Tuesday, December 2, 2008


You know those wooden crates of tiny oranges sold this time of year. More like gems or candy than fruit, they keep the scurvy elves at bay, and award you with juicy sweetness after 3 seconds' worth of peeling effort.

Oranges and Christmas share a historical connection that today's global market economy can't wipe out. When fresh foods can be imported on demand, I find it refreshing to see seasonal fruit available here. We need to work on recycling those damn crates, though. Any ideas?

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Sometimes we’re lucky without even realizing it. We think we want to be released from an arduous task so we search for a loop hole, a technicality or a crack in the plan that will let us off the hook just this once.

Your sleepy self awakes and notes the sunny sky and the white space on the calendar; the clean running shirt (your favorite) lying on the table beside the sunnies you thought you’d lost. When the universe has made it clear that it’s got your back but still you feel lazy or fearful while wishing you could back out gracefully from the responsibility ahead, well, then what do you do?

You jump. You get up, lace up and lock the door behind you. When the hardest part of the journey is the departure, we’re luckier than we deserve to be.

Today’s run marks a milestone. Finally, I have crossed into new territory. With three 28K distance runs behind me, I skipped the standard 30 and added 1 (30 is overrated). I left the house uncertain if my knee, which recently has been yelping for a yoga class, was dependable enough to last this distance. I ran slowly to frenetic music and arrived home in due course, running belt two gel packs lighter. I think I was able to coast on only two gels’ worth of energy because I consumed a lot of food last night; some good folks laid the foundation when they served up a tasty pasta, salmon & asparagus dinner. Lucky for me, as I’d much rather savour authentic food in the company of real friends (in their new home!) than suck on dreadful-tasting gels by myself.

My lucky streak continued to safety-net me when I unwittingly ate part of a salad upon which I had poured a dressing that harboured traces of dill, an herb that has violently provoked me in the past. I was granted a free pass this time: no barfing or asphyxiation. Not a single hive to scratch obsessively. Lucky.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Brownies & the blues

It's the end of a grey day and the beginning of a gloomy week. You don't need me to tell you it's time to scour the kitchen cupboards for baking ingredients.

I make these brownies often. The banana and chocolate are the dominant flavours. Unless you happen to notice the green flecks, you might never guess they contain zucchini. Your roommate's 7-year old will not suspect you slipped icky vegetables into her yummy dessert.

Zucchini Banana Brownies
~ from a Dr. Dean Ornish cookbook ~

Bigger bowl:
-4 cups grated zucchini
-2 cups mashed ripe banana
-4 tsp vanilla
-2 tbsp water

Smaller bowl:
-4 cups flour
-1 cup sugar
-2/3 cup dutch cocoa
-2 tsp baking soda
-2 tsp salt

Mix dry ingredients into wet. The dough will become gooey and insolent, and not want to cooperate. Use your (clean) hands to really get in there and massage it all together really well. It's a squishy and messy undertaking, you'll feel like a little kid, and it works. Pour mixture into a rectangular glass pan and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Let cool before cutting into squares.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Under pressure

Went out with a friend last night. Watched movies and ate greasy fajitas and plowed through bottles of cheep beer and shot the shit and slept on the couch, and, in the morning, lingered over greasy breakfast and a paper. And amidst the wind that swirled around the patio, and the thin, diner coffee, and the amazing toast, I remembered that I had forgotten how important it is to have fun and not take life so goddam seriously all the time.

This week, which is coming to a close, was deemed a medium-effort week, so today's long run was only about 16k long. Our coach made a solid decision there, I'd say. My tummy, brain and knee unanimously agreed that I should go easy today.

It was a decent run. No geese gawkers littered today's chosen route; saw a handful of cyclists and almost no runners. The wind picked up at about 10k, and I thought it might rain but it didn't. I didn't have overflowing energy, and my pace was more tortoise than hare, but I let it go. I like to try to take it easy on myself during my long runs so I didn't force anything. The way I see it, I'm concentrating on one thing: distance. There's no need for me to add more goals and pressure to the mix. I am enamoured with running, and I want to maintain this love for many years to come. The best way I know how to make love stay is to not force it. Please don't confuse this with romantic advice; it is most definitely not.

It ain't seasonal advice, either. Summer is thinking about leaving us for a while. There's been a lot of that going around, but in this case, and as far as I know, it's nothing personal.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cry Freedom

What makes you a feral runner?

An empty street. A crowded path.
A challenging, maybe even dangerous, route infamous for its potholes, hills, hordes of cyclists or cougar sightings (yes, I said it).
A solid interview for that perfect job; a dismal failure.
A big birthday, one ending with a 0 or 5.
Fiery conflict.
An illicit romance.
A hurtful secret.
Fierce feelings: hatred and revenge.
A close encounter.

The freedom run feels drug induced, and it is, sort of; the wild chemicals burst in our brains when exposed to speed. You could run forever but you’re riding shotgun, nobody put you in charge of landing the plane. Like an after-party or a post-fireworks bbq, the freedom run follows on the heels of an event, but it leads you. It is sweet fire that carries you far and away. It feels wild.

Like so many precious animal and human populations, the freedom run is under threat and it needs your protection. You must guard against exploitation. In a commercialized sport like running, our attentions are easily victimized by the latest Big Brand ads forcing doggie running shoes and new gel flavors (like toasted English muffin with anchovy paste) down our throats. The process of commercial exchange will gradually, with our unconscious permission, rob us of our rights to choose and will end in freedom’s extinction. I can feel its breath slowing with every unnecessary piece of running gear I buy, and with each step I take on the fake surface of a treadmill while the sun shines outdoors. The only reliable way to resuscitate the heart of freedom is to work at making each run your own. Find your own rhythm and lend it a beat.
If you unconsciously live someone else’s dream,
you will become a plastic pig on a bbq.

“The stuff you own ends up owning you.”

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Running is dependable. Like my favorite constellation, the Big Dipper (yeah I’m original on that one), running is always there for me when I look for it. When life is going my way, it doubles my pleasure. When I’m facing demons, it has my back; it’s my AK-47 and my cloak of invisibility (the handiest weapon of the future). Running doesn’t erase painful feelings; it props me up so I can better handle the frustration of a slow-moving thesis paper and the hurtfulness of selfish lovers. Hi-speed, lo-fi, intervals, long distance, hills, urban, rural, beach, trails, group, solo: however the run of the day is served, it’s sure to be accompanied by a variety of side dishes, compliments of the chef. I can feel strong, capable, in control, impenetrable, amused and amusing, sexy, rebellious, a shithead, determined, ridiculous, remarkable, retarded, faster than I am, and like I don’t give a fig what’s happening around me because I will be splitting from the scene in 3 seconds max. It’s like backpacking that way. Damn, I miss being an irresponsible traveller.

In terms of sassiness, however, backpacking clothes don’t hold a candle to my running skirt. The skirt says, I can wear shorts and a skirt simultaneously; I can wear a tight, short skirt and not let you see anything I don’t want you to when I fall over, that’s how cool, together and overall awesome I am. If the glacial weather wasn’t already descending like a plague upon this godforsaken city I’d be raising that hemline. (For the record, backpacking clothes say – albeit in a gorgeous foreign accent – wash me before I disintegrate: you don’t know the number of filthy floors I’ve lain upon!)

Another dependable: apples. Award-winning characteristics: Portable. Delicious. Healthy. Crunchy. Fresh. Smurf measurement ("3 apples tall"). Sweet. Juicy. Colorful. Ubiquitous. Compostable. Canadian. Cosmopolitan. And sassy, for sure: red as a monkey’s flaming butt.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Running nirvana

We probably owe our existence to endorphins. These chemicals screaming hot-icy through our bodies come around when we do benevolent things for ourselves. Running seems to invite them – as does other strenuous activity – but if the feel-good fairy dropped by every time we laced up a sneaker, there would be chaos, so they’re secretive in their ways. Endorphins are flirts: they entice us but they don’t make themselves too available.

When I return to running after taking a break, the endorphins sail my way. I don’t have to run hard or far to feel their effects. These days, my weekly long runs conclude with cravings for coffee, or odd protein-rich foods I don’t or wouldn’t eat, or avoid like the plague like sidewalk hotdogs (seriously). I haven’t IM’d with the dreamy chemicals in some time (and I won’t ingest them through hotdogs).

Tonight was an exception. I felt them. Speedwork tonight was 2000m x 4 with a 5 minute rest in between. All the running I did – to the meeting place, during practice and during the scenic route to my place – added up to about 16 km with the first eight requiring strenuous effort. The last seven were gentle. I concentrated on keeping good technique, the unusually choppy waves of the water, and how they distort the city lights that try to lay claim on them.

I had forgotten how endorphins make you feel wonderful until I got home. Contentedness and a feeling of peace too sweet to question accompany mundane activities like slicing tomatoes for a sandwich when you’re under the influence. My quads now feel sore, reminding me that endorphins encourage and delude, like a good coach or thesis advisor: "you can do it, you're almost there!"

Strenuous running is not the only way to invite peace into your life. I’m open to the hot sauce endorphins as modeled by these Vietnamese chili sauces, but for mind-altering spice capades that appear to freeze time as well as your face, you can’t beat an overindulgence of wasabi.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Peanut butter yoga

Peanut butter has a home in my heart. Smeared along the toasted surfaces of an English muffin, I watch it transform. As though lying prone on a heated yoga studio floor, the pb surrenders its shape and explores the freedom of the shivasana pose. A bite, a crunch: in a moment of melted magic, the pb warms my tongue and invite me to imagine the arms of nirvana hugging and releasing me all at once.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Meatloaf and burnt toast

Some mornings, nothing goes as planned. I chose to stay out late last night and sing karaoke to celebrate a friend’s successful defence of her PhD dissertation. She says she’s only going through that hell once in this lifetime. Who could blame her?

So, I overslept and missed my run today. I miss a lot of morning runs and I burn a lot of toast. I also belt out a hardened and scornful rendition – as only a woman can – of Meatloaf’s “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” at the drop of a hat. The toast destroying I find the most distressful.

The bread I scorched this morning is a “breakfast pita” made by Pita Break. Imagine the love child of a pita and a naan, available in gentle, morning-friendly flavours like orange-cranberry and muesli. The company’s suspicion of the decision-making skills of the individual is illustrated by the toasting instructions printed on the plastic bag. Perhaps they need to make their instructions more clear for curmudgeons like me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Swept away

My kitchen is a laboratory and this is a breakfast beaker.

The peaches grown in this neck of the woods are spheres of ambrosia. I nurtured a deep attachment to the peach this summer, a funky surprise having never enjoyed this fruit before. “An immature nectarine with pubescent hair growth,” I would declare (in my head). Perhaps it’s true that love and hate are fruit borne of the same tree. My breakfast life changed when I accepted a fresh peach after finishing my first 25 km. It was like the ol’ Jekyll and Hyde story: in seconds the thing had been devoured, I found a sticky pit in my palm and I had a feeling of being quenched on several levels. I had tapped into an unconscious undercurrent of nectar desire and my fear of fuzz was gone.

Another new friend of mine is flax seed. It’s famous for its omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, two polyunsaturated fats that are beneficial for us. I don't know why, they just are, okay?

Yummy Smoothie
1 tbsp flax (freshly ground)
1/2 banana
1 peach, cut up
About a cup of cold green tea (brewed the day before)
A dollop of yogurt – plain, vanilla, lemon, whatevah
1 tbsp maple syrup

Blend, then pour into a beaker - or alternately, a glass - and sip it slow.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Part-time work perk # 69: getting up really early only a few times a week. Although my sleeping habits could be described as, let's say, dishevelled, I have managed a few heavy footsteps along my route while semi-conscious, eyelids heavy and cap pulled down low. A mystical feeling hangs in the air at that hour. The day of the dawn is like a sandwich in the mind awaiting assembly. Like an airplane lingering on the tarmack, capable of liftoff in any direction, but assuredly up. If you have the luxury, you can sit and watch the sky change by the minute, demonstrating every color it owns from dark to pale, until the yolk of the sun cracks the horizon and breaks the spell that lulled you into believing that you are the only person to witness this transformation.

But, this morning it rained.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Where the truth lies

I lied - just 28k today, not 30k. The atmospheric details were perfect - good company, beautiful route and cooler than normal temperatures - but still I had a hard slog. (Doug, who had never tackled that dstance before today, looked as fresh as a daisy.) Afterwards, over a cavernous bowl of the strongest joe available at Bridgehead without a perscription, our coach advised me to carry more gels next time. Those little shots of gooey glucose offer only about a 100 calories, enough to revive a weary body and force it to go on. I'm fussy on the gel flavours, refusing all but the descendants of the beloved cocoa-bean (chocolate and espresso), and I know that ultimately there's a limit to the number of gels my tum will accept over the next few months of marathon training. This is no cause for despair: a wild world of sugar products roam freely, and there is no need to remain loyal to one gooey (and disgusting) format. There are probably as many options for sugary pick-me-ups as there are runners.
A runner in our group surprised us one morning; while the rest of us ripped in to our gels like a mad pack of hive-minded Running Room lemmings, she roguishly unfolded a private stash of multi-coloured, multi-flavoured candies which I took to be jujubes but were actually wine gums. Chewy mini-doses of 'port,' 'burgundy' and 'champagne' are edible gems on a Sunday morning's long run. That, my friends, is class.
I hope a gummy equivalent exists for this amazing Mexican wine: L A Cetto Petite Sirah.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Sweet, smooth, salty, crunchy

Fuel for tomorrow's 30K: PB & B on light rye, liberally sprinkled with dark chocolate chips.