Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Tale of Two Marathons (part one)

Note:  This is part one of a two-part guest blog from Bridget Robinson, Race Director of the mighty Point Douglas Run.  Bridget recently ran The Paris Marathon and The London Marathon back-to-back.  This is her story.  Stay tuned for part two.


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. 

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Ten years ago, I had never run a marathon and was quite happy to think I never could or would run one. Then, out of the blue, an old school friend, Lisa, who I hadn't heard from in twenty years invited me to join her in running the Paris marathon. In 2005 I crossed the finish line holding Lisa's hand and grinning euphorically. That was the start of a "marathon-a-year" tradition, that would have continued indefinitely had Lisa not  enticed me out of my comfort zone. 

This time it was with an invitation to run the London Marathon. No sooner had I signed up, than Lisa mentioned that the Paris marathon was the weekend before and it would be foolish not to take advantage of the close geographic and calendar proximity and run both.  It was far enough in the future for me to suspend my incredulity and I also liked the symmetry of my first and tenth marathons being the Paris marathon, so I registered for it too.

We took the Eurostar from London to Paris which takes roughly two and a half hours, traveling at speeds up to 300 km/ hour.

What a treat to carbo-load on warm baguette from the local boulangerie. I hardly slept the night before due to the 7 hour time difference. We excitedly bounded up a Montmartre stairway en route to the underground which provided free transit for runners. The Spring sun shone brightly as we made our way to the Avenue des Champs-Elysées in front of the Arc de Triomphe, the most dramatic start line I've experienced. 

Bridget and friends; Paris Marathon
There were plenty of porta-potties and clover-leaf urinals near the start. There were seven different start times staggered over about an hour based on expected finish times which was very effective at minimizing congestion. The atmosphere at the start was very festive and the energy was electric. Runners had been provided with garbage bags with head and arm cut-outs to help stay warm at the start but after the first couple of kilometers I was poring water over my head and neck to cool down due to the hot sun. We ran through a gorgeous tree filled park the Bois de Vincennes which is a tenth of the size of Paris on the eastern side. The park was a Royal hunting preserve in years past. Beautiful blue-green birds flitted amongst the tree-tops.  After running down towards the Seine, my first glimpse of Notre Dame Cathedral was breathtaking. 

A t-shirt with a cheery "bonjour y'all" made me smile. It clouded over and became comfortably cool for running. I wasn't properly trained and occasionally questioned my ability to finish, but the numerous distractions along the way, such as the Eiffel tower also the energy from the other runners was up-lifting. Refreshment stations were laden with bananas, oranges, raisins and sugar cubes. We ran next to the river which was beautiful and then through a tunnel which reverberated with energetic rock and roll and was dramatically lit with multi-color laser lights. Spring was in the air everywhere from blossom laden Chestnuts to verdant green Linden trees.

Before the finish on Avenue Foch, (on the opposite end of the Arc de Triomphe) we ran through the Bois de Bologne on the western side of Paris.  A girl running ahead of me sported a T-shirt asking "Where the Foch is the finish?". 

About a mile from the finish line I passed a group of friends having a champagne picnic on the side of the road. Two sported their medals and smiled heartily as we ran by. 

I'd love to bottle the feeling of a marathon finish line. A sense of peace and joy over came me as I got my medal and a beautiful navy fitted t-shirt. A happy reunion with friends and my husband strengthened the feeling of no better place to be and no better activity to do. 

As we emerged from the underground a while later several elderly Parisians, spotting our medals, chatted to us and beamed as we told them how beautiful their city was and how very much we enjoyed the marathon. Further along people sitting at an outdoor cafe cheered and smiled at us as we walked by. 

Dinner high on Montmartre was the perfect end to a perfect day. It's a good day to be alive.

Bridget Robinson
Race Director, Point Douglas Run
Bridget and Lisa

Save The Date
Saturday, September 20, 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Saving Annie

This is a story that has nothing to do with running or everything to do with running. You can decide.

Last night Jennifer let our beautiful 14 year old dog Annie outside before going to bed.  I had taken some cold medication earlier in the evening and between the meds and my massive head cold, I was drowsy and drifting in and out of consciousness.  I don't recall Jennifer asking if I had let Annie back in, but apparently she did and apparently I replied that I had indeed let Annie back into the house. Jennifer returned to her book while I zonked out beside her.

Annie sleeps next to our bed on her own little doggy-mattress on the floor.  Before retiring an hour later Jennifer noticed that Annie was not on her dog-bed and a quick search revealed that she was nowhere in the house.  She realized that her drug-altered husband was confused and in fact did not let Annie in the house.

Jennifer called from the door but Annie was nowhere to be seen.  Thinking that Annie was on the deck of our gazebo overlooking the river (her favourite spot in the world) she grabbed a flashlight and went searching.  While standing on the deck she heard a whimpering coming from the river way below.  She navigated the treacherously steep bank in pyjamas and a light jacket with flashlight in hand. She scanned the river and saw a shape sticking out of a hole in the ice. It was Annie.  She had found a break in our fence and wandered off onto the river and broken through the ice.

Jennifer quickly returned to the house and woke me from my Benylin induced slumber.  I quickly donned a pair of boots and rushed to the river to size up the situation.  There we were, separated by 30 paces of crap-ice under a dead-cold moonless sky.  Her head poking out from the ice, her front paws clinging to the edge, the ice breaking beneath her paws. Her entire body was submerged in the ice-cold water.  Me standing in pyjamas calculating my next move. What's a guy to do?

My mind works rapid-fire... I know the river well... I estimate she's in about 3 feet... the current is very strong... frigid water.... old deaf dog...terrified...confused...exhausted...don't know how long she's been under... she's about to let go...she will be swept under the ice.  Forever gone.

There is no time for ropes or ladders. This is a code-red, critical situation.

I approach her cautiously.  There's no point talking to her, she's deaf. I remember the terror in her eyes and her look of utter helplessness. The crap-ice crunching underfoot with each step.  Black water pooling in my footsteps. My feet sinking 6 inches with each step. The ice around the edge is the worst I recall from an ancient lifesaving lecture.  I am within reaching distance. I bend slowly, carefully, and grab her collar and haul, and haul, and haul.

I am not a big man. I am not a strong man.  Some might say I am not a smart man. But I called upon my inner-superhero strength and hauled with all my might. I slowly drag this 75 pound dead weight out of the hole and across the ice to the safety of the bank. Both of us lay panting, exhausted under the stone-cold moonless sky.  

Saving Annie from the hole.  You can see the pointy part where she clung for life.
The whole enlarged over the night.
Here's the part where you can decide if this story anything to do with running.  
It's a stretch; I know.
Work with me here.

Annie lay on the bank completely spent. Her drenched fur added another 20-25 pounds bringing her total weight to about 100 pounds.  Her hips at the best of times are stiff and squeaky. She can't stand let alone walk. She's hypothermic and needs warmth immediately. She was out of the frying pan and into the flames as the saying goes.

So what''s a guy to do with his 14 year-old, 100 pound, deaf, hypothermic, confused, near-death, immobile, dog on the river bank about 150 feet from warmth?

Carry her.

The bank is very steep and very long. It wasn't pretty but I managed to carry her more barrel style than fireman style up two sections of the steep bank.  From there we rolled onto the gazebo deck (I told you it wasn't pretty), across the yard, and into the house where Jennifer coaxed the life force back into her creaky old frigid bones.  Carrying her had taken every ounce of energy I could muster. I had nothing left. I left it all on the bank.  I was spent, exhausted, and lay panting on the floor watching Jennifer warm Annie's body with love and care.

The three of us wrapped in a blanket of love and care.

I carried her barrel-style up the bank, onto the gazebo deck, across the yard, and into the house. 
Annie's fine now. She needs a bath. She stinks of river gumbo. I question if she even has a memory of the event.  She sleeps by my feet as I tweet these words.

So what's the running connection?  

It took tremendous strength, super hero strength in fact, to carry this old beast to safety.  Had I not been a runner, had I not been in good physical strength, had my lungs not been full, had my heart not had the capacity, had my legs not have the power, had my arms not have the strength, had my determination failed, dear old, sweet old Annie would not have survived.

I thank my running body for the strength it has bestowed upon me.  I am in awe of my strength. I marvel at my health. I am humble and I am grateful for the life force that surges through this old body.

It's a good day to be alive.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Jim Cook

There is nothing like the runner's high, you get those endorphins in the brain. It makes you feel good.

Jim Cook

Thomas James 'Jim' Cook
September 30, 1945 - March 22, 2014
What can one say about a man who ran the very first Manitoba Marathon?

How does one describe the man who twice honoured our community as president of Manitoba Runners's Association?

How do we say thanks to the man who gave so much to our community?

How do we express our gratitude?

How we do to show our respect?

Tough questions indeed, fortunately the answer is quite simple.  We're runners after all and we revel in simplicity.  Here's the answer...

Go for a run. 

We run in his honour whether it be quiet and reflective or loud and boisterous.  We can run with raw emotion or we can run with idle chatter.  We can think of this fine man as we run or we can say his name aloud. It really doesn't matter, as long as we run. This is what Jim would want and would expect.  

In times past Jim would laugh and run along our side, telling stories and lies with the best of us. We honour his memory through the the act of running for this is the community that brought him such joy, the community he was instrumental in building. 

By running we make Jim smile and we make Jim glow with pride. By running we say thanks...

... and then we go for coffee, or a beer,  and continue the chatter, the laughter, the lies, the memories.  Yes, this is what Jim would want of us, to run, to laugh, to chat, to remember. 

That's it in a nutshell. That's how you can honour the memory of this fine gentleman who gave so much and expected so little in return ... save a laugh and a run.

Life friend Leni Campbell has 30 years of  memories. She shares  "He did a  lot for the Manitoba running community over the years. Both Jim and his wife Morna are very special to me and I will never forget Jim."

Jim died on March 22 at St. Boniface Hospital with his lovely wife Morna by his side. We don't know his thoughts as he lay on that palliative bed, nor does it matter.  I like to think the memory of running, the memory of running pals, the memory of sweat, the memory of laughs gave him some comfort, and perhaps may even have provided some good cheer in his final moments.

But we don't know, and it doesn't matter.

Go for a run and remember Jim; that matters. 

Running helps you to put off old age. It helps to keep you healthy and less susceptible to disease and illness.

Jim Cook
November 2003

It's a good day to be alive,

April 2014

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Manitoba Runners' Association Hall of Fame Banquet

The Juno's may be rockin', but the Manitoba Runners' Association Hall of Fame Inductee banquet has soul.

Truly, this is one fine event that all runners should put on their event calendars. This year's inductees include David Fielder, Dwayne Sandall, and John Murphy. These three men represent all that is good in the Manitoba running community and inspire us to greater heights. Their passion and dedication towards our sport is unparalleled and for this we are forever grateful.  
photo credit Gregory C. McNeil
David Fileder, John Murphy, Dwayne Sandall

Speaking of passion, dedication, and heart we would remiss to overlook the work of the MRA board of directors.  This amazing board is composed of Manitoba's finest ambassadors for our sport. They exemplify selfless volunteerism and are heroic in their own right within the national running community. Their mission statement is to promote and support the sport of running for health, fun, and fitness for life to runners of all ages and abilities. Congratulations to the MRA board of directors on this, their 43rd anniversary of supporting Manitoban runners.  

Thank you, MRA Board of Directors, for all that you do:

Leni Campbell
John Murphy
Jeff Vince
Kathy Wiens
Brenlee Muska
James Slade
Dreena Duhame
Judy McMullen
John Wichers
John Gray
Lindsey Green
Reesa Simmonds
Cynthia Menzies
Fern Berard
Ken Perchaluk

photo credit Gregory C. McNeil
Master of Ceremonies, Barefoot Bob Nicol
Our Master of Ceremonies, Barefoot Bob Nicol, started the show with a slide presentation which showcased about a dozen of the 200+ annual running events in Manitoba.  His talk was  personable, emotionally heartfelt, and highly entertaining. Bob's character rang true when he became visibly emotional while speaking of his fundraising efforts towards Ted's Run for Literacy. A kindly blogger interjected and finished the story on Bob's behalf.  Bob had us laughing throughout the presentation with many anecdotes and 'inside stories' behind the pictures. The good natured teasing and catcalls from his friends at the Hasher table added to the overall enjoyment of the presentation.  Well done Bob!

Joel Toews provided a warm introduction of Hall of Fame inductee Dwayne Sandall.  Joel spoke of Dwayne's many accomplishments including his Big Horn 100 mile race and his habit of running a minimum of 2 miles every single day for the last 6 years including the day his son was born. That's some kinda' crazy!  Dwayne is also honoured for his creation of the Beaudry Lemming Loop, The Spruce Woods Ultra, The Try-a-Trail series to name but a few.  Joel spoke of the man behind the accomplishments. He said of his friend "Dwayne's love of the sport and selfless attitude has contributed to many others taking up the sport of trail running and ultras".  Well done Joel!

Kelvin Hollender was unavailable to introduce his good friend John Murphy. His speech was expertly delivered by Kelly Lambkin.  It was John's son Darrell who, in 1993 while running in the Western Canada Games, inspired in his father a love of running. Since then John has run 23 full-marathons including Boston and dozens of other races of various distances. In 2009 John shared his vision of creating a run/walk event with The Canadian Diabetes Association.  Kelvin writes "With optimism, vigor and a desire to succeed, John willingly took on the challenge of Race Director" for this event. Kelvin spoke highly of John's selfless volunteerism which, among other things, raised $125,000 for for the Canadian Diabetes Association.    John was honoured in 2013 as National Volunteer of the Year Award from The Canadian Diabetes Association and is warmly embraced by Manitoba's running community.

The blogger known as Mike had the pleasure of introducing Hall of Fame Inductee David Fielder. Mike purposefully chose not to speak of David's running accomplishments although they are numerous and significant.  Instead, Mike spoke of the man who laughs at mile 24, the man who dons costumes, and the man who chats incessantly with runners and volunteers along the course whether it's a 5 k fun run or a 100 mile ultra. Mike spoke of the man who "brings a crazy kinda energy to all races" and the man who "sacrifices his own run to help others". Mike spoke of the man who weaves memories of running from his grace, his wit, and his love. Yes friends, Mike spoke of David Fielder, the individual:
Our individuality is all, all that we have... blessed in the twinkle of the morning star is the one who nurtures it and rides it in, in grace and love and wit, from peculiar station to peculiar station along life's bittersweet route. (Tom Robbins via CM)
It was an evening of grace, and love, and wit.  And it was, and it is, and it will continue to be, a good day to be alive.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Came Across a Body

When I run ideas percolate to the surface. This story has risen and settled several times. It’s rough and it’s probably not ready to be shared, but whose to judge? I return in my mind’s eye to the scene of the body.  It's got a hold on me. 

When I run I reflect on life’s happenings, good, bad, and disturbing. This is how stories come to be on this old blog. I run to clear my mind and sort through ideas.  I run because to do otherwise is unfathomable. Running is my therapy, writing is my release.

I came across a body.
I was rushing to work the other day when I came across a body. I was running late. I was to present to a staff.

I rubbernecked a body shape as I zoomed by in my little car down lonely Alexander Street. Alexander Street, where it's best not to be found after dark.

“There's nothing I can do and I'm late,” I thought as I zoomed on by.

I paused at the stop sign some 200 meters beyond the body. My options were simple, turn right to my destination or return to the body? With one foot on the gas and the other on the brake I pondered this dilemma. It was a critical moment that we all find ourselves facing from time to time.  Jagged thoughts ensued…
Is the body alive? 
Is the body in trauma? 
It's freaking cold! 
Do I care?
Is it just another drunk? 
There's no one around to judge me and I'm late. 
No one will ever know if I keep on going.

Removing my foot from the brake I turned slowly and pulled up alongside the body.  I yelled from the safety of my car "Hey, are you awake?"

No response.

I approached the body, stooped and shook its hip lightly. No response. I shook the body again, harder this time and yelled again, louder than previously.
Still, there was no response.

I called 911. 

"Is he breathing?" the operator asked.

"I don't know." I replied.

"Can you check?" she asked in a calm voice.

With phone in hand I returned to the body and stooped again and shook the body’s shoulders hard and yelled "Wake up, wake up".  I thought for sure the body was dead, how could it survive a night on this desolate, cold street.  He just curled up and died.

Suddenly a head popped out of the dirty cocoon of a sleeping bag. He was confused and looked fearful.

I spoke softly "Are you okay? Do you need help?”

I remember his long scruffy hair falling loosely over his young face. His bleary eyes were dark and empty. He was little more than a child really, maybe early twenties, but it’s hard to say for sure. My heart softened and time stopped in this moment of compassion. Our eyes locked, me standing, he lying in the cold gutter. 

"Yes, the body is breathing" I told the 911 operator while standing over the body, our eyes locked.  

I left the body lying on the cold street with a $10 Tim's card and $10 cash. An ambulance had been dispatched. There's nothing more I can do.

"Go get a hot breakfast, buddy, It's cold out” and drove off in my warm car.

I started my presentation.  “I’m going off script” I told the audience, and I proceeded to tell the story of the body and my ambivalence. I asked them to consider their students and reflect on their practice.  We talked about mental health and mental illness.  We talked about the universal need to belong. We talked of the importance of feeling safe and loved. We talked about states of languishing and flourishing.  We talked about making learning meaningful and relevant for all students especially those at risk. We talked about how might we create a school community where all belong, all succeed, and all are cared for deeply.

These invisible bodies that we step over are the philosophers of our time.  They teach us compassion, but we turn away. They teach us patience but we are too busy.  They give us wisdom, but we turn our backs.  If only we would heed their voice.

I thank the body for his wisdom, his patience, and the compassion that warmed my soul. I thank the Alexander Street body for this story and I wish him well.

Today I ran 12 hard, fast miles with friends and it was life affirming.
It's a good day to be alive.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Garbage Hill Angel

Some kind of saviour singing the blues
A derelict in your duct tape shoes
Your orphan clothes and your long dark hair
Looking like you didn't care

Lucinda Williams, Drunken Angel.

Photo Credit, Heidi Hunter, Runs With Scissors
Cynthia and David got me thinking of angels. Not the creepy doe eyed, yellow haired, wing sprouting angel. Nope, I like my angels with a little grit. I like 'em with broken wings, with warts and bruises, derelicts in duct tape shoes.  I like my angels sprouting pain with a side of wisdom, not wings. 

Let's back it up a bit...

Cynthia writes....

I saw an angel today. Her name was Leticia. We were on opposite sides of Marion Street. She was the first to reach Lloyd, a man lying face down in a snow bank. Traffic was heavy and I could only watch as she lifted Lloyd to his feet. She brushed the snow off his face and then his entire body. She took off her mitts and put them on his hands. She then grabbed him securely and started to make the shaky walk across Marion. That's when I decided I would stop staring and help. 

I jumped onto Marion and stopped traffic with my commanding red jacket and balaclava. I held Lloyd with Leticia and we walked him across the road. We took him to McDonalds and as I picked up his food order, I saw Leticia help dress Lloyd. He struggled in so many ways. 

I really looked at him. He was a beautiful man. He told us how grateful he was and gave us a hand signal for love. We left him to eat. Later, I passed by where we left him and peeked through the window. There he was sipping his coffee slowly, completely owning the moment. A moment that was warm and safe. I wept in that moment. 

I saw two Angels today and their names were Leticia and Lloyd.

To which David responds...

Lest we entertain angels unaware. Whatever your faith, Cynthia, you have allowed yourself to be touched by our common humanity. Never lose that ability to embrace the beauty found in the least likely of sources. You are a good person to have seen beyond the surface. May you own the moment.

Ever the sucker for good prose (I saw an angel today... my commanding red jacket...touched by common humanity) I set off on a quest for angels. With my iPod thematically loaded... angels wanna wear my red shoes, fallen angels, drunken angels... I hit the river trail.

Alone, with thoughts of angels churning through my brain, I run this gorgeous trail in -50 degrees celsius.

Alone, running in rhythm with my heart and lungs in perfect cadence with my legs and arms. 

Alone, reflecting on angels I have met, angels I have loved, and angels I have cruelly ignored. 

I recall a broken angel on Garbage Hill last summer. Garbage Hill, where runners and fallen angels find common ground. He was face down on the trail when I passed by the first time, and the second time, and the third. The noon sun was blazing, dangerously hot.  

On my fourth lap I stopped and said ... hey buddy, you okay? ... only to realize the absurdity of the question; a question for which I have no understanding, no right to ask. No response. I stooped down and shook him lightly. I remember the sour smell of old vomit, his tattered clothes, his matted hair. I shook him hard on the third try and he woke in terror. Fear flashed in his eyes. His brain steeped in cortisol and rye whisky, his fists clenched in defence.  I backed off while we sized each other up. Me standing, he kneeling, broken; the symbolism painfully obvious.

I offered my water and said ... buddy, it's hot, you're gonna die here, let's move to the shade. His eyes softened and his fists relaxed as he reached for my water bottle and drank deeply. I helped him to his feet and supported him to the luxurious shade of the elm tree 30 paces uphill. 

I left him sleeping with my water bottle by his side.  I continued running the hills for another hour; up and down, all around, running in penance for the damage we inflict on humanity; you know the drill. One lap he was there, the next he was gone. All that remained was the empty water bottle and the memory of this angel. 

This Garbage Hill angel, this man of common humanity, this man disappeared from my life as suddenly as he entered.  I embraced the beauty in the least likely of places and my heart soared and my soul cried. 

I allowed myself to touched by common humanity and I am humbled in its presence. I am blessed for this broken angel has entered my soul.

Musician Chuck Brodsky says "We are each others angels". With this in mind I thank angels Cynthia, Leticia, Lloyd, David, Heidi, and the Garbage Hill Angel for loaning me their spirit in writing this story.
We are each others angels.

It's a good day to be an angel.