The unthinkable has happened. I’m rooting for Boston.
I’ve always loved the city. It’s the sports teams I can’t stand. The Bruins were my sister’s team growing up, so they were caught in the middle of our sibling rivalry. The Red Sox and Patriots were the perennial losers of my youth. I could legally buy a beer in America well before either of those teams gave me a reason to support them. I just don’t care about professional basketball enough to root for any team, more or less the Celtics.
For much of my grad school days, Boston was my point of entry into the USA. Fredericton had a twice daily Delta flight to Logan airport and, between the early departure and the time zone difference, the morning flight would get me there early enough I was often the first person to go through US customs and immigration. My international student friends will understand how much easier it is to go through customs when there’s only a couple of people behind you and not two dozen plane loads.
The connection flight to Washington would be a few hours later, so I was rarely in a rush and could actually enjoy the airport. The staff was always amongst the friendliest airport staff I have ever encountered. Returning from a semester in the District, the Boston accent was the surest sign that home was near. Logan’s only flaw: the flights to Atlantic Canada flew out of the domestic terminal, and not the international terminal, so no duty free booze and stogies for me.
I’m from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick so the connection to Boston runs deep. The first major influx of Anglophone settlers the Maritimes were Loyalists from New England. Following the Halifax Explosion in 1917, workers from Boston came to the city of my birth to help with relief efforts. To this day, almost a century later, Nova Scotia sends a Christmas tree to Boston as a gesture of gratitude. Before “going down the road” meant traveling to Ontario and Alberta looking for work, it meant going to the “Boston States”.
Watching the news break live with what happened at the Boston Marathon reminded me of how I felt when I would hear that a soldier had died during our Afghanistan mission. I have many friends in the Canadian Army, and it seemed at least one would be deployed at any particular point. My guts would wrench for hours, even days, until I found out they were safe. Relief was momentary. While my friend was safe, someone else’s friend, maybe one of my neighbours, was gone.
That’s pretty much what it was like on Monday. As one friend after another checked in via Facebook and Twitter to tell us they were okay, the thoughts turned to those who were not okay. One hundred seventy-five injured. Three dead. One of them was an eight year old. That’s a year younger than my nephew.
Hey, Mr. Badass mass murderer, what the fuck did an eight year old ever do to you?
As you can tell, sometimes when the sadness passes, it’s replaced by anger and outrage.
Shadows and darkness only exist because of light. A shadow tried to cast itself over Boston, but the lights drove it back. The lights were the runners that crossed the finish line and kept running to the hospital to donate blood or the ones in the recovery area that helped. The lights were the first responders and volunteers on the scene. The lights were the bystanders and spectators there to watch who stayed to help the injured around them. The light was Boston Cowboy. The lights were people who saw the danger and ran toward it. Random people sucked back their fear and summoned the courage to help.
I used to be one of those people. In what seems like a lifetime ago, I volunteered to cover many a sporting event in Fredericton with St. John Ambulance. I understand how much time volunteers sacrifice to get the training required to keep us safe on race day. Many days and nights were spent in hockey rinks, in school gyms, and along roadsides treating sports related injuries. When you’re in those courses, you think you’ll never be able to remember “all that stuff”. You practice and practice and when you’re called to the scene, the training takes over and you do what is needed.
It’s often a thankless task. There’s no money in it. I’ve worked on events where organizers publicly thanked the wrong organization. You sit back and take it because you believe in service for its own sake.
Now, as the person participating in the event, I’ve seen the volunteers at work for us. Thankfully, I haven’t required their medical services on race day … yet. I have seen them form a phalanx around an injured runner so the first aiders could safely treat them and remove them from the course. The water and cheer stations? All volunteers.
Marathons can only exist because communities support them. There are a lot of road races in Ottawa. Many of these require road closures. In the case of Ottawa Race Weekend, a 42.2 km course that runs through two cities in two separate provinces requires a lot of road closures. I learned this hard way after Christian’s first half marathon. The plan was to gather at the Greek Souvlaki House (since closed) on the corner of Prince of Wales and Riverside. From my apartment on Slater St, the drive would normally take 15 minutes. That day it took 90.
If our communities didn’t have patience and tolerance, we wouldn’t be able to have races. If the community stayed home on race day and didn’t come out to cheer on perfect strangers, it would be a pretty lonely, miserable race. The race itself can be a lonely experience. Any runner will tell you, if not for the strangers who show up to shout words of encouragement to random runners, they might have quit. It just wouldn’t be the same without seeing signs like “Chuck Norris Never Ran a Marathon”, “My Mascara Runs Faster Than You”, and “Worst. Parade. Ever”.
I’ll be keeping up my training for this year’s Ottawa Marathon. I’m not going to resort to clichés like, “If I don’t run, the terrorist wins.” I just refuse to live in fear of the unknown. I have lived and worked in two national capitals. When I decided to take up grad studies in Washington, DC, it still had the highest homicide rate in the United States. I still went. Not going to lie. There were a few close calls. I was working on Parliament Hill when the Toronto 18 were arrested. Their plan was to storm the Hill, behead the PM, and hold the House of Commons hostage until we left Afghanistan, gave Israel back to the Palestinians, and made Yahoo the default search browser on Internet Explorer.
By virtue of the fact I work in the same building as the Prime Minister, there’s an element of risk involved in my job. I accept that. Parliament belongs to the people, not the politicians. They just work here. To maintain access to the Hill for our citizens, we have to trade off a bit of our security. Everyone here accepts that. We are not ignorant of the danger. We just don’t let it keep us from doing our jobs.
I know from this experience what race organizers around the world are now going through. How do you adequately secure a 42.2 course through a city? Unfortunately, the answer is not much. There are probably improvements that can be made to any race course, but these are public streets we run on. We need the public to come out to cheer us on. We need them to feel safe to come out, but at the same time not scare them away with the very measures that were put in place to make them feel safe.
Security can’t be everywhere at once. Even in a police state, crime happens. Citizens need to be vigilant. Don’t be afraid to report that mysterious backpack by the garbage can to the authorities.
Any place where the public gather is a potential target. We can live in fear or we can just live. I know what those who have been taken from us would want us to do.
My parents tracked down the Cape Breton Post photo I mentioned in a previous post about my complete inability to use a skipping rope as a kid.
Here is the oldest evidence of my anti-atheletic tendencies as a kid.
It’s been an interesting journey for my story. It started as a private journal to my friends and family and a way to keep myself accountable as I went on my journey. Now it’s a public tale on this blog that has been highlighted in the Running Room Magazine and now the Globe and Mail. It’s enough to give one a swelled head.
Nature keeps me humble, though. More accurately, nature keeps humbling me. It’s winter in Ottawa where most days just leaving my apartment seems like an act of defiance to spite the ancient gods. Even a mild day will make for a slippery morning as the thaw refreezes overnight. If I get a swelled head, it’s probably a concussion from slipping on that ice. In fact, after somehow managing to go fall free on a nice 6K run Wednesday night, I did a pretty epic assplant (or, as I like to call it, a “reverse burpee”) on Sparks St. on my walk to Greco the following morning. Not only did I not bang my head, miraculously, I somehow managed to not spill my coffee.
Nature was particularly humbling the last few weeks. While I was home for Christmas, we had three snowstorms averaging 30-40 cm a dumping. I managed to get out with the Fredericton Running Room for a 14k LSD. It was supposed to be 16K that week, but windchill brought the perceived temperature down past -20 so the run leader planned a slightly shorter route. Despite having warm clothes to change into afterwards, plenty of hot liquids, and a bite to eat, I don’t think I got warm again until I wrapped myself up in bed that night.
Mother Nature also threw our New Year’s Eve plans in the scrap heap. The original plan was to fly back to Ottawa on the 30th so we could make it back in time for the Resolution Run on New Year’s Eve and attend the Hogmanay at City Hall after the run.
Neither was to be. We woke up that Sunday to a snowstorm. Our flight out of Fredericton was delayed and eventually cancelled. Since the delay already meant I would miss my Montreal connection, I attempted to rebook. As you can guess, Air Canada’s toll free number was busy. I selected the call back option and tried to do it online. The rebooking tools on the website were seemingly turned off when Kalin tried to use the website. Since my father bought my ticket using AMEX points, I had to go through them to make any changes. That was fine by me. They could stay on hold with Air Canada.
After a couple of hours, we managed to get re-booked on the same flights to Montreal and on to Ottawa the next day. Unfortunately, it meant we would not be on the ground in Ottawa until 11:30 … pm. Yep, no Resolution Run. No Hogmanay. I called the Bank St. store to let them know and get them to set aside our kits so we could pick them up when we got home. Even if we couldn’t run the race, we’d collect the swag (in this case, jackets).
On the plus side, an extra day in Fredericton meant I got to spend more time with my nephews and play their favourite game: beat the crap out of Uncle Michael.
They usually lose, but this Christmas was more challenging. My sister enrolled her kids in Tae Kwon Do. When they got super excited, they had to be reminded to keep the kicks and punches stay in the dojo or Santa would repossess their gifts. Some day they may actually land a hit, until then we’ll just keep playing.
Kalin and I made it to Montreal to have a New Year’s Eve dinner at Moe’s, home of the most expensive Creemore beer ever, $11.
Pretty much everything in the airport closed early because of New Year’s Eve. The worst was that both Starbucks and Tim’s closed at 8:30. We even watched them pour perfectly sellable coffee out as they informed us they wouldn’t sell us said product. The Air Canada-run cafe by our gate was open until 9, and I managed to get a cup of coffee for $3. That’s $3 for regular drip coffee, not some fancy drink ending with the syllable “-cinno”. Regular coffee. We hunkered down by our gate and watched some Netflix over the airport WiFi.
Our plane to Ottawa arrived and everyone was overjoyed to hear our pilot say to the gate agent, “I want to be ready to board in three minutes!” as he went for a quick trip to the men’s room.
We made it back to town around 11:30. We rang in the new year in the back of our cab on our way to the downtown. We even saw a lone firework as we drove down Greenfields Dr. It’s not where you are, it’s who you’re with. So long as I with Kalin, that evening would be special.
The next morning, I finally unpacked to make sure the spoils of a trip to New Brunswick arrived intact.
Lest you think all that was for me, the Sussex was for a friend of ours, Liesa, the waitress at Mello’s who is also from Fredericton; and half the beer was for Christian. He came to pick it up the following Sunday and joined us for the run club that morning, which for the half marathon clinic was supposed to be an 18K LSD run.
It had snowed overnight and was still snowing that morning. With the usual pace leaders not available that morning, I was asked to co-lead the 2 hr pace group. Oh, I led them. I led them barely cleared trails and roads. I led them up slippery hills. It was a herculean effort to keep at slower end of the pace range for a 2 hr pace group, but we made it. It pretty much wiped me out for the day, though.
Winter here is a no-win situation. If it’s mild, it’s either snowing or thawing during the day only to freeze again at night. If there’s wind, a little cold becomes freeze your face off cold.
Yet, somehow, we endure. Nature may humble us, but it doesn’t destroy us. Winter comes every year and we endure its three months of ritual humiliation. Such is life. We train in whatever life throws at us so we can race in whatever life throws at us. The year starts off trying to conquer us, but, in the end, we conquer it.
A couple of weeks ago, I ran the Santa Shuffle 5K out at Tunney’s Pasture with Kalin and my clinic. It was a nice race in support of the Salvation Army. Given the recent news here in Ottawa and in Toronto they could certainly use the help this year (not that they can’t use it year round).
In terms of my own performance, I ran a personal best. The course was a little short of 5K, 4.8K, but I ran it in 22 min 44 sec. Another 200 m and I still would have PB’d in the 23 min range.
That’s not the story I want to tell with this post.
For ten weeks ending with that race, Kalin and I taught our first 5K clinic together. It was really fun having a co-instructor. The one problem I had with 5K clinics is that the paces the participants want to run are so varied that it becomes impossible to adequately supervise the group as the runners spread further apart as distance and pace increase. With a second instructor, we can place ourselves strategically amongst the pack to supervise the participants better than one alone could.
We had a pretty good group. It was definitely my favourite clinic to date.
We had pretty consistent attendance despite the onset of winter’s cold. Most of them were doing a clinic for the second time or coming back to running after a few years away. There were even two girls from my original Learn to Run clinic last year. It took a couple of classes before they recognized me.
It was Karine we all fell in love with, though.
Karine is a middle school special needs teacher. She ran a fun with her school some time ago. It was a disaster. She finished so poorly, students teased her. Middle-schoolers are notoriously awful creatures. They’re hitting puberty, dealing with hormones and still behave like self-entitled bitches and bastards that haven’t been slapped down by reality yet. At some point in high school, usually when they start asking the folks for the car keys, they regain their humanity.
Karine enrolled in her first clinic to get ready for the Army Run 5K, which she finished in 49 minutes. Now she wanted to do better.
She showed up for almost every run. Only the occasional parent-teacher conference kept her away. Over the course of the clinic, she would tell Kalin that she also took up swimming. She lost a few pounds. Her relationship with her boyfriend was improving. Her anxiety issues were improving.
Kalin was especially encouraging and even offered to run with her during the race.
Since I made it to the finish ahead of the clinic, I quickly collected the bling and made it through the thankfully short gauntlet to get in a position along the route to cheer my clinic on as they made their final push. Kalin and I call this “pulling a Lawrence” after our friend Lawrence Wright. Of course, who do I run into during this, but Lawrence himself.
As they came into the finish, one by one I cheered them on. For Karine and Kalin, though, I had something special planned. I would hop out from the sidelines and run with them to the finish.
Kalin pretty much had the same idea. She just didn’t tell me. As they rounded the last turn and approached my position, I could hear Kalin shout, “Okay, Karine, we’re going to sprint to the finish!” They would start where I was. I ran with them those last 250m to the finish. As she crossed the finish line, I could see the tears well up and freeze as they rolled down her cheeks.
On the other side of the finish line, the rest of our clinic was waiting for her, too. Hugs all around.
She had done it. It was only a matter of what her time was. Kalin looked at her Garmin (the race wasn’t chip timed) and tried to do her best Jeremy Clarkson impression, but her giddiness got the best of her. “Karine, you did it in 38 minutes, forty-four seconds.”
Wow. We were all so proud of her. The cold chased us inside, though, and we gathered for one more group photo.
Proud of my crew. They reminded me these clinics aren’t about the instructors, but the participants. When I agreed to teach this clinic, it was only on a temporary basis. I was up for a few jobs that would have limited my evening availability. I even asked Kalin to help, figuring between the two of us, one would be able to make it most nights. As those fell through, it became obvious Kalin and I would see this group through to race day. In the end, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Now on to the next one.
My friend, Michael Rudderham, posted this video a week ago on Facebook.
Jay McNeil is a radio DJ in my ancestral homeland of Cape Breton who is on a journey of his own and is bravely telling his own story in a public video blog.
I say bravely because I know it’s something I couldn’t do. I tried. When I moved this blog from the privacy of Facebook to public forum of WordPress I tried to incorporate a video blog. I couldn’t get past doing an intro video. It wasn’t a technical issue. I have a good camera that records in full HD. I’m an iMovie ninja. I just couldn’t get through doing a few minutes without flubbing a line or blubbering like an idiot.
Yes, I wrote blubbering. Cried a few man tears. In my defence, even James Bond cried … twice. As I was reading from the script I had written, my mind wandered through the journey I had taken at that point. It was the end of July 2011 and I was a mere 11 lbs away from my goal. With most of the journey seemingly behind me, memories and emotions kept flooding to the fore. The early morning wake-ups. The walks to Free Form in the dark, cold winter mornings. The low feelings of hitting plateaus. The unmitigated joy of losing a single pound to break that plateau. The workouts and runs with Vicky and Christian. That first 5K race. Chris and Britt’s wedding. It all just came up. Sometimes it was the giggles. Sometimes it was man tears. Maybe it was my subconscious telling me policy advisors should be heard by the employers and not seen by the public. Whatever was going on in that crazy mind of mine, I simply didn’t have the composure to continue.
I came to realize that writing a blog and shooting a video blog are substantially different activities. There’s a bit of intellectual and emotional distance the written creates creates. Everything I’ve written goes through a couple of edits and re-writes. With video, it’s all out there. Heart and soul. Good on Jay for being able to do what I could not.
The video got me thinking about my identity, who I am versus who I was. I would like to think I’m the same guy. I just shed the fat suit. When I did my weight loss the first time to combat sleep apnea, I told one friend it was to make the outer me look like the inner me. I had positive self-esteem, but I was realistic about what my body looked like. The doctor’s diagnosis helped with that.
Maybe because I was never that heavy, I didn’t settle for less. At least that is what I thought. I’ll probably never figure out to what extent my size and lack of abilities constrained my choices and what I consider success. As worlds of possibility open up before me, it’s obvious that even though I aimed as high as I could, my size put me on a direction where certain choices and achievements were available to me.
That’s okay. I don’t intend to spend any significant period of time being retrospective. I’m not going to be haunted by past successes that just aren’t there.
I’m only starting to understand what it must be like for friends who used to be in shape who have lost their fitness. It took a while because everything I’m doing I’m doing it for the first time. When I look at the past, I don’t see great feats of physical accomplishments. I was on the winning team for “sports day” in sixth grade at Coxheath Elementary. That’s pretty much it for the glory days of youth. Hung up the hockey skates after probably a season. I did summer sports like baseball, soccer, and golf. You know the fervour fans of these sports display? That’s pretty much the level of disdain I hold for these sports. The only thing close to an actual athletic team I belonged to was the Air Gun/Archery club at George Street Junior High.
That’s not to say I hated sports. I enjoyed non-competitive sports where I could just enjoy myself, like skating and skiing in the winter and swimming in the summer. Maybe that’s why I’ve taken to running. I’m only in competition with myself.
When I look back, though, I see the geeky kid above. I don’t see provincial championships. I don’t see podiums and medals. Now, to use the vernacular of my generation’s preferred entertainment medium, video games, I’ve levelled up and unlocked new achievements. My greatest successes are in the present. That is where I choose to live.
PS – Speaking of that annual ritual of youthful sadism “sports day”, for any readers in Cape Breton, the Cape Breton Post took a photo of me humiliating myself, at the skipping station one year. For some reason, 1985 comes to mind, but it could have been as early 1982. If anyone were to find said picture and send it to me, I’d be eternally grateful.
Crazy couple of weeks. I got a little busy and didn’t find the time to write a blog post. Thought this week I would turn to a an old topic: motivation.
This past Monday, I was asked to speak to the Slater Running Room’s For Women Only clinic on the topic of motivation. I normally start by telling the story of my weight loss. You can get the Cliff Notes versions in a series I wrote at the beginning of the year. So You Say You Want a Resolution: Part 1, Part 2,Part 3. For the more visually inclined, check out the Journey in Photos.
I’ve written a lot about the various friends that have inspired and motivated me over this journey. One person who inspired me immensely is Randy Pausch of the Last Lecture fame. Here is the most famous university lecture ever:
My favourite part is when he talks about brick walls. Brick walls are there to give us the opportunity to prove to ourselves how badly we want things.
Whether it’s weight loss, running, work or whatever, life is going to throw a few brick walls between us and our goals. It’s how we deal with them that will determine if we’re going to succeed. While I’d like to offer the stereotypical alpha-male response and tell you to just power through it, it’s rather stupid advice. Some of the brick walls that life throws up may be injuries which will require you seek professional advice and modulate your goals. Remember, delaying a goal is not denying a goal.
Since it’s November, there is a proverbial elephant in the room: winter is coming. Even if it ends up being a mild one, the days will be short. We’ll soon be going to from work in darkness. This is the time of year one needs motivation in spades. While the end of daylight savings time means that we’re still leaving for the day in daylight for a couple more days, pretty soon my morning workout and evening run will be in darkness.
This Thursday was a good example of needing an extra dose motivation. I got to bed Wednesday night at a reasonable hour, but for some reason I woke up at 2:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep for two hours. I was pretty zonked when 6 am came and I had to decide to go to my Greco Lean and Fit class, sleep an hour and go the 8 o’clock Extreme Lean class. I decided to drag my sorry ass to the 7 am class. Why 7? I have more friends at that class now than the 8 am class.
Tip #1 – keep it social. The reason I was and remain successful on this journey is because it became part of my social life. I see my Greco and Running Room friends more than I do my family. That’s not to say they’re as close as my family, they have a long way to go to reach that status, but I miss them when I’m not there or one of them isn’t there.
Tip #2 – put your money down. My previous job had a workout room in one of its buildings. My apartment building has a very nice workout room, too. Frankly, if it wasn’t attached to the laundry room, I would probably never grace its presence (the swimming is another matter. Love swimming). Paying for a trainer, paying for a Running Room clinic helped motivate me by making me want to make the maximum return on investment. My father is a financial planner, so it helped me to think of how to achieve my goals in terms of strategic investments. By investing what little extra money I had in a trainer then in running clinics, I forced myself to get through those blocks and plateaus so I could get the ROI I wanted.
Tip #3 – be ready. I pack my gym/running gear the night before. At the simplest, it’s one less thing to worry about in the morning. The less I have to worry about, the better I sleep. The better I sleep, the more I get out of a workout. At a higher level, it readies the mind for the next day’s workout and you wake up conditioned to start your day with exercise.
You know who else always has their gear ready? Superheroes. Peter Parker is always a quick change away from being Spiderman. Clark Kent is an even quicker change away from being Superman. Even Tony Stark has a set of armour that collapses into a briefcase so he can become Iron Man at a moment’s notice.
Just as a superhero can never not be a superhero, a runner can never not be a runner. A runner should be as ready to run as a superhero is ready to save the world. Our tights are more colourful, too.
I’m going to need to stay motivated in the next year. I’ve decided I’m not running the half-marathon on Ottawa Race Weekend. Kalin and I are going to run the full marathon.
This Buddy Guy song pretty much sums up how I felt on Hallowe’en.
When I was younger, I actually ran hot and cold on Hallowe’en. For a fat kid, I didn’t actually like candy all that much. I didn’t have a sweet tooth. I liked salty and greasy things, particularly potato chips. Not enough of my neighbours gave out chips for me to think it was worth my while. My candy would actually get recycled into the following year’s treats for the neighbourhood kids.
What I loved about Hallowe’en was the costumes. I was science fiction and comic book geek from an early age. My first movie in a theatre was a double bill of Star Wars and the Empire Strikes Back at the Vogue theatre in Sydney, NS. The Vogue was an old fashioned, early 20th century movie house with a screen larger than most multiplexes have today, including IMAX. My parents put a lot of work into my costumes, too. I’d like to think Mom in particular enjoyed making those costumes as much as my sister and I enjoyed wearing them, but I’m pretty sure they just wanted to make their son and daughter happy.
My favourite costume was the Joker. It was the Hallowe’en after Tim Burton’s Batmanwas out. Like pretty much everyone who saw the film, Jack Nicholson’s Joker amazed me. Mom grabbed a photo from one of my behind the scenes movie books and made one his outfits for me. Ironically, it was an unseasonably hot, humid night in Sydney. My make-up and green hair spray ran with sweat. Little did I know I was serving more as an inspiration for Heath Ledger’s Joker than an homage to Nicholson’s. I didn’t care. I was having a blast.
This year, in the span of an hour, I had probably had more sweets than I’ve had in the last ten years, combined. That’s not a whole lot, but enough that I skipped the sugar high and went straight to sugar coma. There was a bake sale at work to raise money for the Government Workers Charitable Campaign. I bought a few sweets with my lunch. Then there was this bad boy, a contribution of my boss:
Needless to say, after abstaining from the stuff for the last couple of years, my tolerance for refined sugar was non-existent. I countered the sugar with copious amounts of caffeine to get through the afternoon and managed to still have a productive, if sluggish, day.
Thankfully, Hallowe’en was a Wednesday. Wednesday means run club with my Running Room clinic and a chance of redemption for being such an idiot earlier in the day. Scott, the manager of the Slater St. store dressed in the King of Hearts get up, has been encouraging runners to dress up for the last few years. Last year, it landed on a Sunday and I just tossed on a S.H.I.E.L.D. t-shirt over my regular running gear. This year I brought up a blast from the past.
It took a Thanksgiving trip home, but I found my Star Trek themed paintball jersey from Spplat Attack, a charity paintball game in Joliet, IL, hosted by none other than William Shatner. It was the vacation of a lifetime in 2002 with Mike Clements and Jay Williamson. Sure some Trekkies (“Trekker” makes my skin crawl) have their perfect replica uniforms, but how many can say they wore theirs in combat against the Klingons and the Borg alongside Capt. Kirk?
Fewer than 600.
Ten years later, I’m home for Thanksgiving and found it amongst my long neglected paintball gear.
Good Lord it was huge on me! When we made that crazy trip, I was an XL. Now I’m a medium, bordering on small.
Wearing that huge jersey, I actually felt younger than I have in years. Growing up, I often got the hand-me downs from my older cousins. Wearing that jersey, I felt like I was I wearing someone else’s hand-me downs, from old me to new me. One of the reasons I loved those Hallowe’en costumes is the same reason why I love (despite the fact I can’t afford to buy many) tailored suits: they fit perfectly and they were made for me and me alone.
As much as I love my Holt Renfrew and Indochino suits, Helen Read puts them all to shame.
Sorry for the lack of a post last week. I kind of went on a bender. Not a drink- yourself-to-death-Nicholas-Cage-Leaving-Las-Vegas kind of bender, but a bit of a bender nonetheless. It was my birthday on the 14th and there were a few events as part of the weekend. It was a mini-milestone,35 years, so a maxi-weekend was in order. Saturday, there was the Brewery Market in Hintonburg. It was a great event. Kalin and I met up with our friends and enjoyed pints of local beer … for over six hours. Sunday, my actual birthday, was the traditional dinner at the Highlander. As usual, a great time was had by all. Monday, Kalin and I had dinner with a few of my friends who couldn’t make it Sunday. Tuesday, while not an official birthday event, was the monthly Mill St. Tweet Up. It was a great end to four days of fun.
I’ve been thinking about the nature of cheating again. Once again, it’s the Lance Armstrong case that has me thinking about it. It’s not Lance, specifically, that has me looking at the bigger picture but that entire era of professional cycling. Earlier this week, the UCI accepted the USADA report and stripped Lance of his Tour du France titles. Despite promising defiance, Lance, himself, removed reference to his Tour victories from his Twitter bio.
A footnote to this whole affair is the UCI, in stripping Lance of his titles, decided to do what the Grammy Awards and many other music industry awards did when confronted by the Milli Vanilli controversy and elected not to award them to the best finisher who didn’t dope.
Yes, I just compared Lance Armstrong to Milli Vanilli. I’m sorry if I insulted the talented vocalist who actually sang those songs.
If you think they did this because they couldn’t find a finisher who didn’t dope, you’re probably right. Most of the competitors who finished second and third behind Lance have already had those titles revoked for positive drug tests. Since so much time has passed, verifying the blood sample of the guy who in came in 38th in 1999 is just too difficult. The cleanest finisher probably finished so far back he didn’t actually have to provide one.
For purposes of our discussion, here’s how the dictionary defines “cheat”:
Lance certainly cheated in pretty much every sense of the word. There were long standing rules against what he did and he did it anyway.
Everyone else did, too. It was the dirtiest era of a dirty sport. Yes, the UCI had rules against performance enhancing drugs, but did a pretty piss poor job at enforcing them. Laws without the promulgation of force have no effect. I think Aquinas said that.
Most sport federations are often behind the proverbial eight ball when it comes to doping and testing techniques are often catching up to the drugs they’re testing for. There’s a reason why samples are kept for years. It’s so they can be examined as the testing techniques catch up to the masking techniques hiding the drugs. They’re even worried about genetic enhancements.
With hero after hero being taken down by testing agencies, we’ve become socially conditioned to not believe in human greatness in athletics until some drug test confirms it. Look at the reaction to the gold medal swim Ye Shewan did in London this summer. Even one of the top people in the IOC’s anti-doping agency said the obsession with doping was detracting from the majesty of sport.
No offense, bud, but when your old boss, Dick Pound, goes around saying things like only 10% of dopers ever get caught and can’t open his mouth without levelling an allegation, you can forgive us if our default mood is skeptical. You still can’t differentiate some illegal drugs from Propecia, a legal prescription drug to counter baldness.
I was a bit of a witness to this in my last year as a fatty. I was back in New Brunswick to work a number of events that my boss was attending. The biggest was the opening ceremonies of the IAAF Junior Track and Field Championships. Track and Field geeks can correct me if I’m wrong about this, but this the age group prior to when atheletes would be able to qualify for the Olympics. I think the upper end of the age limit might have been 16. Beautiful opening in Moncton’s new stadium. There was even a girls race as part of the ceremony. After it was concluded, the winners were taken backstage and the performances continued. The ceremony ended with the medal presentation for the race. Why the downtime between the end of the race and the presentation? The winners, and a couple of randomly selected athletes, had been taken to a room and had urine and sweat tests administered.
That’s how deep-seated the suspicion upon athletes has become; they’re testing teenagers at the equivalent of the world’s biggest high school track meet.
Maybe sports should give up the ghost on enforcing prohibitions on performance enhancement and just go to an all-doped format like SNL did in the 1980s (Unfortunately NBC Universal is pretty good about keeping its content off YouTube, so I can’t find a region unrestricted clip. Trust me, kids, it’s hilarious). If we’re going to treat athletes, pro and amateur alike, as dopers until proven clean, maybe we should just let them dope. After all, if everyone does it, it’s not really cheating.
It’s not cheating, unless you’re the corporate sponsor of the one honest athlete of the games.
Oh, you thought this was about athletes’ safety and the purity of sport, didn’t you?
Before they dropped his ass, when was the last time you saw Lance cycling without the Nike logo on his uniform? The companies that sponsor events and atheletes have a vested interest in two things: 1) their guy winning, 2) their guy winning in such a way he doesn’t drop dead at the finish line. Dead atheletes make horrible spokespeople. Same with ‘roid rage cases. Sponsors want to see their athletes’ photo on a box of Wheaties, not a mug shot on the Smoking Gun. There have been plenty of cases where sponsors have been culpable in their athlete’s doping, and the bad publicity is enough to drive share prices into the toilet.
For those of us that compete in sports for the fun of it, there’s no rationale for this kind of cheating. First, it’s expensive. There’s a reason why sponsored athletes engage in this type of cheating. They can afford it. If athletes lived off winnings alone, they’d probably take home less after expenses than you and I do. For people like us who do a couple of events a year, the payday just isn’t there.
It’s harmful. One of the side effects of some performance enhancement drugs is shrunken testicles. Given that Lance already lost one to cancer, you’d think he’d be concerend about the viability of the other one. Nope. The desire to win trumps all. My desire to one day have a family trumps my desire to cross a finish line first.
For those of us who are on that weightloss journey, cheating means departing from the nutrition plan or slacking off on the exerices. In that instance, you are truly cheating yourself. I know. Remember, I was there. Every now and then I couldn’t resist and indulged a little bit. My usual nemesis was movie theatre popcorn. There were also a few special events where I didn’t have good options available or just plain indulged. Each time, the consequence was that I was up a pound or two. That was a pound or two I had to lose before I could post a net loss for the week. I had to discipline myself to think that every time I weighed in up a pound it would be another session before I reached my goal. Those additional sessions cost me money. Frequent readers will know while I don’t mind splashing out money, I do mind not getting the value for the expenditure. Only I could control the value I got from my sessions, so it was up to me to be disciplined.
Shortcuts didn’t help much, either. One fat burner supplement taught me a valuable lesson in reading labels.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if you’re a professional or amateur. There are rules in life, written and unwritten, enforced by a series of consequences and rewards. I think we’ve all learned in the last few weeks the answer to the question, “Who exactly are you cheating?” In the end, it’s yourself.
Brace yourself, I’m going to say something nice about Air Canada. Travelling to the Maritimes, we’re pretty much held hostage to Air Canada’s schedule. Yes, there are other domestic carries, but unless you live in Moncton or Halifax, you’re stuck with Air Canada to get to your destination.
I’m not going to recount the nightmare after nightmare flying with them during the winter months have been over the years. My most recent flight was my 6 am return to Ottawa from New Brunswick on Tuesday. I shared my row with a rather obese passenger, large enough they took up almost a quarter of my seat. As the passenger curled up to sleep through the flight and took up even more room, I spent the subsequent two hours thanking God that even at my peak weight I was never large enough to exceed the seat dimensions of an air plane. In fact, one of the lies I would tell myself was, “I fit in one of those tiny airplane seats. I can’t be too overweight.”
Around a year before I started my weight loss, one of my favourite directors, Kevin Smith, was kicked off a flight for being too big for his seat. Sparing myself this public humiliation and the logistical nightmare of rescheduling travel with the one airline that travels to my hometown may have crystallized my decision to lose weight.
I didn’t complain to my passenger or even ask the flight attendant to be reseated. It was a fully booked Dash-8 with all of 17 seats available to passengers (for some reason that remains a mystery to this day, row 2AC is reserved for the flight crew even though the one attendant on the plane has a seat at the front of the plane) and there was simply no seat to move to. I was also partially sympathetic. While I was never in that situation, it was only when I was travelling last year that I realized how big I was. Suddenly the seats on that little plane were … reasonably comfortable.
After the flight in my tired-ass wandering mind on the bus back to downtown , I started thinking. In 2009, the Canadian Transportation Agency recognized obesity as a disability and imposed a “one passenger, one fare” policy on the national airlines. Previously, if you exceeded the width of the seat (defined as seated with the armrest in the down position) you had to purchase the seat next to you. I don’t blame obese people for complaining. Buying two seats is a pretty expensive proposition, up to $3000. It would actually be cheaper to buy a larger executive class seat. Unfortunately, there’s no executive class seating going to and from Fredericton. None on the direct flight from Ottawa. None on the flights from Toronto and Montreal. Certainly none on the plane from Halifax. That plane barely has a luggage hold.
So, if out of the cause of reasonable accommodation, the airlines are forced to only charge a passenger a single fare regardless of the number of seats they use, is it also reasonable to make the partial seat that remains available for the 100% of the advertised fare?
I decided to investigate. I sent the following to Air Canada’s customer complaint e-mail (with personal identifiers removed):
On the above referenced flight, I was seated in 5D, an aisle seat next to an obese passenger who was large enough that the passenger would not safely fit into the seat with the armrest down. For the duration of the flight, the passenger took up about 25% of my seat. I didn’t want to cause trouble for the flight and, frankly, there didn’t look to be another seat available to move to other than 2A and C which are reserved for the flight attendant. I understand several years ago, the Canadian Human Rights Commission [Author's note: further research revealed it was the Canadian Transport Agency] imposed a “one passenger, one fare” rule on Canada’s airline. With that understood, is it fair to make the seat available next to a passenger so obese he/she cannot fit in a single seat? Given that the Dash-8 aircraft only has two seats per row, there may be occasions where a passenger would need to be reseated. If an obese passenger is going to take up 25% of the adjacent seat, why should the passenger who has paid 100% of a fare for a seat not be entitled to an entire seat? Since there is the aforementioned row reserved for the attendant, who already has a seat at the front of the front of the plane, should not one of the passengers be reseated? It was just over two years ago that I was at my heaviest. While I was never so obese that I could not fit in a single seat with the armrest lowered, I did require come rather close to that size. Had I been at my previous weight on this morning’s flight, I would not have been able to sit in my assigned seat.
That was Tuesday morning. You know what happened? By Wednesday morning, Air Canada e-mailed me with a $150 credit for future travel as a gesture of goodwill. They explained their policy of “encouraging” obese passengers to buy a second seat when in economy class. The issue of the available row 2 which could be used to reseat a passenger remained unaddressed.
It might have helped that I selected the prefix “Dr.” from the drop down menu.
I started to think about some of the recent commentary on fat shaming. It’s basically the idea if you make fat people ashamed of being fat, they’ll lose weight. It made the news recently when this reporter responded to a viewer’s letter over her weight. Local Ottawa doctor Yoni Freedhoff even accused Disney of doing it earlier this year. There was even talk of it in the presidential race when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was being coaxed into running for the Republican nominaton. It resurfaced when he was among the politicos shortlist for Romney’s running mate and again when he addressed the Republican convention. Not all of us are lucky enough to be consoled by Sofia Vergara when someone makes fun of us, but he seems like he can take it. He did, after all, paraphrase Machiavelli and then attribute it to … his mother.
The logic of shaming is ridiculous. If you tease and troll a human being enough, they’ll make a radical life change. As a guy with unusually high self-esteem, when I was called fat I usually retorted with “Just like how your mom likes it.” Guys aren’t bombarded with images of male perfection and forced to conform. In fact, it’s the opposite. My usual nemesis, KFC, now has an advertisement where their overweight, unkempt character walks around with a bucket of the new chicken product and eventually is surrounded by a harem of bikini-clad women. Unless rufies are the 11th herb and spice, there is no way this will happen in reality. Gluttony is increasingly becoming acceptable behaviour for generation of arrested developed males.
It’s a lot different for girls. I remember one of my feminist sociology profs complaining about the objectification of women in men’s magazines, which had exploded in number in the late 1990s (a number of which no longer exist). At some point, I snorted, “Have you been to the magazine rack at Chapters lately? Seems like women are giving men a run for their money on the objectification of their gender.” In our exchange, which included me asking my classmates who had men’s and women’s magazines with them (interesting moment, none of the men admitted to having a men’s magazine on hand, but 2/3 of the women had Cosmo), I argued that for all the barflegarp about empowerment in women’s magazines like Cosmo most teenage girls are seeing a stick thin waif on the model on the cover. Regardless of whether the title was “Maxim” or “Cosmopolitan”, in the heyday of Kate Moss, thin was in and being presented as the ideal.
With all that cultural pressure already on women to fit into a particular ideal, those that try their whole lives and can’t get there are already pretty miserable. If you call sending young girls to the bathroom after dinner to puke their guts out a success story, give yourself a pat on the back, asshole. All you’re doing is just giving people with already low self-esteem another pummelling. I bet you make fun of the disabled, too.
For all your smug, self-appointed, self-righteousness, here’s the truth: you’re a bloody failure. You shame, society has gotten fatter. Unless there’s some immediate health concern (diabetes, high blood pressure, etc), most fatties don’t think they’re unhealthy. As I wrote at the beginning of this journal and reiterated last week, as obesity rates go up, most fat people think they’re normal and thin people are starving themselves. The truth is both extremes are full of stuff and malarkey (I wrote this after watching the VP debate).
There’s no magic bullet to get someone to lose weight. I didn’t think I was unhealthy when I was 250 lbs. The first time I was that heavy, I certainly knew it and had the sleep apnea diagnosis to prove it. It was overloaded public buses that started me losing weight and the encouragement of good friends to find ways to make a little loss into lifestyle change. Just because what I did worked for me, doesn’t mean it will work for someone else.
Don’t let the potential for failure deter you from attempting success. Even shedding a few pounds or a few inches in size will add years to your life. They might be Denis Leary’s “adult diaper, kidney dialysis years”, but you’ll enjoy your time here and now so much more.
Taunting and teasing won’t help. Shaming just leads to a persecution/victim complex which just reinforces negative behaviour, like stress eating or starvation.
You’re just another bully. You don’t even have the guts to say it to someone’s face. Having a Twitter account doesn’t elevate your thoughts to genius, it just exposes you as a coward and a buffoon 140 characters at time.
I honestly hope the passenger who sat beside me on Tuesday finds it within to start their own journey. Their life will be better for it.
PS – you may notice that I’ve changed part of the title of this blog. It is no longer my year of not being fat anymore. That year ended last week. I’m going to keep writing about this journey because I’m still learning and I think I still have things in this noggin worth sharing. It’s now my life of not being fat. Hope you still enjoy the ride. I am.
When I started this journal of my weight loss journal, I argued with rising obesity rates that obese was the new normal. It’s been almost two years since that entry, but the Globe and Mail caught up last weekend.
As this week passed, I reached a new milestone. It’s been a year since I reached my goal weight. This year, I celebrated, but nowhere near as bad as the two week food bender I went on during my downtime between finishing with my trainer and joining Greco. Since I had just completed my second half marathon and was in recovery mode, I had a few indulgences. Well, not really. Kalin and I did splurge at St. Louis a couple of hours after our race, but we had just run 21.1 km. I think we can handle it. Might have had some junk last weekend, but other than that I’ve kept to my usual good habits.
I’ve had a number of questions about how disciplined I am in my eating habits and exercise routine. The truth is, I’m not. I don’t feel disciplined. I pretty much eat what I want. The difference is what I wanted then and what I want now are two different things.
When I started this last year, I truly needed discipline.
The biggest change to my eating habits was the no starchy carbs. In fairness, it was the only change. The nutrition plan I was on didn’t keep me from eating meat and most of the vegetables I like, but gone was the baked potato with the steak, the spaghetti carbonara with my chicken, the pizza crust with my pizza.
I needed the shock therapy. Starting from scratch with new eating habits helped me build a new routine that would not just get me out of the fat suit I was living in, but keep me out once I got to my goal weight. I was also working in a relatively fast paced environment in the Senate of Canada (I know most Canadians reading that last sentence are probably gobsmacked to see the word “fast” in any sentence referring to our Senate) which forced me to adapt my routine to the workplace. I was lucky to have a kitchen with a fridge and microwave where I could store and re-heat meals. There was also a cafeteria on the fifth floor and the Parliamentary Dinning Room (but staff rarely go there without their Member/Senator).
The main thing I learned very quickly if I was going to be successful: bring dinner, too. Some days were harder to judge to when it’s going to be long day so be prepared to have dinner at the office. A routine sitting day can become a long sitting very quickly. I might have to fill in for my boss at an event or represent him at a reception. Stuff like that. While the cafeteria stays open until the House rises, anything remotely healthy would be gone after the supper hour rush. If you have your own dinner on hand, the worst that can happen is that you don’t need to use it. In that case, it’s there for lunch the next day and you have a slightly less heavy bag to lug. Some days, I would eat before I left just so I wouldn’t have to cook when I got home. There were also days where I was hanging around the office between the end of the workday and when I would go to my Running Room clinic so I would eat then.
As some carbs and fats were added back in, I found the ones I used to eat frequently I no longer craved. I like my whole grain pasta, particularly on the Friday before a long run on Sunday, but I don’t covet it. For all the talk of bacon in the news these days, I’ve bought all of 1lb since January 2011. Don’t blame me for the impending shortage.
Exercise was another routine I had to start from scratch. I wasn’t a total coach potato when I was fat, but I couldn’t/wouldn’t sustain a commitment to an exercise routine to save my life. When I started with my trainer at Free Form Fitness, I started with two sessions a week for six weeks and then went to three. I also needed to find a time that wouldn’t get continuously pre-empted by my professional duties. For me, the sweet spot was the morning. I was not a morning person, but I realized that I was only going to make it to my sessions if I scheduled them for the times when I knew I didn’t have to be at the office, prior to 8 am. Paying for the service also helps. I can be rather spendthrift, but I want to get my money’s worth. Showing up to my appointments was the only way to do that. Having started this new routine in January, it meant beginning and ending my days in darkness.
Today, I’m working out at Greco LeanandFit four times a week (and may ratchet it up to five) and running three times a week. I’ve completed two half-marathons, both with sub-two hour finishes.
Speaking of running, I’m instructing again. I’m leading the 5k clinic at the Slater St. Running Room. Kalin is helping me as a pace leader. One of the big challenges with instructing the 5k is it’s the gateway drug to running. Some are using it get back into the sport after years off or recovering from an injury while some are new to running altogether. As such the groups spread out rather quickly on the runs and it’s difficult to effectively supervise everyone. The faster may get out of earshot rather quickly and may run longer their body is ready for. I’m glad she’s going to help where she can. Wednesdays can be long days for work, but I’m thankful for the help.
Going back to shorter distances and slower speeds is going to mean some modifications of the routine. Probably going to have to work out a little bit more to earn that Mello’s breakfast on Saturday, but at this point it’s more “Been there. Done that. Bought the T-Shirt.”
With Thanksgiving upon us, I’m hitting the road for the weekend. No, there’s subterfuge this year. Mom knows I’m coming home for the weekend. It’s a testament to the fact that I’ve so altered my routine that I can go to the old haunts and not succumb to the temptation to indulge … or at least space out the indulgences to fit the routine.
I’m a creature of habit and my habits sucked. Only by starting from scratch and building new habits, could I succeed. Succeed I did. Succeed I continue to do.