemingly unattainable.


I think about what I’ve done and I let my achievements and my experience steer me to bigger accomplishments.


Anonymous said...

Nice essay! Found the link via your message on Roger Ebert's site. Your writing is way too good to have no comments in all this time. Good luck on the full marathon!


Daddy Background said...

I appreciate that very much. BOTH bits. :) Thanks.

Geoffrey Milder said...


A great post! Thank you for sharing on the Blue Nose Marathon site.

Geoffrey (the Blue Nose facebook moderator)