Thursday, April 30, 2015

Did Not Start

Three little letters - DNS - and how they sting. My dream of six months is dashed by a strained medial collateral ligament. Five hundred miles of solo training on dark streets in cruel conditions for the privilege of running the toughest course in Manitoba only to be robbed by a wobbly knee. Spruce Woods 50 k was to be my first trail ultra and the most difficult physical challenge of my life. It was to be a run in the woods with some of the most stalwart athletes in the country.


MCL injuries are not typical for runners.  They're more common in contact sports such as football and soccer where the athlete takes a lateral blow to the knee. I took a nasty tumble in Assiniboine Forest several weeks ago and landed hard on both knees.  As I lay face planted on the still frozen ground I did the three point check; bones, blood, ego... check, check, check.  I limped for a while but the pain passed and I ran another 8 miles home. My knee felt sore but okay.  It got progressively worse, then a little better, and then really bad to the point where it kept me awake at night.  It's a dull pain now. It feels as though my knee is locked and lateral motion hurts like the dickens.

I won't be dancing anytime soon.

I was to run the course for my friend Jo who is diagnosed with stage four glioblastoma brain cancer. I was to don an ugly pink tee shirt with F*ck Brain Cancer penned on the back with a black sharpie. I was to buzz cut my hair.  I was to suffer and hurt, sweat and cry to show my solidarity with Jo. I was to run the last kilometre emotively. I was to cross the finish line with pride. I was to run with purpose. I was to run for life. I was to become an ultra-marathoner.

The start line is always my first goal, the finish line remains a distant second.


Nuff said.  "Too much drama" my friend Tim would say, "Move on to the next challenge."

And I will.

To you amazing athletes running Spruce Woods next weekend know that I am brimmed full of admiration for each and everyone one of you.  You are tough mothers and brothers, fathers, and sisters. Remain steadfast in your goals. Run with purpose. Run with emotion. Run like the wind. Listen for your heart.  Feel your body. Reach out for the finish line.

Just run like hell.

It's a good day to be alive.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Gabrielle Roy; running in the water shouting for joy.

He must have been about seven or eight; it had been raining and Alexandre, a sickly lad already in love with courage took off his shoes and stockings; he was running in the water gathered along the sidewalk and was shouting with joy.

Gabrielle Roy, The Cashier


I was listening to the CBC Weekend Morning Show as I dressed for a long run early Saturday. The host, Terry McCleod, was interviewing Annette Saint Pierre, a retired College St. Boniface professor of Canadian Literature and eminent local authority of famed author Gabrielle Roy. I was initially drawn to the rhythm of Saint Pierre's lovely Franco Manitoba voice, but quickly fell head first into her story.

What does Gabrielle Roy have to do with running? Stay with me as I unpack my tale in five Acts.

Act One

I absolutely loved Gabrielle Roys' book while attending university way back in the 1980s. Listening to the warm chatter between Terry and Annette reminded me of my love for Roy. I promised myself, that I would revist her work, put it on the bucket list so to speak. Fully layered and ready for a chilly 16 miles, I listened to Annette's last few words and went off in search of another adventure.

Act Two

I didn't have a clear route in mind. I knew I wanted trails and my schedule called for 16 miles. Aside from this criteria,  I was open for adventure. Surely this will be a good day, a good run, a good day to be alive.

I have run the Seine River Trails dozens of times over the years. It's a single track and hugs the steep pitches of the river bank. It's peaceful, scenic, challenging, and every inch a runner's dream trail. As I exited the trail I discovered a trail sign indicating I had just left Gabrielele Roy Trail. It's a large sign, how could I possibly have missed it on previous runs?

And I think to myself, sheesh, I really must reread some Roy.

Act Three

I continued running. I usually cross Marion and weave back on The Seine, but the coffee was pressing hard on my bladder so I veered to the right and headed to the St Boniface Hospital to use their facilities. I found myself on Deschambault Street, a pleasant blue collar neighborhood in old St Boniface. 

I came across a home at 375 that stood out from all the others. I stopped to read the elegant plaque on the boulevard. To my astonishment ir read "Gabrielle Roy's childhood home", now The Gabrielle Roy Museum. How had I missed this gem? I really should get out more!

And I continued running with a whole new appreciation of Roy thinking "Wow, I really HAVE to get some Roy books."

Act Four

Later that after noon I had a Ted's Run For Literacy meeting at The Neighbourhood Cafe Used Book Store.  As we finished up I happened to glance towards the stacks of used books. There, just above my head was the Can Lit section. I stood and walked a few paces to the 'R' section... RA, RE, RI, Ro...Roy! 

There, in full faded yellow-page splendor, were four Gabriell Roy titles. I bought the whole lot, $13! I left the Neighbourhood Cafe Bookstore light on feet anxious to crack one of the titles.

Act Five

The stars were alligned. Gabrielle Roy and I were destined to meet on this day. And there, in chapter two I discovered this gem of gems"...he was running in the water gathered on the sidewalk and was shouting with joy."

It's a good day to be alive, running in the water shouting for joy.


"How bad do I want this?" Chris Frank Smashes 3 hours at Boston, A Guest Blog

Chris Frank is a amiable, mild mannered, professor of History at the University of Manitoba during the day. On his off-time he trains 2500 miles in a ten month period to prepare for The Boston Marathon. Chris implies his "just one mile" strategy is a metaphor for living. He takes us along for the ride as he smashes miles after mile after mile of perpetual forward motion. He crosses the line with tears streaming and is told "there is no crying in running", but then a kindly volunteer places her hand on her heart, looks into Chris' eyes and says "yes there is" ... and the tears flow.  

SMR is honoured to host this blog post by Boston Marathoner, Chris Frank. See Chris. See Chris run. Run Chris, run.


As anyone who has read Mike’s blog is aware, running is about more than just running.  Watch at the finish line of any marathon and it becomes obvious right away that the runners have physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually experienced something more than 26.2 miles.  The Boston Marathon has a special place in the hearts of marathon runners, and every year produces a number of stories that illustrate the basic truth that the race is about more than the distance.  In the 2015 Boston Marathon gave us the awe-inspiring courage of Rebekah Gregory ( and Maickel Melamed (, as well as tens of thousands of stories of smaller and less dramatic personal victories that nonetheless loom very large in the lives of the individual runners.  I’d like to share my story of participating in the 2015 Boston Marathon and what it meant to me.  20 April 2015 was a very cold, rainy and windy day, but I will always remember it as one of the ten most perfect days of my life.
Before I describe Boston, I will have to bore you a little bit with my background as a runner because it relates to why this experience was so special for me.  I began running in high school where I was fortunate enough to run for one of the greatest coaches and educators I have ever met, a man who made a big difference in the lives of every kid who was lucky enough to cross his path.  He was the first one to clue me into the whole running is more than just running thing.  He always preached that the pain of the race disappears pretty quickly once it is over, but the pain of regret over not have done your best tends to linger and nag at you longer.  However, if the regret over lost opportunities sticks around, so too does the joy and satisfaction experienced when you give your all and manage to overcome obstacles and exceed what you thought you were capable of.  Before most races, he used to say to me “Go out there and make this a day you’ll always remember.”  His message only partially sunk in at the time, because I was young and thought that there would always be another race where I could get it right next time.  Although running was the best part of high school, and I formed many deep friendships, I also had a lot of regrets.  There were so many races where I ran foolishly, or mentally quit, or got out-kicked at the end.  There were so many races I wish I could run over again.  Although I was not by any means a big talent, I had to live with the knowledge that I failed to make the most of what ability I had.  I later walked onto a University team for two years before I broke my ankle.  I was hopelessly overmatched by the more talented University runners, but even here I feel regret at having gotten nowhere close to maximizing my ability.
I continued to run in my 20s and 30s, finding it to be the source of peace and a useful time to work through problems or issues in my mind.  However, it was in my 40s that my love of running was reinvigorated, and after my family it became the great passion of my life.  This change occurred when I decided to run a marathon and joined a clinic at the local shoe store to prepare.  I loved the group of people I ran with, loved to hear their stories and reasons for running.  I enjoyed the community and camaraderie and incredible support.  During my second marathon clinic, with the help of the coaches and the group, I got into good shape and managed to have one of those very special days at the Manitoba Marathon where I ran the best race of my life in 3:10:55 to qualify for Boston.  I was set to experience the marathoner’s dream.
When I arrived in Boston for the Marathon, I was amazed at the degree to which the race takes over the city.  There were runners everywhere: in the airport, hotels, restaurants.  They were easy to spot, in their running shoes, wearing shirts from other races, or Boston Marathon wind-breakers.  They were all so friendly and supportive.   I met many other runners who were also experiencing their first Boston Marathon, and we shared our feelings of nervousness, reassuring and encouraging each other that we would do great.  I also met runners who had run Boston many times, including one who had run it 38 times.  His message was that this is a race unlike any other, drink it in and enjoy every step.  It was a joy to hear the passion with which he described the race and why he had to come back year after year.  I felt an immediate sense of community with the runners I met, because all those who had made it to Boston, from the fastest to the slowest, shared a bond of having made running an important part of their lives and identities that carried great meaning for them.

The enthusiasm for the race comes not only from the runners but the people of Boston who get behind the marathon to an impressive degree.  Lots of Bostonians asked me if I was running and said encouraging things.  I heard “You got this” about 100 times in the days leading up to the race.  Patriots’ Day is a uniquely Boston Holiday that many people in Boston get off from work.  Every year on Patriots’ Day the Red Sox have a rare morning game, and when it finishes many of the fans walk down to the course and join the cheering throngs of people yelling for the runners.  Many Bostonians that I talked to told me that the marathon was one of their favorite days of the year and that they always made it out to be a part of it.  In fact, in 2015, even on a cold, wet, and windy day, they all still came out to be a part of the marathon.  This race belongs to the people of Boston and for many of them it is a very special event.  As I talked with more and more locals about the marathon and what it meant to them it became more and more clear why the tragedy of two years ago hit so very hard. 
The experience of every part of the Boston Marathon reminded me of the scene in the movie “Bull Durham” where Kevin Costner’s character describes to his fellow minor league players the three weeks that he spent in “The Show” (“You get white balls for batting practice.  The ballparks are cathedrals.  You never carry your own bags.”).  Everything is so nice and so well run.  There is nice swag and despite the 30,000 entrants there were almost no logjams at all.  The organizers and volunteers seemed prepared for almost any eventuality.  The 9,000 volunteers who make the Boston Marathon happen are truly remarkable.  They were all so enthusiastic, encouraging, helpful and efficient.  They created a really positive and happy spirit for the whole event.
Going into the race I was not really planning for a personal record.  I had heard so many things about the challenging course and the dreaded “Newton Hills” that I thought that I should temper my expectations.  I call my strategy for running marathons the “Just this mile” approach.  I set a realistic goal for my finishing time, and then I memorize the mile split necessary to meet that time.  Then during the race the only thing I’m focused on is bringing the very next mile slightly under that split.  I play a game with myself during the race to see how many of the 26 miles I can bring in under the goal mile split, never thinking of anything beyond the mile I’m running.  By the way, that is probably not a bad way to approach life as well---again, that whole running is more than running thing.  I usually memorize the splits for a few different times so I can adjust according to the race.  Preparing for the Boston Marathon I memorized the mile splits for a 3:20 (7:38), a 3:15 (7:27), a 3:10 (7:15), and on the optimistic side I also memorized the split for a 3:05 (7:05).  I didn’t even bother to memorize the split for a sub-3, because an 11 minute personal record just seemed too far-fetched.  I had a hazy knowledge that a sub-3 split was somewhere in the low 6:50s, but I wasn’t sure, which would turn out to be a bit of problem later on.
The morning of the race involves a lot of waiting due to the challenging logistics of getting 30,000 runners to the starting line.  I was assigned to the last corral of the first wave which had around 7,700 runners (the cut-off for the first wave was 3:10:58 and my time was 3:10:55, so in theory I should have been about the slowest guy in wave 1).  Runners in the first wave had to catch the bus at Boston Common between 6-6:45 am and then get driven to Hopkinton, arriving around 7:30ish.  There we waited in these big tents with all the other runners to get called to the starting line.  It was very cold, windy and it began to rain.  Sitting in the tent I visited with more runners from all over the world.  One very kind man from Orlando gave me some extra hand warmers he had to keep warm while we waited.  Another gloomy man who had run the race before warned me about the Newton Hills, and said with the cold, rain and headwinds “there won’t be many PRs today.”  After he left to go to the bathroom a runner from Ohio who had been listening leaned over to me and began talking to me the way a dad talks to his son (which was funny because I would bet my mortgage that I’m older than he is).  He had run the race before and told me not to let myself get talked out of a race before we start.  He said there is actually a lot about this course to encourage a PR.  It is 70% downhill and there are huge crowds cheering for you every step of the way.  I’d be running in the first wave with lots of fast runners who could pull me along if I ran smart.  He told me that the Newton Hills were not actually that steep, just a bit long and inconveniently located.  Most importantly, he told me, once you finish the hills at mile 22, it is all downhill to the finish, so if you are close to a PR at that point, the only question remaining is “How bad do you want it?”  I felt a lot better after speaking to him.
Around 9:15 we began the long half mile walk to the starting line.  It was all so exciting. When the starting gun went off the scene was incredible.  Ahead of me the road was an overflowing river of runners stretching off as far as I could see, and the sides of the road were lined with screaming spectators.  The first mile was crowded, and I have learned the hard way not to waste energy jockeying around for position in the early part of a marathon, so it was the slowest mile I ran all day, but in the second mile, which was downhill, I clocked a 6:52 and felt very relaxed.  I decided that I would go for a PR and I would see how many sub-7 miles I could run in a row.  The most sub-7 miles I had ever run consecutively before was 13, which I did on a practice run.  At the Boston Marathon I managed to do 23 of the 26 under 7.
The crowds provided such a charge.  In the early miles you run through all these very pretty little towns down what appeared to be their main streets.  It was like a parade.  I was moved by how many people were out cheering and supporting us despite the weather.  Standing around in the cold, wind and rain is far worse than running in it.  These people yelled, smiled, handed out water bottles, GU Gels, or bananas.  They held funny signs or signs that said “touch this for power.”  Little kids held out their hands for high-fives.  The support, encouragement and positive energy was wonderful. 
My favorite section of spectators came at mile 12 when we got to Wellesley College, where for over a quarter mile the course was lined with the most enthusiastic students screaming and yelling and holding up very funny signs that had some variation of “Kiss me…” on them (“Kiss me and you’ll PR!” or “Kiss Me and it will stop raining!” or “Kiss Me, I also have lots of stamina!”).  This mile was the only place where I broke character, blowing a few kisses at the students in order to get a bigger cheer. 
At mile 13 I lost a few seconds due to my weak bladder, but my split at the half was 1:30:26.  I still felt good, and now was determined to PR.  Momentum is so important in running.  Often when you are having a bad race and hurting negative thoughts flood in and slow you down further.  The opposite is true as well.  When you are feeling good about a race it gets easier to pick up the pace.  At the half I felt good, and thought “I could PR at Boston!”  This caused me to speed up, with miles 14, 15, and 16 coming in at 6:45, 6:45, and 6:28.  At mile 17 when I was getting near the major uphill portion of the course I began to have a vague sense that I was flirting with a sub-3, and I maintained 6:40s for the next 4 miles.  By the time I got to Heartbreak Hill I knew that I was on sub-3 pace and I was determined that today I was not going to let this one slip away. 
The man from Ohio was right about Heartbreak Hill.  In truth, it is not even as steep as Garbage Hill, but it is long, and arrives at a moment in the race where it is very tempting to quit on yourself.  I focused as hard as I could and pushed it up the hill.   The hill was lined with Boston College students who rivaled the Wellesley women for enthusiasm and passion, and they really helped me to get up that hill.  I put in a 7:11 at mile 21, losing a bit of time off my pace, but it wasn’t as big a disaster as it might have been.  At the end of the hills there is this big inflatable arch that reads “Your Heartbreak is over! You Got This!”  As I read it I thought “Yes,” and looked down at my watch and did some math in my head (always a sketchy proposition for a history professor) and realized that I was a little behind sub-3 pace and would need to have 4 very good miles to get there.  I remembered what the man from Ohio said about the last 4 miles and thought “How bad do I want this?  I want it desperately.”  Right after the end of the uphill there is a very steep downhill on mile 22, and I gunned it down that hill, running my fastest mile of the day. 

As we began to get into Boston the crowds got thicker and the rain began to increase.  The other runners were picking up their paces as well which helped to pull me through the next few miles.  It was not long before we got to a big sign that said “One Mile to Go.”  I looked down at my watch and saw 2:53, but raindrops were covering the seconds so I didn’t know how fast I needed to do the last mile.  I assumed it would have to be the best mile of the day so I began sprinting with everything I had. 
When we turned onto Boylston Street there was this deafening roar from a huge crowd of people.  That roar is probably the closest someone like me will ever get to feeling what a pro athlete experiences.  It must be like what LaMarcus Aldridge experiences when he steps on the court at the Moda Center (The Portland Trailblazers are one of my other great passions, but that is a story for another day).  I looked down at my watch and saw 2:59 flat, and I could see the finish line a short way away.  Could I get there?  I was pumping my arms and legs like crazy, and when I got within 20 yards of the line I heard the announcer call out “Christopher Frank of Winnipeg!”   When I crossed the line my Garmin said I finished in 2:59:45 (the official time was 2:59:41).  I had done it: An eleven minute personal record and my first ever sub-3 marathon.  And I did it in the Boston Marathon.
After I finished, as I drifted through the chute, I felt myself completely overwhelmed with emotion.  Perhaps some of it was a reflection on the journey to get to Boston, of the 2500 miles I had run during the 10 months since the Manitoba Marathon in every kind of weather.  Some of it was the experience of the Boston Marathon, the cheering crowds, the magic of the race.  Some of it was the pride of overcoming the rain, cold, wind and hills of the race.  Some of it might have been the lack of oxygen to the brain from running a marathon.  However, most of the emotion came from the realization that I had run with everything I had from wire to wire, never quitting.  On 20 April 2015 I had squeezed every last drop of what I am capable of and left it all out on the course.   I reflected back to my old coach and thought better I had learned the lesson late than never.  I had gone out and made a day that I’ll always remember.

When the volunteer put the medal on me all of these emotions became too much and I cracked and got a bit weepy.  One of the volunteers said “Hey, there’s no crying in running!” and another volunteer put her hand on her heart and said “Yes there is!”  The friendly laughter between them helped me to pull myself together.  At the 2015 Boston Marathon there were thousands and thousands of unique stories of personal achievement and growth.  It is such a special race in a special city, with special runners, volunteers, fans and supporters.  It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I will never stop being grateful for having been able to be a part of it.

It's a good day to be alive, but don't believe me, just look at that above picture of Chris!


Saturday, April 11, 2015

My friend Jo...

oh you give and give and give and give
and it's time to rest
now you need to breathe it in
we will watch over you
nothing will go wrong
we will sit until your are strong
we've got lots to give
we've got all you've given to us
all you've given to us
breathe it in

Hey Rosetta

My friend Jo.
My friend Jo is an Ironman. She is strong and tenacious and she's a champion in every sense. My friend Jo loves life and life itself returns her love fiercely. My friend Jo laughs and talks and chats and makes all feel welcome and important. My friend Jo embraces us, she gives herself freely to us, she gives and gives and gives and gives. We are enchanted with her sparkle. We are warmed by the love of her embrace. And now we give back to Jo for we are indebted to her kind and beautiful soul.

My friend Jo is diagnosed with stage 4 Glioblastoma brain cancer. Her tumor is a particularly nasty one the doctors say. My friend Jo talks of life in measured terms now; months, years. Her 'bad ass scar' zig zags 8 inches down one side of her skull. She shares her scar and laughs in the face of adversity. She laughs because she's afraid. 

We laugh because we too are afraid. 

We are afraid together.

Chemotherapy, radiation, aggressive, insidious, pain, life expectancy are new words in our circles. Hard words, frightening words.

"I'm not going to cry" she says with bravado and she doesn't. I choke when I hear these words, and I look about and I see I am not alone. Marathoners, Ultra marathoners, IronMen, survivors of the Boston Bombing all laugh bravely on the outside, yet invisible tears pool on the floor.

My friend Jo shaved her head tonight at a private studio. Several others stepped up and had their heads shaved. First James, then Scott, Jeanine, Fern and on and on. This campaign raised $13,001.75 for cancer care. Such an expression of love. Surrounded by family, triathletes, marathoners, woman in in spandex pinks, all there to give back to Jo. 

Thanks be to Jo.

We are afraid together.

We've got lots to give.

Breathe it in.

It's a good day to be alive,


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Life in Transition: One Runner’s Struggle, a Guest Blog

At the request of the writer this blog post is anonymous. Mike

How to begin, I have always found this to be the hardest thing to do, never quite sure what to say or how to express what I have been hiding deep inside for so long. Never knowing if there was something wrong with me, was this was how I was supposed to be, or was I meant to be something else, something more.
Who is going to listen and try to understand, hopefully accept me for who I am, for I have not changed, I am still the same, I am me. Who is going to turn and walk away and pretend I never existed, who is going to support me in my time of transition. That is my biggest fear, how could it not be, I have spent many years living and experiencing this life and making friends I do not want to give up so easily. But the struggle has come to a head, a place that I cannot in my heart remain. The change begins, I feel like a butterfly straight from her chrysalis, spreading her wings for the very first time.
My life has always been complete with struggle and conflict: my heart and soul tells me one thing, while my body tells me something else when I look at myself in the mirror. I have hid this from everyone and for that I have paid dearly, much struggle, much conflict, no I would not wish this on my worst enemy, not once, no way.  
How can this be? Who is this person staring back at me? Why can I not be at peace? The thought of being comfortable in my own skin eludes me…for now. Conflict brings depression, depression brings thoughts that no one should have…ever. All I want is peace and harmony…is that too much to ask? To be one with myself….at peace, like when I run, run free. Yes I run, I run to reflect, I run for thought, I run to dream, I run for peace….peace of mind and soul.
Running for me only started a short while ago, it came at the perfect time, a release that I so desperately needed. It allowed me to express myself in ways that I never dreamed possible, always shut in the closet previously…running allowed me to dream, to push my body and let my mind soar. To allow the hidden me out of her cocoon, allow her to soar amongst the clouds…to be free, oh so free.
Running has allowed me to experience that what I thought was impossible, it has given me the courage to break free from the shackles that held me. Oh to be free, oh so free.
I know for some this will be hard to understand, and others will never accept me for who I know I am and that is ok…I am at peace with that. All I wish for is a bit of compassion and understanding. You can’t know what someone else has been through until you walk a mile in those shoes. I have walked that mile and many more, and hope to continue to walk that line if need be. It is the path that I have chosen and I accept that. But I am lucky, I see life from a different perspective, I used to think it was a curse…now I know it is a blessing. It has been a long time coming, years and years of struggle, denial and heartache. But I now know who I am and I am proud to say I am transgender.
I know I cannot change everybody’s mind but if I can change one person to see us as people, normal people just like them, then I will call that a win. For I am a runner just like you, you and you. I take pride in what I do and all my accomplishments.
I look forward to my first big race next month as a girl, it will be my official coming out party and my first…no wait my second opportunity to run as me.
As I am not completely out to the public yet, I will not be sharing my name, but truth be told some will know me, some will not, there will be some surprise, some shock and some probably not….I hope to do that next post, a follow up, if Mike wants me back.

………It’s a great day to be alive.