Sunday, February 27, 2011

44 Year Old Kid

It’s less than a week before the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington and all serious training is done. It is now ‘taper’ week where I get to sit back, relax, get lots of rest and eat well. Therein lies the rub. Because, I am at the movies and I have a craving for popcorn; you know that pre-popped grain coated with some type of toxic waste and copious amounts of sodium. Not exactly the most ideal pre-race snack.
So, I decide to compromise. I will get a very small bag and eat only moderate amounts of toxic waste and dangerous minerals. So, I ask the girl behind the concession counter to show me the smallest bag they sell.
“That’s it?” I was afraid she didn’t understand me, after all, she looked to be no more than twelve. “Your smallest bag?”
“Yes, this is the small size.”
For an elephant, maybe. If you put the bag over my head, it would cover me down to my waist. This isn’t going well. Do they not sell human sized portions? I want a taste of popcorn, not a bubbling vat of it.
Now, I know what you are thinking. Why wouldn’t I just buy the small size and eat only what I want? The answer is simple. I can’t. I am completely incapable of leaving even one uneaten kernel in that trough of popcorn. If I start and it doesn’t run out, I am the energizer bunny. I just keep on going and going. I’m sure there is a 12 step program somewhere out there for me, I just haven’t found it out yet.
Then, I have a brainwave. Surely they don’t feed that much chemical ooze to children. There must be protection laws against it--child cruelty or some such thing.
“What does a children’s size look like?” Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
“It comes in this little box.”
So far, so good, perfect size.
“And, it comes with a small drink in a cartoon cup with a toy and kinder egg.”
“I’ll take it. But can I get water instead of the chemically engineered carbonated poison?”
Hmmm, obviously beyond her scope of comprehension. “Uhhh,”  long pause and confused look, “I can give you water,” she kindly obliges.
So, I turn around and walk into the theatre with my plastic cartoon cup with the character toy top, my iddy biddy popcorn pile and my kinder egg. Suddenly I realize that I look stupid. Well, more stupid.

This must be my initiation into being a dedicated runner. Why else would a 44 year old woman walk into a movie theatre eating a kid’s combo?
It gets better. When I get home I find out the kinder egg has a toy inside! Who knew? I certainly didn’t. It is an assemble-yourself go-fast car with miniature decals to apply. Only one problem, you need an engineering degree to put this thing together and fingers the size of ants to place the decals on. It ranks right up there with assembling an entire room of IKEA furniture.
After much frustration, I build the car. Now what? Too small to drive…

Actual Go-Fast Car I Put Together

Maybe I’m on to something. Who says you can’t be a kid at any age? I challenge you to follow suit. Take a few minutes today and pretend to be a kid. It’s kind of fun. Maybe that’s why I like running. For those brief moments (and I mean brief) while running when my right hip isn’t hurting or my left foot isn’t pronating or my low back isn’t writhing in pain…I feel young.
So I ask you, as an adult, have you ever bought a kid’s combo?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Real Victory

I have three vices: chocolate, chocolate and chocolate. So, when my niece, Terri Lynn suggests we sign up for the Port Dalhousie half marathon “Chocolate Race” last summer, I am in. My usual partner in crime, my neighbour Heather, doesn’t like running in the summer heat so I am on my own for this one.

But, no matter, chocolate is all the motivation I require. I dream about a car with Cadbury Fruit and Nut bars tied to the back, trailing behind in the wind, like a rabbit fur in the front of a dog race. I have three months to get up to par and I am prepared to do it, all in the name of the mighty coco bean.

I am half way through my training when I get the email from Terri Lynn, “I don’t know if I should run this race.”
I am stunned. What could possibly be more important than chocolate?
Apparently pregnancy is for some people.
Really? That’s more important than chocolate? Where are her priorities anyway? Chocolate…children…chocolate…children. At least I know where my loyalties lie.
I am not deterred, however, because I will be running for chocolate! My daughter, Charity and her 11 month old son accompany me to St. Catharines.
Half the fun of races is going and exploring places you might not normally. I have been to Niagara-on-the-Lake many times, but have never been to Port Dalhousie or ever ventured into St. Catharines, except for a highway break when travelling. Settling in to the hotel, we decide to go for dinner. We find a great little chain restaurant not far. I order something relatively healthy in hopes I’ll be okay for tomorrow’s race. I am worried because the farthest I’ve ever run is 15 km. Tomorrow I will run the greatest distance of my entire lifetime!
We leave the restaurant and I look for my car. I panic because I don’t see it. Then I calm down because I realize we came in my daughter’s car. Phew. So, I look for it, and can’t see it anywhere either. I start to walk up and down the aisles, anxiety rising in my throat.
Charity stands calmly just outside the restaurant door and picks up Logan. She is staring at me. Why is she so calm? Why isn’t she looking for the car? How will I get to the race tomorrow if we’ve misplaced our transportation?
“What are you doing?” she says.
Duh. The young can be so stupid, some times. “I’m looking for the car. Where’s your car?”
Charity blinds and starts walking away from me.
“What’s wrong with you? The car isn’t here. It’s gone. Where are you going?”
She rolls her eyes.
“We walked here, Mom. Our hotel is right there.” She laughs pointing.
“Oh, that’s right.” I think I need some pre-race chocolate to calm my nerves.
The next morning I feel slightly nauseous at the start line. What was I thinking? But Charity and little Logan are there to support me and I feel the love. I’m running for chocolate. What could be better?
I have made a pre-determined contract with myself that I will walk through all the water stations to give my calves a break. Other than that, I want to run the entire distance.
It is going well. But, it is hot, really hot. We wander through streets and trails, then into a residential area. The heat is horrible but I trundle forward. Then I spot him. An elderly, somewhat less-than-attractive man in his 70s standing in his driveway spraying runners with a garden hose. I am in love.
I can’t help myself. The words just come out before I have a chance to stop them. “Will you marry me?” I don’t even care that my ipod is getting wet.
“That’s okay, Lovey,” he says in a posh British accent. 
All goes to plan until about kilometre 19. I’m tired and really don’t feel like continuing.  I can’t be doing too badly though as I’m able to pass a perky young blond girl in a pony tail and orange sports top. But, then I see her in front of me. How can this be? I just passed her. I didn’t see her pass me. Just as I’m thinking I must have missed it, she passes me again. No, this isn’t good. I’m seeing double. Now there are two perky young blond girls with orange sports tops in front of me. I slow up and start to walk. This is really, really bad. I’m hallucinating. I’m just about to seek medical attention when I notice the shoes. They each have on a different brand of running shoes and they are now talking to each other. I take a good look at their faces; probably identical twins. There should be rules about things like this.
I’m walking now and would probably continue to walk all the way to the finish line if it isn’t for the severe stomach cramp that suddenly hits me. Now, they say that running can stimulate your digestive system. I’m here to say they are not wrong. I start running to avoid what has the potential to the most embarrassing moment of my adult life. I am no longer running for chocolate. I am running for the bathroom.
I pass the twins and sprint straight for the finish. I see Charity and Logan in the sidelines but I keep going. Right past Charity, right past the finish line, right past the bagels, right past the chocolate, right into the line-up inside the bathroom.
Line-up! This is one curve ball I wasn’t expecting to catch. I bend over, clutching my stomach. “Are you alright?” someone asks. I try to shake my head yes. I don’t want to talk. All I can think is hurry, hurry, hurry!
Now some people say my half marathon victory came when my foot stepped over the finish line. But, I’m here to tell you, the real victory came when I successfully stepped into the next free stall in the bathroom.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tens and Twenties

Off to the race. Thousands and thousands of people.  An army of 10 km runners line up. Heather and I find our corral according to what we estimate our finishing time to be. Andrea is probably miles ahead of us and we’re not bothered. I look at Heather. I think she is going to be sick. I step away just in case. Then I look at the sea of people in front of us. If she does throw up, it would probably clear a path for us. I move closer.

Heather & Me BEFORE the 10 km race
Thousands of people waiting in their corrals

We start, crowds of people cheer, hang out of buildings, whistle, clap and scream. The energy is unlike anything I have experienced. I am in love and there is no turning back. It is that exact moment I turn off Elgin Street in this country’s capital city when I fall in love with running. With racing. With the collective energy.
Running along the canal, I notice a lot of people seem to be calling my name. At first, I think that I am imagining it, but I soon realize people are looking at me, “Go, Heather!” “Way to be, Heather!” “Looking good, Heather.” “You can do it Heather.”
How do they know me? I did make a television appearance back in 1995 for that cable show. I had no idea I was so popular. I guess my notoriety is broader than I thought. Then I hear, “Go, Ben.” “Good work, Corina.” I look beside me at whom I assume to be Ben and Corina. Well, no wonder they are calling to them, they have their names in large letters across their racing numbers…
Oh, wait. I look down at my racing number. H-E-A-T-H-E-R. I see.
We run up one side of the canal, cross over near Carleton University and back the other side, I feel like I am floating; all adrenaline and smiles.
After the race, we meet at our designated spot, tired, proud and filled with accomplishment. Well done. I had run a 10 km before when I was in my twenties. I had even placed, getting a trophy. I wonder exactly when that was? I hadn’t run any race since.
Andrea, Me & Heather AFTER the race

Sleep comes easy that night. Tom’s race is the next morning. I was looking forward to sleeping in a bit when Heather’s cell phone buzzes.  Six o’clock? I didn’t know there were 2 six o’clocks in the same day! It’s Andrea. The elite marathon runners are going by the hotel. Let’s go out a see them. Caught between the desire to sleep and the curiosity to witness human beings who can run 42.2 km, I hold a debate in my mind. Finally, curiosity wins and I go with Heather to watch the action.
It is simply amazing.  All types of people run by but several stand out:  a man pushing a boy in a wheel chair and another man running strong with one prosthetic leg.  For some cosmic reason, the site of this incredible runner sears into my brain. I wonder how many years he has been running. What’s his story?
Time to get Tom to his race.  We go to pack up the car and realize that when Heather and Tom, the American had made their alcoholic Costco run (see previous post), they hadn’t taken into account that we had yet to pack our stuff into the car.  All those years of playing Tetris really paid off for Heather because, somehow she squeezes everything and everybody into the vehicle.
Time to shuttle the American to his race.  All we need to do is cross a bridge to get from Gatineau to downtown Ottawa. How long could this possibly take? Five, ten minutes tops? Heather skilfully starts to navigate us on our way back towards a bridge.
Road block.
“We need to get by,” we explain urgently.
“Non, non, c’est impossible.”
“It’s impossible,” I translate for the American.
Roads are blocked because of the marathon. Which way should we go? We get a set of directions and try again.
Road block. The way to this bridge is now closed to automobiles. You need to try another one. Turn around.
Road block. Sorry, this bridge is closed. Try the previous one. Wasn’t that the one we just came from? Turn around again.
Road block. Turn around.
“Out! Just let me out, I’m getting motion sick.”
By now, Heather is frazzled from driving in circles in an unfamiliar town and Tom, the American is popping like a kernel of corn in hot oil. We are rats in a maze that had no exit, stuck in downtown Gatineau with no visible means of escape. Alcatraz has nothing on this town.
“I’ll walk.” He says.
“You can’t walk.” Heather protests.

"You're right. I don't have time. I'll run," the American replies
“How far to the start of race?” he asks a pleasant gate keeping volunteer who is guarding one of the myriad of road blocks.
“Ummm,” heavy French accent ensues, “may, ah, bee, 4 kilo-metres.”
“I’ll do it.”
By now, it’s about a half hour until his race starts. He’s runs off in the direction of the river yelling, “Meet me at the finish.”
Now what? We need to get to Ontario so we start to drive. Memory serves me correctly and we find a bridge down by a neighbouring town, Aylmer, that will take us over. So, off we go, making the 20 minute trek out looking for our break away.
Phew, on the bridge. What a sense of relief, like we are released hostages, going home for the first time in months, years maybe. Our troubles are over.
Until we try to find a parking spot. I think the closest spot is in Kanata. Heather manages to find a church parking lot. Do you think we’ll be towed? It’s Sunday. How will anybody know we’re not attending the service? The multiple cases of beer visible from the SUVs windows might be a first clue, I mention. At least parking here might lessen the likelihood of a break in. Maybe they hold AA meetings here and it all makes sense? We no longer have time to theorize and off we go. And go. And go some more. We’re probably parked at least 4 km from the finish line.
Despite his not so hectic training schedule and 4 km warm up to the starting line, Tom, the American,  finishes in fine form. All is well until we start walking towards the car. Well, the first 2 km are okay and then he asks, “Where did you park?”
Not too much farther, we assure.
Tom waving as he runs by in the Half Marathon

By the time he gets to the car, Tom has probably travelled close to 30 km by foot for his half marathon race.
“Might as well signed up for the full,” I smile.
He isn’t smiling back.
We’re all subdued on the drive back, Heather at the wheel and Tom restlessly trying to stretch his calves in the front seat.
Once home, I can’t help myself. I want to find my trophy. In the midst of basement boxes, old yearbooks, diplomas and piano recital certificates, I find it, “3rd Place Overall,” it says. “1990”. Twenty years ago, almost to the day.  There were probably only 20 runners in that race, unlike the thousands I raced with in Ottawa, but nonetheless it is still the same, the love of running, racing and the collective energy. 10 kilometres, 20 years.
© 2011 Written by Heather Down

Friday, February 4, 2011

The American Can’t Gat-in-eau Satisfaction

The Marathon du Medoc in Bordeaux, France boasts 22 wine stations, 1 oyster station and sometimes a cognac station; no porta-potties and very few water stations. The participants are encouraged to run in funny costumes. I am not sure why; maybe to mask their tipsy demeanour. I saw a photo once of runners dressed up as clowns, brides, and ballerinas all tripping down the French countryside. I’ve never been to this event, but it doesn’t take much imagination to think it would be like a Halloween party on steroids.

It is my understanding that alcohol dehydrates the body. Apparently France didn’t get the memo. And, it appears that neither did Tom, my neighbour’s boss.
The four of us (Heather, her bosses Tom and Andrea, and myself) head out to this great nation’s capital, for the Ottawa race weekend. We women had decided on the 10 km race and Tom, a landed immigrant originally from Jersey, signed up with gusto for the half marathon.
Heather and I are taking this race rather seriously. Being new to the world of running, we aren’t taking any chances. We train within an inch of lives, as if we are about to be deployed into a war zone or worse, an IKEA bed and bath sale. In contrast, Tom, the American, has run to work 3 times in the last 2 months, feeling this has put him in top athletic form.
Our hotel is in Gatineau, just a short drive over the River to downtown Ottawa. Andrea spends the afternoon visiting a friend, however Heather and the American have several hours to kill before the 10 km race begins. Tom pipes up, “I heard they sell beer at Costco in Quebec.”
Now, to someone who lives in Ontario, beer in Costco is as likely as semi automated weapons being sold at the Principal’s office of an elementary school. It just isn’t possible. All alcohol is sold through licensed provincial facilities. However, just like the Marathon du Medoc, the French are a bit more relaxed about such things.
I’m not actually into beer or alcohol in general, however, I like Costco, so I go along for the ride. Once inside, it looks just like our local Costco except for one noticeable difference. Instead of bottled water, sports drinks and specialty teas in the back corner, there are mountains of beer cases and pyramids of wine bottles.
The American had found his Mother Ship. Not only is beer for sale in Costco, it is considerably cheaper than at home. Tom can stock up for the next two years! Heather and Tom quickly trade in their grocery-store style push carts for the large, flat bed furniture movers. They morph into human big rigs, pulling flatbed trailers. No motor, just the sheer engine force of their own bodies.
They begin loading their carts as if building a cache for the longest prohibition ever. I see perspiration on the American’s brow, probably the longest pre-race workout he’d had this year. People are starting to stare. At first, I pretend not to notice the looks. But, then I take things into my own hands. I act apologetic and whisper, “They’re from Ontario and he’s American.” For some reason this works. Their curiosity seems to be satiated and they begin nodding knowingly as if being an American explains everything.
I am entertained as I watch Heather and Tom steer and push their clinking monster loads to the cashier.  They think they are almost home free when they find out that apparently there is some type of limit on how much you can buy at once and they are likely 20 times over it. The policy is in place to prevent people reselling…probably to people from Ontario and America. It looks grim and then I remember my success earlier. I smile and whisper under my breath, “They’re from Ontario and he’s American.”
“Ohhhh, la la. Oui, oui. Je vois. D’accord, d’accord.”
The cashier and her helper are now nodding and waving approval. They ring them through.
“What did they say?” the American asks me.
“That you must be here for the race weekend because you look very fit.”
He smiles.
Across the parking lot to Heather’s car, they load their distillery into the back of her SUV and I can’t help myself, “I hope you can take this over the Ontario border.” I say to the American.
“Really?” he looks concerned.
“It’s all the same country,” Heather quickly eases the look of panic on his face.
Once back to the hotel, Tom and Heather now remember that all our rooms are on fourth floor. I think they had subconsciously blocked that fact from their memory when they were in Costco. I note the looks of concern from the guests in the lobby when they see the trolleys piled high with alcohol, however, they don’t look as nearly as worried as the desk staff. One lady comes over and discreetly slips me a card with contact information for the nearest AA chapter. “Oh, don’t worry,” I say. “He’s American.”
 “Ahhh, I see.” She nods knowingly.
Once settled in amongst the wall of beer cases, we decide it is time to go for lunch. It will be the last meal before the women run the 10 km race in a few hours.
Where to eat lunch?
“I saw a micro-brewery down the road,” says the American…
*Please note: no names have been changed to protect the innocent. You’re on your own with this one, Tom! To be fair, I should mention, however, that an extensive amount of hyperbole and creative license and little bit of outright lying was used in the creation of this entry. For example, I can’t remember whether we were on the fourth or fourteenth floor of the hotel.  Okay, not everything happened exactly as written, but some parts are true.

©2011 Written by Heather Down and Illustrated by John Larter