Saturday, March 30, 2013

Choo Choo...(train to race, race to train)

I know she must be a special client when Logan, the chiropractor’s nine-year-old daughter brings over a magazine and two packets of candies.

“These are for you,” she politely says.

“What’s that dear?” the patient answers.

“It’s your favourite magazine and the ginger candies you like,” Logan persists.

I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet and the candies looked good. I wonder what I need to do to get on this preferential client list. I didn’t know chiropractic offices offered Club Class. It is obvious I am flying Economy.

It doesn’t surprise me, exactly, as Mildred (I would later learn her name), demands attention the second she enters the waiting room. I am not sure if it is her flashy, high tech New Balance running shoes or her fluorescent pink faux fur fuzzy hat so much as the confidence that sloughs off into the air with each step she takes. The incongruence between her high fashion ware and her white hair whispers to me that she is probably in her seventies. 

It isn’t long until she, Mildred, starts chatting up the man next to her. 

“These are ginger candies. I like ginger. I’ve used it for years.”

The man smiles politely and nodded.

“The doctor askeed me why I’m in such good shape.” She didn’t wait for the gentleman to jump into the conversation, “I told him I am fortunate.”

Ah, what a lovely thing to say, I think. It was the next part of the conversation that floors me.

“I’m ninety-four.”

After I picked my jaw off the floor I sneak another peak. Her skin could give Cindy Crawford a run for her money. Maybe Aveeno made a mistake in picking their next poster child! Move over Jennifer Anniston, here comes Mildred!

“I fold the napkins for dinner at the home.” She continues. “I get lots of compliments on them.”

The man beside her doesn’t know how to carry the conversation on.

“Well, you look fantastic,” I jump in. 

“Yes. I am fortunate. I believe life is what you make it. You know? Life is what you make it.”

With that exclamation, Mildred sprints into the next available exam room.

I learn from her kind nephew that Mildred Jardine has been coming for acupuncture/chiropractic care for years. She and her husband lived about four doors down from the office. After her husband passed a few years back her younger sister moved in and the two got along splendidly until her sister was tragically hit and killed by a bus about 5 years ago. Mildred then had to move out of town to a care home. Her nephew has been taking her into the chiropractor once a month ever since.

“She used to go more often, but this is all I can handle with work and everything.” He confesses. The journey each way is at least a 45 minute drive.

I only spent a few minutes with Mildred but I know I like her. I find out she lived a healthy, active life, ate well and did things like juicing and paid attention to herbs such as ginger.  She made me smile and feel good and that was exactly what I needed on the day I headed down to Hamilton to prepare for the Around the Bay race.

At the best of times this is a precarious race. History has repeatedly and consistently taught me that I run marathons at a faster pace even though marathons are 12.2 km longer than this 30 km jaunt. Maybe it is the distance that messes with my head or the crazy hills--some barely passible by mountain goats--that come in the final third of this gruelling test of mind and body.

I want to complete this race in less than 3 hours. Sounds easy enough, but this race beats me every year in one way or another. However, this time, I have a plan. I will start out slowly, conserve my energy but stay at a pace slightly faster than required. Then I can slow down for the final 10 km and still make my goal.

We’re all a little worried. And, by ‘little’, I mean ‘enormously, lose control of all bodily functions’ nervous. I had been sick, hadn’t put the required training in this horrible winter. Karen just came back from a vacation in Mexico, literally getting off the plane the night before travelling to Hamilton for the race. She had taken carb loading and taper week to a whole new level. She was convinced she would be sweating mojitos. And, Lyndsay had the worst condition of all. She had been throwing up the day before, thinking it was possible food poisoning from bad cold slaw from a restaurant. (I need to talk to her about eating anything remotely related to cabbage the week before a race).

My weakness--well, one of many weaknesses--is I have a tendency to bolt out of the gate too quickly. This especially becomes a problem when I attempt to stay with Karen. So, I make a solemn pledge to myself to stick to the plan. In the first few meters into the run, Karen looks back at me and says, in realization, “You’re not even going to try to run with me at the beginning?”

I shake my head shamefully as I hang back. I feel like I just murdered a puppy or turned my best friend into the police for rolling through a stop sign. How could I not even try?

No, stick to the plan. Stick to the plan. Stick to the plan. Lyndsay  kindly keeps me company.  The weather is amazing and I decide to take in the views and sunshine. I am so proud of myself for making a plan and sticking to it. What is it they say?:  If you fail to plan you plan to fail.

The idiot that said that didn’t bother to check the schedule for the Canadian National Railway. 

At approximately 9 km I blink. 

“Is this for real?” I hear myself say aloud.

Before me is a sea of probably a thousand runners all stopped as a very long train rattles across the road.

What I experience next is magical and the most memorable part of the whole race. Expecting anarchy; an angry mob throwing the vehicle off its tracks, I am amazed at what I see. 

I witness people smiling, laughing, dozens scattering into ditches and nearby brush to ‘take care of business’, groups clumping together, taking pictures of their smiling faces with the train in the background, friends chatting, strangers laughing, people hugging, drinking, eating, calling loved ones on their cell phones!

A few flat cars go by, making it look like the last of the train has gone by to those of us near the back of the pack, only to see more full-sized cars show up. The collective laughs at our folly!

It could have been a moment of disappointment, anger or resentment. Instead, the group chose to use these five minutes (Karen timed it) as a gift, a thing of beauty, a moment to do something important. I smile. Mildred was right, “Life is what you make it.”

I still try to achieve my goal of 3 hours, but I can’t quite make up the time before I am knocked back by the hilly terrain. Instead, I give every kid with an outstretched hand a high five. I notice the wonderful cheering squad of Keith, Jane and Linda at km 18 and the amazing sign Linda made for us, complete with sparkly letters and a map. I take the time to look across the bay, notice the beautiful homes, and the rolling--and not so rolling--hills. 

I run into Copps Coliseum four minutes after that 3 hour mark has passed. Eager not to have a repeat performance of last year (an unfortunate incident in the back seat of Karen's mom's car. Fortunately we had a bag handy) I pop two gravol pills and find my wonderful people.  Karen, Lyndsay and I laugh about the train, the day, the race.

I didn’t realize it at the time because I was so transfixed on my 3 hour goal, but all three of us actually had a personal best finishing time for this race despite the train (and lack of train-ing). We are so fortunate!

Life is what we make it and an unexpected, beautiful by-product of this happens to be we are fortunate. 

Thanks, Mildred. I guess after ninety four years you certainly know what you are talking about.

What a great day! A special shout out to Lyndsay for running with me, Karen for the endless rides, support and guidance, Jane, Keith (and Mitsee) for the wonderful hospitality…I think I left my pillow at your house, and to Linda for your enthusiasm and high quality signage!

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