Monday, February 20, 2017

Hypothermic Half Marathon 2017, Race Report

photo credit, coach Tim MacKay

The coffee was hot.  
The smiles were lovely. 
The good-cheer overwhelmed. 
The hugs were warm.  
And did I mention the coffee?  
It was hot. 

These are the random observations of a nine time Winnipeg Hypo runner named Mike.

There were a few nasty puddles and the black ice along along Chancellor Matheson Drive was treacherous, but overall this year's Hypo was a grand success. This is the second year of the new Hypo course and it was a huge improvement from last year.

Last year I chose not to write about the event because it was distressingly poor. After years (decades) of successfully hosting the event at gorgeous Fort Whyte Centre it was moved to St. Norbert Community Club in South Winnipeg. Last year's event did not measure up to the previous standard in terms of overall enjoyment, food, and course. Not even close.  Runners voted with their feet and the traditional three waves were reduced to two waves, barely.  It did not bode well for the Hypo. 

Despite the freakish weather, this year's event was a remarkable improvement from 2016.  Race director Chris Walton and his merry crew listened and responded to the many suggestions from the running community. There was a new sense of professionalism in the air while last year it seemed amateurish.  

Here's a how I saw it... 
  • The new course is safer, more interesting, and much more 'runner friendly'.  There's still way too much side walk where runners get bunched up, but less so than last year. There is room for improvement here.
  • The police presence was outstanding while last year it was non-existent. The police presence is reassuring to runners and volunteers and adds to the professionalism.
  •  The volunteers were plentiful, and knowledgeable of running needs.  I recognized many stellar volunteers from or running community such as Bob and Julie Gold Steinberg, Junel Malapad, Rick Lecuyer, Oliver Valencia, Aldo Furlan, Gary Sutherland and many others.  These are dedicated runners who understand.  Their collective running experience is invaluable and their presence adds to the quality of the race. 
  • The pylons clearly delineated the running lane and kept us safe from oncoming traffic.
  • The City of Winnipeg was nudged into sanding the trail through King's Park at the last moment... and this is a significant feat! 
  • The results were posted within 24 hours.... not bad, but perhaps room for improvement.
  • The post-run food was way better this year and the coffee was hot (last year it was luke warm). Vegetarians and vegans would have been disappointed, but meat eaters were in heaven (do you really need sausage AND bacon?).
  • There were pace bunnies for all levels of runners ranging from TC to 1:50.  
  • The medal is cool and unique and the swag is practical (a backpack which I will donate to an inner city school).
Perhaps the best part of the Hypo is the training. The Hypo gives us a reason to get outdoors at 6PM in minus crazy temperatures with equally crazy windchills.  Eight weeks of training outdoors in dark winter conditions makes us strong and brings us together.  We run with other like minded 'crazies'. We develop incredible friendships and camaraderie.  We cheer novice runners until they feel part of the team.  We run outdoors when many are huddled around the warm glow of the television.  We have suckled heaven where others taste cinnamon buns and coffee. We are stronger in mind, body and spirit.

We are all that we can be.

Thank you Hypo, for this we are grateful.

I expect the Hypo will be back next year as it should.  It's a wonderful, mid-winter event that adds to the quality of our lives.  Winnipeg is a finer city because of the the Hypo and the many volunteers that turn the cranks and gears of community.  We are fortunate for this event and I wish the crew continued good success.

It's a good day to be alive.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

We killed a bottle of scotch.

It's just a cup,  a plastic juice cup used in hospitals around the world. This one was stolen from St. Boniface Hospital palliative care the night before my father died. We killed a bottle of Scotch that night, a 24 ouncer of Balentine. We had been working on it for several days, but truthfully it wasn't our first bottle. We bought the first one on New Year's eve and kept the bar stocked to the end.

We killed the last bottle together on January 31, 2000 and I have the cup.

We sipped in silence and watched the sun slide below the yardarm of 1999.  I remember the fireworks and the warmth of the scotch. Mostly I remember the moment of quiet contemplation where silence spoke volumes. Love was in the air. Words were not necessary.  I think we were both overwhelmed with life, with just being. Scotch and silence became a panacea for the moment. As far as deaths go, it was perfect, fairytale-like my sister would say.

I'd arrive every day at 4:30 to the same greeting "Mike's here! Let's have a scotch." and we did, and we talked, and we sat in silence. And we apologized for past errors of judgement and laughed at the senselessness of life. We tossed around the meaning of life and finally agreed it is the pursuit of wisdom. That settled, it was time to let go, time to die.

The morning my father died I was with him, alone. He had passed and a nurse entered to fiddle with switches and knobs as I sat by his side. I spoke gibberish, telling her the light was bothering my father and if she could just turn it off he would be more comfortable. She was the mother of one of my students so I was trying to pull it together and be professional.  She approached me and dimmed the lights and then, unexpectedly she hugged me warmly and held me tightly. My gibberish turned to sobs, long guttural uncontrollable sobs.

And she held me.
And she held me.
And she held me.

I told this story to a friend this morning on a 20 km run through bush trail and side streets.  I'm not sure why, but in that moment it was the perfect story. When we run the talk turns existential as we question white light, theories of meta-physical existence and the human condition. As we run we develop incredible friendships based on trust and a willingness to let our guard down and show long shadowed vulnerabilities, flaws in character, hopes and aspirations, regrets and dreams.  We become human, we become at peace with ourselves.

Today was a sublime day to be alive. Thanks Tim.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Running in the post-truth era

Love at the end of an era
Cause it's love at the end of an era
Wait for the night, for the light at the end of an era
Wait for the night, the light at the end of an era

In this life we keep moving

Strumbellas, End of an Era

Like many I am deeply disheartened in this era of post-truth.  The bloated angry face, the ridiculous orange combover, the hateful rhetoric, the spiteful tweets cause emotional distress. We feel visceral, physical pain. It hurts to the core to witness the dismantling of principled American values centuries in the making. America the Beautiful has become America the Wounded. We mourn the loss of decency and kindness. We are frightened for the future of our children. We are angry and we march, and we sing and we dance in defiance.

I desperately want to understand the mindset of Trump supporters some of whom are reading this very blog. I simply don't get it; how one can possibly support the hatred, the divisiveness, the mysongny perpetuated by President Trump? I want to understand, but I simply cannot.

The other day Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Maestro, Alexander Mickelthwate introduced a sublime evening of choral music at Westminister United Church.  He spoke eloquently of his frustration with the new world order, the era of post-truth, the era of Donald Trump.  Ever the gentleman, Mickelthwate could not bring himself to say the word so instead he spelled it aloud...

I do not understand the s.h.i.t. that is happening in The United States.

He then disclosed a pang of guilt for hosting the gorgeous New Music Festival in such troubled times... a hint of frivolity in desperate times.  He then rebounded passionately, angrily, and dismissed the guilt.

I paraphrases here...

No, this is exactly what we should be doing. Singing and welcoming cultures from around the world. Celebrating cultures joyfully and welcoming differences, and demolishing walls that separate us. Sing loud...

This was met with a thunderous ovation and set a glorious tone for the evening.  A tone of love, and hope, and humanity. The choirs sang loudly, their voices rising to the frigid  night sky. We were enveloped in a cozy blanket of truth and warmth. For the moment we surrendered to the beauty of choral voice in these troubled times, this era of post truth.

We need to move our feet when we pray. We must never stop believing in the spirt of humanity overcoming hatred.  We need to walk for peace. We need to run for humanity. We need to march for truth. Together we will regain our moral compass and the likes of President Trump will, in time, fade from memory.

In this life we need to keep moving.

These are beliefs of a runner named Mike.

I believe in goodness.

I believe in truth.

I believe in kindness.

I believe love trumps hate.

I believe it's a good day to be alive.