Sunday, August 28, 2011

Born to Run?

You know you are in small town Ontario when the most popular radio station is called “The Moose.” You know you are really in small town Ontario when the only radio station is called “The Moose”.

Welcome to Bancroft, population 3,500 and the nearest town to my parents’ cottage and incidentally where my family and myself…and the two dogs…and the cat are headed for a one week reprieve from probably the most stressful 4 months of my life. Professionally speaking there were deadlines and targets that make the words ‘do or die’ less of a metaphor and more of a literal bricks and mortar type of reality. In an eat-what-you-kill world, self-employment can have some serious drawbacks.

But alas, it all worked out in the end and now it was time for vacation. Normally I leave Echo, the less-than-friendly, they have to put me in a bag to vaccinate me, somewhat temperamental feline at home and have someone look in on her in our absence. But, usually our absences don’t span a week.

“She’ll be lonely,” I pleaded. So in the cat carrier she went.

We set out, dog one sitting up in the back seat, watching the world fly by, dog  two hugging the floor in between the front and back seat, hanging on for dear life and Echo, meowing with gusto once per second with the uncanny precision of a Swiss watch.  This is tolerable for a ten minute, possibly even a ten minute and 32 second journey, but two and a half hours seemed longer than Pierre Trudeau’s primeministerial run.

Then, came the waft of a very unusual and gravely unpleasant smell.

“What is that?” I queried. My family, with the olfactory acuity of a baseball bat concluded it was lingering dog flatulence. And, lingering it was. “Are you sure? I can still smell it.” They sniffed around again, including the cat crate and came to the same diagnosis.

I can’t remember exactly when it happened, but somewhere between hour one and hour two Echo stopped meowing. No sooner had we noticed and said, “Phew, she’s finally shut up,” when the most guttural, non-descript, non-cat like sound came plaintively from her crate. If I didn’t know better, I would have put money on the fact that an alien was ripping itself from her stomach. And then the poor, car-sickened creature threw up. Upon cleaning out her crate I realized the lingering dog flatulence was actually cat do-do.

Now, one could naturally get upset about this but I felt an uncanny affinity and appreciation of how poor Echo felt.  The weekend prior Karen, Lyndsay and myself ran a 30 km race in Toronto called “A Mid Summer’s Night Race” with proceeds to benefit the Toronto Sick Kids Hospital. In theory, it sounded like a great idea and there were some high points in this evening race—most of them (actually all of them) before we started running. The port a potties were plentiful and clean, well, as clean as port a potties can be. They had running water to wash your hands, the race kit pick up was well organized, the people were polite and friendly, and the shirts were really cool.

However, it was humid and hot. And, if you ever need to dump a body in the east end of Toronto along the shores of Lake Ontario, I now know a hundred places to do it and we ran by each and every one of them…when we weren’t running by a sewage treatment plant.  One park is called “Tom Thompson”. I think that alone should be an omen. After all, poor Tommy-boy drown and they are still not sure if it was murder or an accident; quite fitting for the terrain and spookiness of the locale!

On reflection of the run, Karen put it the most politely when she said it was ‘less than inspiring’. Lyndsay was a little more graphic when she said, “I was scared to go off the trail to use the washroom in case I found a body.” And then punctuated her feelings toward the race by adding, “And then I thought I was going to be raped and murdered going through the second park.” Maybe having a 20 something North Bay native run through isolated parts of Toronto’s ‘parks’ (and I use the word ‘parks’ loosely) after dark in a sketchily marked course might not be a wise idea…

We took our time stretching and recovering and Karen, the machine that she is, was driving us home. On the way back, I didn’t feel like Echo the cat, I was Echo the cat, trying desperately not to moan and meow the whole way home.

“Are you okay?”

“Not really…”

My very kind friends pulled off on Burnamthorpe Road and I want to publicly apologize to the owners of the Zehrs and to Karen who happened to still be in the washroom when I arrived. I won’t bore you with the details that prevailed but let’s just say it wasn’t my finest hour. Right after that race, I felt deflated, even though time-wise it was a personal best, shaving almost 11 minutes off my 30 km time. At that brief moment in time I didn’t like running. Running until you puke is not fun. I had lost site of the joy.

Meanwhile, back at the cottage, we are relaxing in picture perfect weather, enjoying the sun, water and oodles of free time. I am eating all things made from refined sugar and drinking caffeinated tea like there is no tomorrow. This is heaven!

If you are ever in Bancroft, I strongly recommend a visit to Ashlie’s Bookstore. You can’t miss it. It’s on the main road. And, since there is only one main road in Bancroft you will find this great treasure!

I need something to read. As tempting as that copy of Dr. Zhivago sitting on the shelf in the cottage is, I have a taste for something else. “Do you have ‘Born to Run’?” I ask someone who I assume to be Ashie. He’s probably a Bill or  Orville or something but he looks like the owner.

Within seconds it is in my hand. And, it changed my life. If you are a runner, know a runner, have seen someone run or know how to spell the word ‘run’, read this book. It's just a really good story...even if you hate running. I can’t pinpoint why, but this story is absolutely amazing. There are no tips on how to run but I feel like running differently, there are no lists of foods to eat but I want to watch what I eat, there are no recommendations for shoes to wear but I have a renewed interest in exploring options and there is no testimonial section with flowering messages on why someone should run, but I feel the joy in a stride, in the floating, in the absolute high that comes when you run for no other reason than you love it.

I can’t wait the entire week to run again. I have to run now. My family won't let me run in the woods by myself. Some crazy nonsense about elk, bears and other wild animals so they take me into town.  Some go to the local real estate office to check out what’s going on in the area and meets Joe, Fred or Bill who is on duty at the office in his most professional real estate agent garb of his cleanest baseball cap, t-shirt with the words “I Live to Hunt” across the front of it and jeans that are only 12 years old.

Meanwhile, I am to run circles around the town. The town is on a hill so getting a good cardio workout won’t be a problem. However, getting any distance will be. I think the total circumference of the town is a whole 1.5 km.

I start running and an unusual thing happens, I get lots of stares. I realize that in all the visits to the cottage through the years I’ve never once seen a single person running. I have trouble dodging people holding their DQ soft cones as they stare at my fluorescent nike orange shirt bop by. The more I run, the more of a spectacle I feel,  I am almost turned into road kill by a large truck turning into the hardware store, a little kid almost trips me. People stare out the windows of their cars. It’s official, in this town, I am a freak.

Now, if I was a hunter, fisher, lazing cottager, swimmer, hockey player, snow mobiler, or boater I would be more acceptable. But it was obvious running wasn’t part of this town’s plan. In fact, I was told later that when Joe, Fred or Bill real estate agent found out I was going for a run he said, “Really? She runs?” Silence. Another pregnant pause, “She better be careful. She might get run over. No one really runs here.”

I survive the ordeal and stretch out, relax and find a lovely park bench in front of the town’s post office. I am just started to soak up the sun and feel good again when a two people approach me. Judging by their demeanor I surmise that they are mentally challenged. They are a bit podgy and both are now right in front of me staring me down. I figure that if we got into a fight they could take me, hands down. I am starting to feel just a wee bit uncomfortable and decide to break the ice.

“Do you want to sit here?”

“Yes,” was the emphatic response and they both sat down almost pushing me off the end of the bench. I am now seat-less and weary, ousted by a couple of regulars.

But, I feel good. I enjoyed my run and despite the near misses, it was fun. That is what running is supposed to be about—having fun.

After reading Born to Run I have a new hero to add to my ever-growing list of people to admire. His name is Scott Jurek, an ultra runner originally from Minnesota. Ultra runners are not like normal runners, they will run 100 miles, through trail, because they like it.

Here’s the thing with Scott, he’s--vegan. The perfect granola poster boy ever has won the Western States 100 miles race 7 times in a row…on grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables. He eats only homemade bread and doesn’t eat anything processed. And,  rumour has it he’s a nice guy, environmentally conscious and not really much of a publicity magnet. He runs, get this--because he loves it.

Maybe that’s the trick to not running until you puke.  Just sit back and enjoy the ride. Eat well, care about others and your environment and be respectful about what you put in your body. Balance.  Born to love, born to care and now, born to run.

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