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


  1. Oh Heather, that was so funny!! Thanks for the laugh and I look forward to sharing your marathon experience, up close and personal.....from the crowd after I finish my yet-to-be-determined-distance race in Ottawa again.

    Folks, I must say that sharing the race experience with Heather last May was absolutely wonderful. I'm glad we're doing it again :)

    The Other Heather

  2. Hats off to you, The Other Heather, you are the inspiration...or at least, someone to blame :)

  3. awesome post & quite funny. Oh you Canadians... Thanks for joining EAP.

    - Patrick

  4. Terrific post! Had me laughing all through it. Congratulations on the getting fit and doing the runs. It's great to find other people getting fit who have the same approach to it as me. I am ambivalent about exercise but it has to be done and what a geat feeling when it's over! Thanks for visiting my blog, your comment was truly lovely. All the best.

  5. Great post, I enjoyed reading it. Hope you keep posting :)

    I used to run a few years ago, but life seemed to get in the way so I stopped. I should really get back into it sometime.

    Following your blog.

  6. @ MOB Thanks! Look forward to following your blog!
    @ Leon. I find it hard to make time for running too. Hope to post weekly and I will be checking out your blog as well!