So remember how I was going to keep you posted on those new adventures in Fredericton?
Kind of failed miserably on that one.
In a nutshell:
I trained solo for the Army Run Half Marathon. Did well with another sub-2 hour finish, but not as well as I wanted. Made the rookie mistake of starting too fast and running out of gas.
I learned a few lessons from solo training this summer:
1. I can do it.
2 Running alone sucks.
3. Never eat corn the Saturday night before a long run.
I think those are self-explanatory.
Started training for the Bluenose Marathon. Went old school and did the Running Room clinic here in Fredericton. Whether it was those tumbles last year in the Hypothermic Half catching up to me or just plain wear and tear, I ended up with a Baker’s cyst under my patella and doctor’s orders to lay off the training. Oh well, next year.
Still keeping active, but laying off the high impact cardio. I’ve been hitting the swimming pool at the YMCA most mornings before work.
On the professional side, work is going very well. I spent the summer studying for my life licence exams. Passed those and then waited months for the province to approve my application. Now approved, I’ve been going gangbusters on expanding my firms employee benefits division as well as working with individual clients.
I’ve also been teaching some political science courses at my alma mater, St. Thomas University. The teaching was an unexpected opportunity, but a welcome one. Given the academic job market, I’m pretty lucky to be in a position to even use my PhD. Since both courses I taught were as a replacement for a previously hired professor, the timetable was not of my choosing (like most part-time instructors) and finding the balance between the primary and secondary employers was difficult. With training for a marathon on top of two jobs, it’s a good thing Kalin and I were long distance as we would have seen each other just as much.
That’s right, I wrote “were” long distance. Our long distance relationship is no more. It’s now a no distance relationship. We’re engaged to be married and will be tying the knot next year.
We have many adventures ahead, one of which is a new blog we’ll be co-writing, In Omnia Paratus: An Adventure in Literature, and Life.
As for this blog, it’s time to put it to bed. I’ve enjoyed sharing my story. Sharing it helped keep me accountable and contributed to my success. As fitness has become my routine, however, I’ve found I’ve had less new experiences to write about. Two jobs involving a lot of after-hours work hasn’t helped, either.
It’s time to start a new adventure.
I’ve been a rather negligent blogger. My excuse for the first couple weeks of the year is pretty simple:
I was lazy.
For those that actually remember my post about the odyssey that was mine and Kalin’s return to Ottawa, I was coming back to a rather uncertain future. I started 2013 like I started 2012, without a job and no irons in the fire, either. Out of nowhere, though, my old job called and asked me to come back. After some negotiation, I returned to the Office of the Speaker of the Senate on February 4th. At the same time, I began training for the next big challenge: the Ottawa Marathon.
Between Parliament Hill hours and the time suck that is marathon training, the blogging fell to the back burner.
Training for the marathon was gruelling. For those outside the Ottawa area, it was a really long winter this year. We didn’t get consistent spring weather until the beginning of May. There would be a Sunday here or there where I could break out the shorts, but most runs involved three layers into late April and some of those that didn’t were only because I was an idiot when I packed my bag in the morning.
Many of the evening runs were in inclement weather. Snow, freezing rain, normal rain, high winds. Everything but calm. Some runs had us jumping over snow drifts and puddles. We’d call these runs “character builders”. By the end, I was hoping the character I was building was Destro so I could build a weather machine. Needless to say, I’m cured of any desire of doing a Spartan Race or a Tough Mudder. Getting to the start line of this year’s marathon had enough physical obstacles to scratch that itch.
For 16 weeks, I managed to stay mostly healthy (had a bout of the flu which sidelined me for a weekend when we started to taper down) and injury free. I paced the 4:15 finish group. Most nights it was just a half dozen, much smaller group than my 2 hr half marathon groups. Some nights it was so small, I’d run with the 4 hr group.
I probably stayed in my Brooks Pure Cadence shoes too long before I replaced them with the latest version. My ankles were killing me the morning after my runs. Luckily, Adidas Boost had a launch event at the Slater St. Running Room. I got to take a pair on a full run, it was hills night and we were doing 8 that evening. The next morning, for the first time in two months, I felt relatively well. I tried them again that evening on an 8K steady run. Friday morning, felt great. Friday afternoon, bought a pair. The last pair of men’s 10.5s of the promotional inventory, meaning the last of the size until the shoes officially launched in June.
Race day came and you couldn’t have asked for better weather for a first time race. It was overcast and in the high teens for most of the morning. It was so cool, many of the runners who had done the previous year’s Army Run wore the thin white jackets they gave the finishers instead of solar blankets. They were pretty handy as throw away starter jackets on a cool morning. Wish I had thought of that. I didn’t bother bringing anything that I couldn’t bring on the course. The post race plan was to meet Kalin, who at the last minute decided to run the half marathon (and did a personal best … my girlfriend is awesome), at the aboriginal veterans statue and get back to my place. Downtown on race day is a bonkers sea of humanity with a combined 16,000 runners in along with all the volunteers and the people there to cheer us on.
Any worries I had a about Boston scaring off spectators were quickly abated. If anything, there were more. Even the desolate stretch of the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway where there was literally no one cheering during my last two half marathons had people cheering us on.
Like my last race, I had my playlist ready. This time, I intentionally put it on shuffle. The race was going to take as long as it was going to take and there was no point in using songs as benchmarks. I hadn’t actually run a full 42.2 k before. The furthest the Running Room’s training program takes you is 32k. You do it once, taper a bit, and then go back up to 32k before tapering down for race day. Since it was my first run that long, I just filled up my playlist with 4 hours, 20 mins of music and hoped I wouldn’t hear a song twice.
As if by fate, the song that shuffled on as the 32K marker came into sight …. a Shooter Jennings cover of Hank Williams Sr.’s “I’m so lonely I could die”. I have no clue how that even got on my iPhone, more or less my marathon playlist. Most. Depressing. Song. Ever. It’s also probably the worst possible song as you start to cross the distance threshold of your longest distance ever.
Needless to say, it took me out of my race mindset for a minute while I fiddled to skip it. I tripped to use Siri to skip it with a voice command, but this genius decided it might be a good idea to run with the iPhone in airplane mode and Siri is useless if she isn’t connected to the Internet. With a couple of button pushes and swipes, Shooter was shot and replaced by Eminem’s “Won’t back down”.
With that crisis solved, it was time to finish the race. Having passed the 32K mark, my brain reorientated itself to see the distance markers as a de facto countdown. 32K wasn’t 32K. It was 10K left.
As the last ten kilometres snaked through Rockcliffer, Beechwood, and New Edinburgh back to the downtown, the crowds got thicker. As we crossed Rideau St. onto Colonel By for the home stretch to the finish line, the cheers grew louder. The entrance to Colonel By reminded me of the the entrance to a stadium. It was time time to kick it into high gear.
After my last walk break, I gradually increased my pace. It was around 4min/k for the last couple hundred metres. I looked up at the finish line as I crossed. The clock read 4:14, already below my goal. My chip time: 4:11.
A friend would later ask me what I thought as I crossed the finish line. Given the long journey from obesity to Marathon Man, was it emotional? Did I think back on all that I had accomplished? Did I feel triumphant? Nostalgic?
My response: Thank God, it’s over.
I made it through the recovery area gauntlet, grabbing whatever freebies were on offer. Just after getting my finisher’s medal, I ran into Marina, Slater St. Running Room’s unofficial den mother, who was volunteering handing out medals. She gave me a huge, and well needed hug. I made my way to the aboriginal veterans statue to wait for Kalin. Since the half marathon is a much, much larger event, they have a staggered start and send the runners out in waves. This year it was three waves. I have to admit to being a worried boyfriend. Kalin only decided to do this race a few days earlier. My worry soon turned to relief as she emerged from the recovery area with one of the biggest smile’s on her face that I had ever seen. As we held each other, I asked how she felt. “Great,” she replied. “I PB’d.” Despite not race training, she did, however, go to Greco as often as she could and had greatly improved her strength and endurance. It paid off. She would tell me that as she was hitting the 20K mark, she broke out in tears. The good ones, though. A year earlier, she ran her first post-cancer 5K. Now she was finishing a half marathon and feeling great. She realized this is what healthy felt like and was overcome with joy.
Like I said before, my girlfriend is awesome.
With that challenge done, it’s onto the new adventure. With my contract with the Speaker’s Office completed on June 28th, I’ve moved back to Fredericton to join my father’s firm. It’s the end of my first week here. In the coming weeks, I’ll have to find a new gym and get my half marathon training for the Army Run going in earnest. Going to miss the gang at Greco and Slater St., but seven months of no employment and living off savings and credit cards takes a while to recover from. It was time for a change from contract to contract living.
Don’t worry, Kalin and I are still together. I count myself lucky to have found a girl from my hometown, even if we met in Ottawa. We both want to eventually settle here, so we see my move as serving as the advance guard. We already have the visits planned up to the end of the end of the year.
I’ll keep you posted on how things are going from Freddy Beach, but in the meantime …
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.