Joy (The Run Diary #9)

This is part of a diary I’m keeping on this blog about long-distance running, which I’m calling The Run Diary. All pieces can be read here. 

From an especially humid summer run. This was only 5k.

Joy is the only sustaining force in life. If you cannot find it in something you undertake, you are bound to fail.

I was coming down Avenue Road from St. Clair Avenue, about fifteen kilometres into the twenty planned for my Saturday group run. Though it was the downhill portion of the run, it was supposed to be the most gruelling and difficult, the final stretch of a long run after you’ve already climbed your hills, hit your peak for speed, and logged more miles than anyone should care to on a Saturday morning.

At this point, you’re just trying to get to the end, praying that your legs will hold up, that you’re not about to suffer the consequences of failing to hydrate or fuel properly. If it’s a group run, you’re praying that you won’t experience the dreaded bonk and have all those who were trailing you fly past while you fall to the back of the pack and waddle your way to the finish. When it comes to the long run, these last few kilometres are usually the least pleasant.

It was our custom to run at 9 am on Saturdays, but this week we moved our start time to an hour earlier. Doing so afforded crisp breezes throughout the route which ran across Lakeshore, up the Don Trail, and through Riverdale Park and its unforgiving Rocky-esque stairs that I climbed onto Sumach Street. From there it was through Wellesley Park and onto Rosedale Valley Road, which also presented a gradual climb onto Yonge Street. Then it was up the not so gradual climb on Yonge to St. Clair, the latter of which we crossed to Avenue Road, where we started this story, to come south.

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Defiance (Road to the Toronto Waterfront HalfMarathon)

1. Pleading Insanity

On October 20th, I will run my first half  marathon, namely the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. For the past year or so, everyone who would listen has been forced to endure my incessant and overly exuberant talk about running and my goal of completing a full marathon. Finally, by registering to run this race, I suppose my actions match the level of my talk, and I will soon face the first real test of whether or not I can run a full marathon.

The typical reaction to this decision has been an interesting mix of encouragement coupled with an allegation that I might be insane. Friends and family jokingly make mention of the fact that they tire from simply walking up the stairs or tell me how many cigarettes they’ve had by the time I’ve completed my morning training. It seems to be the typical way of providing encouragement, but also reminding you of just how unusual and absurd a task you’re undertaking as far as they’re concerned.

Running is a boon to both physical and mental health, that no one can deny. The fact is, however, that excellent health does not require that anyone run a full marathon or even a half marathon at any time. In fact, attempting to cover either of these distances without proper training, preparation, diet, and ensuring that you’re not at risk for incurring long-term damage, can result in more harm that good. In our busy modern lives, something requiring such dedication seems a bit much.

There was a time, which I have written about previously, when running was natural to our species and covering long distances was a necessity for survival. Scientists and anthropologists contend that our bodies evolved for running and perhaps this is why running just feels so damn good. This time, however, is gone. It’s no longer a necessity. Excellent health and conditioning is possible and achievable by so many other challenging but significantly less draining and excruciating means. The time investment and level of commitment required for a marathon is a full-time job in itself.

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An Atheist Reads the Bible – Part 1 (Becoming a Miracle Worker)

Last year, I decided that I was going to read the Bible. The whole thing. I don’t know why. Just as I’ve decided that I am going to run a full marathon and teach myself a whole new language, over the last year or so I seem to have shunned the idea of small goals that were challenging but achievable.

Reading an excerpt from the Bible each day should have been the easiest of these goals, yet I’ve made far more progress toward my goal of running a full marathon despite starting 2012 in the worst shape of my life and learning a new language despite trying to do so several times before and failing miserably.

I own a copy of the Bible, as does pretty much anyone. I’ve read many portions of it before and of course have heard the stories again and again. Yet somehow I couldn’t maintain the discipline to stick to my reading schedule and often lost interest for lengthy periods of time before giving up altogether.

In January of this year I tried again. I lasted about a week. I tried several different reading plans and none were working for me. Thankfully, a dear friend stepped in with a sensible and almost too obvious strategy. Read one psalm, or half it it’s long, and a chapter of one of the Gospels each day. This approach allows me to take on small portions at a time, provides continuity in reading, and sets no target dates for finishing, which I had been doing previously. This is my new starting point.

Currently, other than the Psalms, I am working my way through Mark. This, I hope, will be the first of many reflections that I offer readers.

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Born to Run (How Running Makes us Both Human and God-like)

1. Digging Deep

Strictly from appearance, the neighbourhood of Three Valleys isn’t necessarily aptly named. Three Hills would probably be more accurate, and short though steep hills at that. No traces of the wilderness of the Rockies are visible in this highly developed and more upper-middle class section of the York Mills/Don Mills part of Toronto, though an abundance of beautiful parkland is available and the streets are well lined with trees offering shade, a godsend on the runs I’ve been taking through this part of town as of late.

It’s on those runs, when judging Three Valleys not just by appearance, but by the experience of having to get up and down its hilly terrain that it might as well be called Three Mountains. My run begins by following nearby Brookbanks Drive, which is primarily flat before becoming gradually downhill over a long stretch and then coming to the three “valleys” that take you past the DVP onto Three Valleys road itself, the first of which begins with a long descent the likes of which often tempt amateur runners to pick up too much speed and exhaust themselves early.

If one follows Three Valleys Road to its end, and I do, you will come to a cul-de-sac after which your only option is to turn around and begin following Three Valleys Road in the direction in which you first came. No matter which route I decide to take back home, even if I take side streets to avoid the three hills on Brookbanks Drive that initially brought me down to Three Valleys, the way would still be uphill.

That long downhill stretch that I followed to get to Three Valleys is now entirely uphill on my way back, including that first long plunge that feels akin to a downward glide before facing the hill that awaits. Facing that plunge from the opposite direction, the ultimate clichés of athletics begin to assert their truth. Now comes the moment when one has to “dig deep” and give “110 percent” in the sprint to the top, which as mentioned is not particularly long, but long enough for the average non-professional runner and certainly steep enough that one rarely sees a cyclist riding up rather than walking their bike. Once I reach the top of this hill, I cut right off Brookbanks and begin moving downhill again before making a loop to move toward home, once again facing another steady uphill climb. The geography isn’t especially important. Just that there are a lot of hills.

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The Side Effects of Graduate School

For  this piece, I am very pleased to welcome guest author Ryan Rivera. Ryan is a writer and former anxiety sufferer who spends his time writing about anxiety causes and treatments at Calm Clinic. Ryan brings seven years of experience researching and writing about anxiety and related conditions.

Ryan has offered some insights concerning the conditions that graduate students face within an academic environment that can potentially result in anxiety or related issues of mental health. Ryan offers this as a follow up to my own piece entitled Grad School Anxiety. Matters of mental health among university students at all levels is an increasingly serious concern and it’s important to recognize the causes that trigger these issues if we are to confront them. 

I do not endorse everything written here and the opinions expressed here are those of Mr. Rivera. Nonetheless, I believe that any graduate student can relate to at least some of what is discussed below and I would encourage anyone who does to make an effort to learn more about depression and anxiety and also to utilize appropriate services available to them on campus. Ryan’s writings at Calm Clinic are a great place to start and offer a wealth of suggestions on how one can proactively counter anxiety and depression.

I’d like to thank Ryan once again for offering his experience and expertise and will now hand it over to him.

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One of the most fascinating manifestations of anxiety that I’ve come across of late is that of grad school anxiety. It’s been covered on this website before, albeit in a more reflective sense, but I’d like to address some of the issues that I’ve noticed as they relate to what graduate students experience during their five to ten extra years of college.

Causes of Anxiety

Though the author of this blog has previously discussed some causes of anxiety in graduate school, conditions that might trigger issues of mental health in such an environment are far more wide ranging. I believe that for many people that may be a side effect. The research world is grueling to be sure, and the field of academics is loaded with politics and regulations that make it impossible to be a true game changer, but I also believe that there are other issues at play, including possibly the following:

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