Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Our First Race

The neophyte is a legend in her own mind” - Me, 2010
I was asked to join the team. I can’t remember ever being asked to join a team before, at least not in my adult life.  Well, actually, it was more like ‘we need 4 people to qualify for the team discount admission price for the local 5k fun run and one of the staff just had surgery so we’re short a person. Do you want to run on the chiropractic office team. You’ll save 5 bucks?’
Yes! Yes! You can count on me. I’ll be on the team. I may not be a chiropractor, but I’ve been to one.
Only days before the big 10 km goal race, in Ottawa, this was the perfect practice run for my neighbour, Heather, and myself.
Since I was on the team, I volunteered to pick up the number bibs and timing chips ahead of time and deliver them to the office. I was disappointed, though, when I learned that ‘bibs’ and ‘chips’ had absolutely nothing to do with eating.
I waited in line with a lot of really fit people wearing an over abundance of spandex and previous racing  t-shirts. Look casual. No big deal. Pretend I belong here. My heart is racing just standing in line. What will it be doing at the start line? I can do this. Then I spotted her, The Lady in Line.
I hadn’t seen her for years. An old acquaintance. I smiled and said hello but I don’t think she heard me. She seemed eager to get to the table to get her bib and chip.  I wanted to warn her, “I wouldn’t rush if I were you. You can’t even eat the ‘chips’”.
Finally I get to the front of the line. I pick up the 4 bibs and bands with the timing chips. I was so excited. I rush over to the office to deliver the goods, then get ready for the race.
Eagerly I walk into the reception room of the chiropractic clinic, proudly donning my bib and timing chip bracelet. People keep staring. A few even smile. How nice is this? A young, fit lady goes so far to really grin and comment, “Is this your first race”?
Why, yes it was. How did she know? Isn’t this wonderful! These lovely people are obviously impressed. I am getting out there and doing something. I am racing. I am a runner. I am on the team.
Then it happens. Mrs. Chiropractor, captain of the team emerges out of the washroom, ready to race. Her bib is neatly pinned on the front of her shirt over her abdomen. I am mortified. Her abdomen? I look at my husband who is sitting beside me in horror. “Why do they call it bib if it isn’t supposed to go around your neck?” I whisper.
I scramble awkwardly to undo the safely pins and lower the bib. Mrs. Chiropractor casually walks by to introduce herself and say hello.
“Oh, that’s an interesting place to wear your chip. I always put it around my ankle.”
I force a smile. “I sometimes wear it on my ankle too. In fact, I think I will today.”
My hoarse voice matches the sound of the Velcro ripping as I reattach the inedible chip to my ankle from my arm. My naivety is reflecting through like a bald head on a sunny July day.
Soon the four of us are on our way to the race. It’s a warm May evening, the sun is bright and the sparkling water on the lake is dancing. Things couldn’t be more perfect. Heather and I look at each other as we join the mass of people at the start line.
We can do this.
Yes we can.
We’re on the team.
The gun goes and we’re off. We are forced to the go the speed of the crowd as we are corralled through a relatively narrow pathway surrounded by woods. This isn’t so bad. Soon we’re on the road and the speedsters break away like...
And, then it happens. Euphoria. Is this what they call runner’s high? For a split second I look at Heather and I am Ian Charleson’s character, Eric Liddell, in the movie Chariot’s of Fire, the theme song singing through my head,
Da da da da daa da
Da da daa da da…
I run with grace and glory. I run with conviction and determination. I run with freedom and form. I run right into the back of a middle aged, short, bald guy.

Shocking, yes. Surprising, no.
Co-ordination isn’t my strong suit. I am a little bit yin and a whole lot of yang: major cities, minor accidents. There was the time I did the British Special Forces roll in a round about just outside Heathrow Airport, London, narrowly escaping being run over by a very expensive looking Volvo. Luckily the Volvo went unscathed.
Then there was the pot hole outside Penn Station, New York City. I went down like a ton of bricks, badly twisting my ankle the day before we were to leave on a cruise to Bermuda. I give credit for my speedy recovery to my fear of un-socialized medicine and a good ice machine in the hotel.
And, then there was the little incident in the subway.  At rush hour. Did I mention Paris? This one is just too embarrassing even for me to relay the whole story. Let’s just say I was stuck on the wrong side of the Metro gate in a country where I didn’t speak the language and had no idea where I was. Lots of tears and a near nervous Anglophone breakdown were involved. On a positive note, I finally did find the Eiffel Tower. It’s the tall building by the river…
Back to the race.
I briefly hold the man’s shoulders in a pretext of keeping him standing. But, in reality, I am stopping myself from falling over.
“Are you alright?”
He is nodding. We’re still running forward. I think Heather might be smiling now.
“I’m…” giggle
“so…” snort
“sorry…” badly suppressed laughter like smothered sniggering after unintentional escaped flatulence in a public place.
I can’t help it. I can’t stop laughing. I’m running, hunched over laughing so hard I’m crying.
So, I do what any responsible adult would do. I speed up. A lot. Partly because I don’t want this man to see me laughing at him and partly because I don’t want to be blamed for any internal injuries I may have caused. Hopefully he didn’t get a good look at my face. We all look 'more' or 'less' the same from behind.
I catch up to Heather.
“I just ran into that guy.” I still can’t stop laughing.
“I know”, is all she says.
Wow, she’s focussed. I’m impressed.
The race is a loop and now Mr. Chiropractor, the fourth member of the team, is passing us, facing us on the way back. Heather gives him a high 5 as he whizzes by with a gait twice mine.
We’re coming up to a small hill, it’s really warm and I need water. I am on the brink of giving up when I spot her.  The lady in Line.  She is laughing, chatting and running with friends. Somewhere deep inside myself I find some strength. I want to pass her for no other reason than I know her.  I’ll teach her not to hear me when I say hello to her in a line-up! I break away like a gazelle.
I’m getting closer, closer, closer. I pass her! Hooray. Victory is mine. Or, was that vengeance? I think that normally belongs to the divine, but I’m getting a piece of it today and it's heavenly.
I’m headed toward the finish line, excited and thrilled. I’ve almost done it. For the team.
I cross the finish line with my non edible chip on my ankle and the bib on my belly. I look into the sea of faces. It’s over. I’ve done it.
I look around, searching. Wait, is that…? No, it couldn’t be. Emotion wells up within me. A lump is forming in my throat. Dehydration. No, it’s more than that. I am overcome with gratitude. It’s my oldest daughter standing there in the crowd of spectators with her dog and friend, Sarah. Candice is in her twenties now, all grown up and lives across town. She must have come to surprise me. How sweet of her! She came to cheer me on. She’s proud of me, her mother! I’ve accomplished something she’s thrilled about and she has taken the time to be there for me. Wow. It’s moments like this that make it all worth while. I can’t help myself, I’m welling up. I want to cry.
Between gasps for air I run up to her and get her attention.
 “Candice!” I yell.
“Mom, what are you doing here?” she asks incredulously. "I didn’t know you were running this race.”
Humph. It was dehydration in my throat after all. I need some water.

© 2011 Written by Heather Down. Illustrated by Jon Larter.

Friday, January 21, 2011

How It All Began

As you know, last week I signed up for the Ottawa Marathon. Now, an average 44 year old woman just doesn’t go do that, at least not a sane one. Sometimes a little history is helpful to understand how I got to this point.
There are a few commonalities between my neighbour, Heather, who lives directly across the street and myself: our first name, our second name, 'Ann' without an e, and a Canadian east coast ancestry (that alone explains a lot). Neither of us has ever given birth, although I have 3 amazing kids, but that’s another post or two, or 100, and we are both overcoming an unnatural fear of babies. We’re scared they will break if we get too close to them.
Now for the differences−in many ways we are polar opposites: Heather is outgoing, friendly and an organizer. I generally fall a little left of shy until I get to know someone and live in perpetual chaos, adapting to a comfortable level of peace with it.
This may be a no-fault insurance province, but I’ll be darned if it’s no fault running. This current obsession is all Heather’s fault.
It started just over a year ago when Heather boldly declared “I’m going to run a half marathon.” I don’t remember if it was online, at a party or she simply decreed it from her front step, but I heard it, loud and clear. Heather’s going to run a half marathon.  By May.
All I could think was “I couldn’t run a half marathon by May”. Actually, Heather couldn’t run one by May either. She just didn’t know it yet.
A weekend in Ottawa.  A race. Good company.
I wanted to weasel my way into the action. I had run a 10 km race once or twice a couple or 10, 15, maybe 20 years ago (who’s counting?). I could probably do it again. After all, we had a second hand treadmill in the basement, coincidentally, purchased from Heather a couple of years before.
I am not known for our speedy completion of work around the house and garden. This would probably be the perfect spot to mention the project-boat that remained out of the water and in my driveway so long that it became its own 'photo bubble' on Google Earth™. It is therefore no surprise that it took two years to move the treadmill from the garage to the basement; and still, only with the aid of my good neighbours.
So I cast the bait. I would do a 10 km race in Ottawa and Heather could run her half-marathon. She bit and the training began.
It was January and it was cold. Heather bought shoes, a new running outfit and tackled the great outdoors with some newfangled pod cast called Couch to 5 k or some such thing, featuring expert advice and a proven way to learn to run. I, on the other hand, felt that the out-of-doors in January in Canada was meant to be avoided so I hooked up the Wii I got for Christmas. Well, actually, one of my kids hooked up the Wii for me but that’s a mere technicality.
So our training log probably looked something like this:
     Training Log for January:
     Day 1:
     Heather: run 60 seconds, walk for 2 minutes for a total of 15 minutes
     Me: Make an avatar with blond hair and glasses. Woot! She looks so much like me.

     Day 2:
     Heather: Run 60 seconds, walk for 2 minutes for a total of 20 minutes
     Me: Learn to bowl sitting down. Cool.

     Day 3:
     Heather: Run 120 seconds, walk for 2 minutes for a total of 25 minutes
     Me: Catch imaginary hoola hoops with my head.  Who thinks up these games anyway?
            Get in a fight with John because he thinks I am the world’s worst Wii golfer ever.

You get the picture.
By the time February came along I learned how to turn on the treadmill. Now, for those of you who don’t know me, we are a household of two untrained feral Aussie/Border collie crosses and a curious but cautious cat many refer to as “Fattie”, “Cleo-fat-ra”, and one other name that I refuse to write. Her real name is Echo, as in Pan and Echo in Greek Mythology.
There is one other thing you need to know about Echo. Beside the fact that she has a slight problem with indoor cathood obesity, she is quite lovely.  To me.  And only me.
She hates most other human beings with a unique passion that is shown especially in her extra large green eyes. In fact, her eyes are almost too big for her head, giving her a bit of an alien-like quality.
She was a rescue from a lovely organization called Furry Friends for my daughter, Candice. It was a guilt purchase. We’ve all had them. Candice was going through a rough patch. Her cat, Caledore, had died not too long ago.
The death of any pet is monumental. But this was a coming of age for Candice. Caledore was a twenty-something year old cat suffering from cancer that was bleeding out her nose. It was time to put her down and Candice was going into the vet to be with cat during the process. Pretty tough stuff, especially for a 17 year old girl. She handled it like the pillar of strength she was, emerging from the room, all tears and resolve. We were allowed to take the body bury it in the country near our old house under Caledore’s favourite tree.  The only issue was it couldn’t be done for a couple of hours so we put the deceased in the back seat of the car.
In the meantime, our family sat around in the living room. Candice asked for the keys to the car. She wanted to hold her beloved pet one more time. I handed her the keys.
I was a progressive parent. If she wanted to see the dead body again, let her. Let her grieve her own way. Don’t give her hang ups about death… I’d let her take as long as she needed.
Wow, it’s been a while. Really, she’s still out there? What is wrong with that girl? What was taking her so long?
I went outside.  She was crying.  Hysterically.  Outside the car. Yanking on the car door.
“I locked the keys inside.” She said.
“I locked the keys inside.” She said it again.
She locked my only set of car keys inside the car.
In June. On a very hot day.  With a dead cat decomposing in the back seat.
This took my grieving to a whole new level.
I tried every door. I got a coat hanger. I screamed into a pillow. Nothing would unlock this car. I looked in the window at the carcass sprawled openly on the back seat. What was I going to do?
I had CAA! I would call. They could fix this. My elation quickly plummeted to panic when I realized that they would see the cat and might call the Humane Society, thinking I had baked the cat in my car!
I called anyway. There was no other solution. They couldn’t come for 45 minutes. I paced. What will I tell them so I’m not sent to jail for animal cruelty? And, then it hit me. I’ll teach them to make me wait 45 minutes for service.
I could run up to them when they arrive and cry hysterically, “What took you so long? It’s too late. Because of you my cat has died in the heat.”
No, I couldn’t do that. That would be cruelty to humans.
They arrived. I rushed up to the attendant and blurt out the whole story before he could even get out of his car. I think I noticed a slight twitch on his mouth. The funny thing was, other than that, he didn’t seem the least bit interested or even surprised.
Because it was a moment of weakness, I promised Candice she could get another pet. So, enter Echo stage right, about 8 years ago.
I wasn’t really thinking ahead, though, because a few months later Candice moved away to go to college. Unfortunately, Echo didn’t pass the entrance exam and had to stay behind with me. I really believed she was the most loving cat ever.
Until the day I took her to the vet’s office. I was in the middle of describing what a terrific rescue she was when she morphed into the spawn of Satan. All claws, hiss and fur. I ended up being escorted out of the office as the veterinary staff began donning protective gear as if preparing for a nuclear holocaust.  They literally bagged Echo so only her head was sticking out, making her innocuous enough without the use of her legs or claws to administer her injections.
The second important thing you need to know about Echo is that she can appear out of nowhere when you least expect it, startling you half to death. If you have ever seen the movie Mr. Deeds, she is the butler.  It is even possible that she teleports, giving more credence to the theory that she may actually be alien. I can notice her lying in her basket, turn around and she will just appear in front of me, staring with her big eyes, making me jump off the floor with shock. 
The treadmill was a new addition to my repertoire of routines and became a curiosity for the plethora of beasts in the house, with the exception of my husband.
Every day, the two dogs, Hank, and Kanoock came down to the basement and watched, sometimes circling the machine waging their tales.  When they realized there was no food, belly rubbing or throwing of tennis balls involved, they soon lost interest and partook in their next favourite thing, sleeping. Echo seemed fascinated by the movement of the tread but generally kept a healthy distance settling , instead, on something warm like the satellite box, a computer or a heating vent. Until…
It must have been one of her teleporting moments because I didn’t see her coming.  I just caught a glimpse of the front paw stepping on the tread directly behind my right heel. And before I could stop it, the body followed.
Did you know cats can fly?

The experience was so ingrained in my psyche, I wrote a poem about it, if you consider a limerick a poem. It doesn’t have the word ‘Nantucket’ in it so I think it counts:

There once was a flying feline from Barrie
Whose treadmill experience was hairy
The poor little cat
Almost went splat
And now of the treadmill, she’s wary.

Luckily she wasn’t hurt and there wasn’t any permanent damage to the treadmill or myself. I vowed to keep closer watch on her, but my promise was not necessary. Echo has never attempted to step onto the moving treadmill since.

Last February came and went and Heather re-evaluated her half marathon goal. 10 km sounded good to her after all and we both signed up for the big race in Ottawa. Heather works as an assistant at a chiropractic clinic and we would be travelling to Ottawa with her bosses, a husband and wife chiropractic team, both experienced runners. 

May rolled around and I made it outside to train. Heather and I were both able to run 5 km without cardiac arrest or the assistance of oxygen tanks. We felt it was time for a practice race. A local fun run maybe? Fun Run, now there’s an oxymoron!

© 2011 Written by Heather Down and Illustrated by Jon Larter

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Race

They say each race starts with a single step, but not really. It starts with an internet connection, a nutter and a credit card.
I did it. I am committed. Or committable? Today is the day I signed up for the Ottawa Marathon. Although my family considers me mildly delusional, I am not so out of touch that I consider myself psychotic. It’s 18 weeks away and unlike that very lucky comedian, What’s Her Face, who made her largely popular writing smash hit Couch Potato to Ethiopian in 18 Weeks, I have more realistic goals. I simply want to finish.
Standing up.
Preferably breathing.
Goal time: to finish before they reopen the roads and I’m mowed over by a crazy diplomat from Kazakhstan with red licence plates.
Surely that’s not too much to ask?
Why? Why on earth would someone want to run 42 km?
This question just begs for a reasonable answer. Unfortunately, there isn’t one. There is no sane reason on heaven or earth to do this.
Some say it is the setting of goals and achievement while others claim it is to improve fitness. Get real.  We all know those people are liars. I mean really, come on, there is nothing in the arena of ‘fitness’ that includes pounding your poor body on pavement as fast as you can for 42 km. It’s all poppycock.
So I am going to be honest and reveal a deep, dark secret to only my closest friends. I mean, isn’t that what blogging and social networking is for? For revealing stuff that you really shouldn’t tell another living soul and usually information that other living souls really aren’t interested in hearing? Things that you would be too embarrassed to yell out in a crowd of strangers, yet you are strangely courageous enough to reveal in a forum most of the world can access?
My reason is ecclesiastical in nature:
Now anyone reading this who has seen me in person is now very, very confused and possibly some of you are even laughing. Just one look at my face, you will know I am not vain in the traditional sense. In fact, for all those poor neighbours who have had the misfortune of seeing me at 4:00 pm  still in my baggy moose and bear print brown cotton pyjama pants and uncombed hair will attest that what’s on the outside of me often is not my focus in life. However, I will be happy to bore any unsuspecting human or beast who will listen about my cholesterol, LDL, HDL and vitamin B12 blood test results at the drop of a hat.  Did you know my resting heart rate was 48 BPM by the way? Just saying...
So why vanity, you may ask? Well, you probably won’t ask, but I’ll ask it for you.
I just want to say "I did it". Just once in my life.
Will it make me fitter? Will it make me a better person? Will it teach me something about goal setting? Will anyone else care whether I completed the course?  Will it improve my self-esteem? Make me better at finishing other tasks in life?
Emphatically, no, no, no!
But, I can say “I completed a marathon.”
It’s not as though I haven’t accomplished other things in my life. I have a hand full of achievements I am very proud of: I’ve raised good kids,  written books, climbed the stairs in the CN Tower, run with the Olympic Torch and passed my motorcycle license test without falling off the bike or killing the tester standing in the parking lot. If you've seen me drive any motorized vehicle, you may even think this more than just a mere accomplishment, more miraculous in nature.
I remember as a kid sitting in the basement watching the Boston Marathon on T.V. thinking ‘that’s so cool. I wonder if I could ever do it?’. --The answer is obviously 'no' because you would have to qualify but I didn’t know that then.-- Then I would run two circles around the backyard, come in and eat a popsicle.
I will probably never run Boston, but there is a good chance, with proper rest and training I can complete a marathon.
Even breathing maybe.
So, let the games begin. Please feel free to send me all the positive vibes you possibly can muster and follow my hopefully injury-free journey to the finish line. I am officially starting the quest today all in the name of vanity and pride!
They say pride goes before a fall. Let’s just hope the fall doesn’t come before the finish line!

Illustration created for The Moose Pyjama Chronicles by Jon Larter
copyright 2011 Heather Down