Monuments (The Run Diary #13)

The view from Riverdale Park, where I often end my long runs.

The view from Riverdale Park, where I often end my long runs.

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.

When you’ve immersed yourself in running long enough and have had to map enough weekly long runs, you will find that you have developed a proclivity for certain streets and routes. Such tendencies are underpinned by reasons or feelings that are entirely opposite.

You may decide from week to week that your run ought to include at least some stretch of the Don Trail because you crave an open pathway that for the most part drowns out the noise of the city through which it runs. You may find yourself making your way to the Martin Goodman Trail because even in the cruelest grip of winter, the waters are blessed company. You may choose to run along Queen Street in either direction because a new cafe is perpetually opening and you’ve heard that the pastries are just divine so you’ll need to end your run there.

On the other hand, you’ll accept the fact that your run might need a hill so you’ll make Pottery Road or Colborne Lodge or Mount Pleasant part of your route. Each becomes an accepted enemy that you begrudgingly set out to conquer time and time again, driven by a need to make a more powerful statement against long stretches of trail or concrete that you’ve determined have conscious intentions to take your soul.

This is not such a bad thing. It’s good to run along routes on which you feel comfortable and where your focus can be on the fundamentals of running rather than figuring out when your next left is approaching or having to recalibrate after taking a wrong turn. All runners have a stock “out and back” that they will take on days when they couldn’t be bothered to map out a route ahead of time. There are routes that they know will give them 20 kilometers and they can add on to the end should it be necessary. It eliminates some of the grunt work.

Landmarks provide predictability along these preferred routes. Buildings, slight changes in geography, bridges, and street names all give indicators of where you are and what might be coming. When you go south on the Don Trail and cross Pottery Road, you know that you are just about a kilometer away from the graffiti laden tunnel after which there is a slight hill, one just steep enough for you to feel it. It won’t take you by surprise. Along your more familiar routes, you’ll know every single coffee shop and water fountain where you can refill and the knowledge provides comfort as humidity smothers you.

When you run a route enough, a form of landmark that is not seen but felt will establish itself at various points throughout, a very powerful emotional response to a place. As far as running goes, they are reminders. Monuments might be the better term.

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Ownership (The Run Diary #11)

 

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.

Freezing in the lead-up to the start of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Image via Tribe Fitness.

“So, why, mortal men, do you pursue happiness outside yourselves, when it lies within? Error and ignorance derange you…as long as you are in command of yourself, you will possess what you would never wish to lose, and what Fortune can never withdraw from you.” -Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy

The marathon doesn’t truly get interesting until around the 35K mark. If you trained sensibly, there was never any question in your mind that you would make it to this point. Strength, form, pacing, and fuelling, all the external physical factors that make a runner, have carried you.

Suddenly you have only a short distance remaining, one that is almost laughable in its smallness to you who have made 30 kilometres a mere formality. Nonetheless, as if almost on cue, the entire dynamics of the race have changed. Looking around, you see that more and more runners have stopped to walk. You see that their form has become a bit more hunched and you know that yours has as well. The distance markers that were plotted throughout the course to mark the passing of each kilometre seem to take longer to appear.

Physically, you have reached your capacity. You trudge along constantly repeating the mantra, “Almost there. Just finish.” You might take a glance over your shoulder or to the other side of the course to see runners still completing the “out” of an “out and back” portion of the course. You, or at least I, wonder if I were in their position, with so much time already elapsed, with the the majority of runners having already crossed the finish line, and yet with so much distance and time to go, whether or not I would have the strength to continue.

The intangibles now propel you. In the course of your training, you’ve built character as well as fitness. You’ve become quite adept at suffering and have accepted discomfort as a constant companion. More importantly, you’ve learned not to quit in the face of these malevolent forces. You have grit. You have desires that are stronger than anything that may deter you.

If you shed tears along the way, if you look somewhat foolish, if failure feels imminent at points, that’s fine. Such is the price you pay for your ambition. We often find ourselves dangerously addicted to comfort because we are so fearful of these things. It is why perhaps we refrain from setting goals that are out of the ordinary because such aspirations mean a commitment to constant setbacks and failures. Indeed, you will shed what feels like a million tears and look foolish a million times before you experience one triumph.

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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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Philanthropy (The Run Diary #8)

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. The group I run with is called Tribe Fitness and they are absolutely incredible. Check out their Facebook page and find them on Twitter @Tribe_Fitness.

Come run with Tribe.

Come run with Tribe!

On the day I ran the Goodlife Half-Marathon in Toronto, I was walking back to a friend and fellow runner’s car to head home for the day. By this point, we had already met with some other runners and friends to celebrate crossing the finish line with brunch. We walked along Lakeshore where the full marathon was still in progress, well into its later stages. Runners came east for finishing times past the four hour mark to now empty sidewalks that were once filled with spectators who saw the winners cross the finish line two hours previously.

This is the most inspiring part of any marathon. Certainly, it’s nice to see elite runners sustaining superhuman speeds and perfect form hitting the finish with what looks like no effort at all. There’s a little something extra, however, in witnessing the quiet little triumph of those who had the courage to stay on their feet for longer than any normal person would care to early on a Sunday morning.

For one thing, among this group, there’s diversity. Elite runners all look essentially the same, at least in terms of body type. Their stories are often similar as well. They have sponsors and follow a strict training routine that lends itself to high performance running. A few nations now dominate the sport.

Those who fight their way to the finish are a wonderful rainbow of body types, age groups, and abilities. Most had a training plan, but they also had families and careers that got in the way of that training plan, so their journey to the finish line became its own unique path riddled with detours. Among this group, grandparents are running alongside college students. Parents jog along while pushing strollers. Disabled runners share the road with those who at first glance don’t look much like athletes. They’re here, though, so they are.

In my time becoming immersed in Toronto’s running community, having the opportunity to share stories with those who are not at any major race to win, but to face down a monumental challenge and say “I did it,” I’ve learned that every maniac running around the block possesses a brand of determination that goes far beyond meeting a physical challenge. It’s not just that they ran 26.2 or 13.1 miles and did so by pounding the pavement day in and day out. It’s that before they hit the pavement, a significant amount of these late finishers hit rock bottom.

Stand at the finish line of any major marathon past the four hour mark and what you’re seeing is a parade of recovering addicts and alcoholics, victims of severe injuries,  runners who were once at risk of death before they hit thirty, survivors of childhood abuse, and representatives from every point along the bipolar spectrum.

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Reinvention (The Run Diary #7)

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. The group I run with is called Tribe Fitness and they are absolutely incredible. Check out their Facebook page.

My Toronto Goodlife Half-Marathon medal.

 

“Once this light changes, you’re going to go as hard as you can over the bridge until you hit the next light.”

“Okay,” I answered.

We were coming south on Spadina Avenue approaching Fort York, which was in and around the end of our route. We had started with a large group right where we were to end, but the two of us were now ahead by a considerable margin.

It’s not that we were consciously trying to finish our planned five kilometres faster than the rest of the group. Running groups all have a tendency to break into clusters, each maintaining a pace that’s comfortable for those in it.

I was running with a member of the group known to be notoriously fast. Even on this particular evening, when he was clearly pulling back, his pace was still frantic, knocking off a kilometre in well under five minutes at peak.

Where many runners welcome stoplights as an opportunity for a quick breather and drink of water, they are for him an inconvenience. When we were as far as fifty yards back from a crosswalk that began to count down to signal “STOP” to pedestrians, he’d say, “There’s ten seconds left on that light. We can make it!”

The light changed and we were off, as hard as we could go. With each second, he moved ahead of me, but I kept my sprint up and refused to stop until we hit the next light. I’d catch him there and we’d finish our run together.

Throughout the whole run, drenched in rain and generally exhausted from trying to keep up, I was determined that I wouldn’t fall behind. I wasn’t going to reward myself with a casual run. I was going to push with everything I had and prove that I was capable of keeping up.

We hit the next light and finished the final stretch of our run together.

 

***

Four days later, I stood at the start line for the Toronto Goodlife Half-Marathon. I was tired again. Work was demanding that week. I had come down with something of a cough and was hacking away even at the start line. I had previously pledged that I would complete the distance in under two hours. Given the circumstances, I began walking back on that goal to others in the days leading up to the race, though all I was really doing was trying to reconcile myself to the idea that I might not hit my target.

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Affirmation (The Run Diary #5)

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. The group I run with is called Tribe Fitness and they are absolutely incredible. Check out their Facebook page.

From the Tribe Fitness Facebook page.

It's a paradox of long distance running that while it shows you that your body is capable of much more than you initially thought, you'll also find your limits. Common amongst almost all runners that I've met is a fierce resentment of these limitations and immediate urge to transcend them. They need to run the same hill again tomorrow. They need to immediately register for their next 10K and shatter their personal best.

I can't say that all runners are “type-A” personalities who are ambitious to a fault, but they certainly tend to be self-critical.

Immediately after every run, I briefly lapse into this type of thinking. It's not entirely a bad thing. Looking ahead and setting goals is vital. Outlining a plan for achieving those goals can be tedious, but it's necessary. If overdone, however, it can also suck the energy and enjoyment out of anything. It's a habit of mine that I've often employed professionally, personally, and academically; immediately jumping ahead of the moment to determine what I did wrong and what I'll do better next time.

It's ridiculous to exert so much pressure upon yourself when you're an amateur runner. You as an amateur, after all, have much to celebrate. You made the effort to make fitness a priority in the midst of your day to day schedule. You endured injuries and setbacks on your way to milestone after milestone. You also endured chaffing, and that's a heroic struggle.

***

Five of us gathered at Canoe Landing Park on a Saturday morning. It was the weekend before the Around the Bay 30K Road Race in Hamilton, so we were well into our tapering period, the time to ease off intense training before competition. Our planned route was simple. Fourty-five minutes westbound on the Martin Goodman Trail on Lake Shore Boulevard before turning around and following the trail back.

It was windy as hell, so we began our run going west on King Street. Snow no longer covered the sidewalks, though we did slow down in spots due to ice. King Street is relatively flat and proved a welcome respite from our previous Saturday runs, which were dominated by hills.

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What’s Really Truly Absurd About Rob Ford…

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is saying a lot of insane things. The entire month of November, which began with Ford’s admission that he had indeed smoked crack-cocaine during his tenure, while in a drunken stupor no less, has essentially turned Toronto into a city-wide version of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room for a global audience, an absolute gong-show fiasco that people will turn their attention to again and again simply to revel in its awfulness.

Torontonians know that our city is more than this bumbling idiot of a mayor, but there is no denying that the man’s mouth is out of control. For someone who was known throughout most of his reign as hostile to the media and constantly refusing to address matters head on, the valve seems to have suddenly opened, spewing forth copious verbal versions of a ten car pile-up.

Toronto Life has helpfully compiled a list of the most outrageous things said by the Mayor. No doubt that the list has grown since its initial publication.

Most of the items on that list concern persona rather than politics, reflective of Ford’s volatility and outrageous behaviour rather than his actual beliefs or worldview as a politician. That, it seems to me, potentially gives way to what might be the greatest tragedy for Toronto in the midst of this grand farce, that Rob Ford might be treated simply as a trivialized cartoon and gaffe-machine and not as a perpetrator of a cynical and divisive brand of politics that is ultimately good for politicians, but devastating to those they govern.

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Motivation (Road to the Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon)

This piece continues to document my journey toward the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon. All pieces that I write in the lead up to race day will be collected here.

1. Failing Alone

All athletes lead a double life. On the one hand, an athlete is cheered by an adoring public so emotionally invested in their success that an alien observer might think the audience has the same stake in the contest as those actually competing.

I felt the truth of this that night in May of this year when the Toronto Maple Leafs, for the first time in a decade no longer seeming like a living punchline, collapsed in spectacular fashion and in a matter of ten minutes went from being the hope of a city to once again being a punching bag for every Canadian hockey fan outside of Toronto. The pub suddenly went silent. No brawls, no beer flying, no tables flipped. Just a sudden jump from one end of the bipolar spectrum to the other.

In moments of success, the athlete is celebrated, deified, and elevated to the status of hero. The energy that the public exudes is almost tangible and the competitor feeds off of it, at least if we are to believe post-game interviews. They did it for the fans, they share the victory with the fans, they are so grateful for the support of the fans, they are so sorry to disappoint the fans. When an individual athlete or team succeeds, it’s standard protocol that they should be humble enough to acknowledge that “they didn’t do this on their own.”

When the game and with it the Leafs’ season was over, however, the players had no public energy in which to bask. Rather, they had to make their way back to the locker room and somehow move on with their lives and careers. Individually, and as a team, they would have to dissect what went wrong. They would have to continue on with their strict training regiments, perhaps modified, and come back and do it all over again with no guarantee of success.

Most of this would be done out of the public eye. Somehow, without a city cheering them on and without a significant audience, they would have to continue being athletes. The motivation could not and would not be drawn from others. You may succeed with your adoring public, but you fail and rebound almost entirely on your own.

2. The Anatomy of Motivation

This has been my personal experience with motivation and how I’ve come to understand that process. Motivation has two parts, external and internal. The external comes from that adoring public and as silly as it might seem, to hear the cheers of others is an incredible source of motivation. I do not have an “adoring public” or throng of fans to speak of. I am, after all, just one of those idiots running around the neighbourhood every morning who will go unnoticed should I manage to cross the finish line.

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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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IABC/Toronto Members Are Heard at the 2012 Silver Leaf Awards

As any regular readers or visitors know by now, I make regular contributions to the blog of the Toronto chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). This time, I’ve contributed a news release to IABC/Toronto’s website covering the 2012 Silver Leaf Awards, a program that recognizes the best work done within Canada in the fields of communications, public relations, advertising, etc.

The release essentially covers the purpose behind the awards themselves and touches on what IABC is all about as an organization in addition to the outstanding showing by members of the Toronto chapter.

In other news, I am currently working on my newest piece for this blog, which will continue my look back the trilogy of fights between Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao as their fourth bout approaches. The new piece, which I hope to have posted by the weekend, will cover their second fight. You can read my take on their first fight here.

Below is an excerpt from the IABC release. The full piece can be read here.

Last week, the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Canada recognized the recipients of the 2012 Silver Leaf Awards, honoring the most outstanding communication work produced in Canada over the past eighteen months. The winners of 18 Awards of Excellence and 42 Awards of Merit were recognized at the Silver Leaf Gala Celebration on November 1st, which took place as part of the IABC Canada Business Communicators Summit.

IABC/Toronto’s wealth of talent made itself known as 21 of the 60 awards presented went to professionals based in the Greater Toronto Area. Toronto communicators received awards for work in Community Relations, Media or Public Relations, CSR/Social Marketing, Special Events, and many other areas, reflective of the diversity of superb work being carried out by IABC/Toronto members.

That so many recipients represented IABC/Toronto is a testament to its wide and diverse talent pool as well as the value of membership. Through informational seminars, face to face networking, volunteer opportunities, online discussions, and access to IABC’s Knowledge Centre, IABC/Toronto members have seized upon the resources and opportunities provided by membership that have in turn enabled them to excel professionally.

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