Monday, March 28, 2011

'it Happens Around the Bay

On Christmas Day in 1894, Billy Carroll, the Hamilton Herald Newspaper and a cigar store owner, was the original sponsor of a 30 km run called Around the Bay. It is the oldest road race in North America; its inception 3 years before the Boston Marathon. Its early winner, Jack Caffery, went on to be the first Canadian to win the Boston Marathon. Hoping to make my mark in history, I too, sign up for the Around the Bay Race. And, it does not disappoint. In fact, it turns out to be a historical run for me too, but for a very different reason…
My friend, who is going to run with me, Betty Ann, drops out because of a hip injury. A team of highly skilled experts are trying to put her back together. Her right butt cheek is getting more attention than the upcoming nuptials of Prince William and Kate. Regretfully she trades in her running sessions for physio sessions. Consequently, I trade in my running buddy for a running bunny.
Unlike Bugs Bunny, a chocolate bunny or the Easter bunny, running bunnies are actually pace rabbits and in fact, they aren’t rabbits at all. They are people; kind volunteers who run the entire race wearing paper rabbit ears on their head and hold a sign with a designated time. These poor sods do all the hard work for you. They run the entire race at the pace required to finish at a particular time. And, Shannon, my impromptu running buddy, and I spot a very sporty 3:15 bunny. All I need to do is follow the ears and I will finish my race in 3 hours and 15 minutes. Perfect!
And, we’re off. All is going well. It’s a bright and sunny day, I’m feeling good and I manage to keep my favourite rabbit in my line of sight. Now, Hamilton is a steel town, so I’m sure it is not known for its air purity or sweet smells, but something doesn’t compute.  I look around for the farmer’s field that we must be passing. Nothing.  Just homes and road.  Another waft. No, I’m not imagining it. Then I spot it--or maybe it spots me, I’m not sure. Either way, it is horrifying!
When you run, there is a lot of jostling going on and toxins tend to ‘escape’. And, when it comes to wind, I can out perform some of the very best (ask my husband). Even our dog, Hank, will leave the room in disgust and he’s been caught with his head willingly in the cat’s litter box.
Running can produce hazardous emissions and leakage, but when the whole exhaust system falls out, Houston, we have a problem. And, I am running directly down wind of a problem who is also keeping pace with the 3:15 bunny.
Now this is not an uncommon situation. I’ve had some near misses myself (see previous post The Real Victory) and at first I am full of pity. That poor lady I think to myself. It is obvious, though, that she is completely aware of her misfortune as there is a Kleenex clinging to the offending portion of her running tights. So, I discreetly move to the left of the pack to avoid her tail wind (no pun intended).
Things are going relatively well for the next few minutes until I am again hit with the slap of pungency. I look up and see that she has migrated to my side of the pack. Even the tissue can’t take it anymore as it is now missing and the offensive stain is increasing in size, taking on a life form of its own. I dodge to the right.
Uggg! There it is again. Breathe through your mouth, breathe through your mouth I tell myself. I am finding my empathy waning. Compared to her, a dirty baby diaper smells like Chanel No 5.
I am getting just a little bit resentful. She’s laughing and chatting with runners around her as though nothing is at all unusual. I could understand if she was in the front, running for prize money or qualifying for Boston. This is obviously not the case, because she is going my pace, exactly my pace, only a few feet in front of me! I think I would have been happier if she publicly defecated in the ditch, at least then the malodour would be stationary and I could go past it, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it grew legs and chased me all the way to the finish line.
The other option is to pass her. However I don’t have the gas. At least not as much as she does…
So, for almost 20 km I become a lane changing, swerving freak, trying to avoid the nauseous smell that is taunting my stomach to empty its contents.
I put myself in her shoes (or pants) and I couldn’t do it. I am constantly asking Shannon if I have any remnants of gel stuck in my teeth which doesn’t even register on the embarrassment meter compared to this. If this happened to me I would be wrapped up in a fetal position in a porta potty somewhere crying like a baby or dragging my hind end on the grass like a dog with tape worms. I would have to leave the race, hide in the bushes, then walk back to the start line (at least I would be facing the runners) and wash my pants out in a Tim Horton’s toilet if need be.
In another Hamilton--Hamilton, Bermuda, there is a beautiful subterranean cavern called the Crystal Cave. I was fortunate enough to visit once and was awed by the spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, icicle-shaped rock formations hanging from the walls.
Back in Hamilton, Ontario, some stalactites and stalagmites of a totally different nature are forming in one cavern that I would not buy a ticket to see. Enough is enough. It is just too much to endure. I fall back and watch the 3:15 bunny ears hop away from me. Suddenly the air quality improves and I’m feeling at peace. I pass a grave yard. RIP, I think 'Run in Peace'.
The race ends in Copps Coliseum. And, although my chip time is 3:18, I am happy to sprint the last few meters. And, let me tell you, success never smelled so sweet!

I have never run this far before in my life, so the next day I proudly wear my shirt. I go to the grocery store and when I turn around to put my groceries in the cart, the lady behind me smiles and says, “Well, you certainly look good for your age.”

“Thank you.” How does she know my age anyway? I must be emitting a healthy glow from yesterday’s run.
Off to the Mazda dealer to get my car serviced. After paying for the oil change, I turn and the man behind me looks at me quizzically. “Really?” he asks. I guess he is impressed that I ran 30 km!
Into the bank. Leaving the teller, a teenager stares at me and mutters, “It’s possible.”

I am confused by all the attention I am getting. I go home and look in the mirror, the race crest on the front of my shirt. I take off the shirt to place it in the laundry basket when my eye catches the back. It simply reads, “Older than Boston.”
I need to have a word with the designer.

* A special thank you goes out to Shannon who came up with the stalactite and stalagmite metaphor!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

All the King's Horses

I put my parents through a fair amount of grief in my youth. For example, in high school I backed into their car (while driving their other car) and changed majors in University more often than a teenage girl changes outfits before a first date.  Trying unsuccessfully to mask his frustration, I vividly remember a conversation with my Dad when he finally laid down the law, “You’re not Moses. You can’t spend 40 years wandering around in the wilderness of university.” He was paying the bill so I declared a major and stuck with it.
However, my parents have given me many gifts; my too large nose is from my Dad (thanks), my horrible eyesight is from my Mother (eternally grateful), and my propensity towards taking in every stray animal, beast and person is from the pair of them. But, the greatest gift they have given me, in my opinion, is their example of healthy, balanced living and a positive attitude towards aging. After all, health is the platform we stand on in order to achieve the energy and attitude required to do the things we love.
I spoke to my Dad yesterday. He and my mother are in their 80s. He’d just returned from his 3 km walk. He shovels snow, chops and stacks tons of wood, and mows acres of grass. He and my mother maintain three large properties, two in Ontario and one in Newfoundland. Whenever I feel like whining about my age I am reminded of what my Dad always says, “Getting older sure beats the alternative.”
After my first half marathon I joined a running group that rhymes with “Stunning Groom”. I was really, really nervous. After all, I am a middle aged 44 year old and sometimes I feel like I’m old. Would I be able to compete with the young ‘uns in this group?
Upon arrival, I was stunned by the gender diversity of the group: there were women, women and more women (and 3 men) not to mention the varied age groups: old, older, and oldest. To be fair this is a bit of exaggeration, there was at least one person under 30. But, most of all, I was shocked to see The Lady in Line (see previous post).
That really threw me for a loop. I didn’t know what to do. Should I make eye contact? Should I be friendly? Should I pretend not to notice her? No need. She looked at me, smiled and said, “Hello.” That was the night she transformed from The Lady in Line to Carole.
Over long runs, agonizing hills and crazy speed work, a few us formed a sort of cult colony; we took on rolls more defined than the polygamous Sister Wives on TLC. We had the perkier than percocet, get ‘er done motivator, Betty Ann, the organizer, Karen, the speed demon, Donna who, despite pronating like a penguin, could outrun the lot of us when she decided to turn it on, Ron, the token minority man, and myself, the crazy chronicler. And we all paid homage to our illustrious clinic leader and her husband, Sandra & Terry.
After an evening run we are back listing our litany of appointments for the next week. Being older, several of us require a team of highly skilled professionals larger than a Nascar pit crew to keep us in ‘running’ order. We are all boasting about who we have on board to put us back together. Humpty Dumpty didn’t have anything on us! Collectively we share our stories about our sore hips, dodgy knees, painful backs, tight hamstrings, and tense IT bands.
Since I have started running, I’ve become very fond of the services of a chiropractor. Upon visiting my chiropractor I found out that my right hip is resting an inch higher than my left. Funny, I walked into that visit a perfectly happy, well adjusted person, but walked out knowing that I am actually a gimpy, lopsided freak of nature. But, the chiropractor isn’t all bad news. I remember lying face down on the bench talking about my gait. He responded with, “It’s hard to change a gait. After all, you’ve been walking this way for 30…”
“40”, I corrected.
It felt almost as good when I mentioned that I’ve gained some weight since hitting 40 and he said, “No worries, you’re still tiny.”
(It should be noted that these things were said before I told him I was self-employed and did not have any health benefits to cover chiropractic visits.)

“I’m having a physio appointment this week,” says one.
“Massage and acupuncture,” says another.
My turn, my turn! “I have a chiropractic appointment scheduled for Wednesday and I’ve booked a massage for Thursday.”
“Hummmp.” I hear a grunt behind us.
I turn in the direction of the snort. An older gentleman is stretching nearby, overhearing our conversation. I can’t tell if he’s 60 or 80 years old, but he is definitely more senior than me and my posse.
“While you’re at it, why don’t you make an appointment with your paediatrician,” he growls and storms off.

Oh. Time for pause and I think to myself, "Suck it up Buttercup, age is relative!"

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Do you know someone older than yourself who you are particularly proud of for the way they choose to live healthily? Please leave a comment. I'm proud of my parents.