Sunday, August 23, 2009

Chinese buffet

One day, I decided to bike across Ontario so I packed a sleeping bag and pumped my bike tires and set off for an adventure. After a week of protein bars, chocolate milk and cheese omelettes so hot from the grill that the frying oil sizzled on the plate, I stumbled upon a Chinese buffet restaurant roughly the size of Best Buy and released my voracious and un-quenched hunger. Steamed asparagus! Salmon! Sushi! Spring rolls!

This is plate 1 of 3, minus the bowl of hot & sour soup and the dessert plate of chocolate cake, cookies and melon slices.

I'd naively hoped that the message curled inside the fortune cookie would address my journey or my appetite but it didn't.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Mystery dessert

Let's discuss the importance of knowing what you're eating, then sink a spork into the dessert placed in front of you. The dish above concluded a jovial dinner at a vinyard near Niagara. The chef was a bit of an envelope-pushing deviant, and nothing that emerged from that kitchen and brought to our tables was what it appeared at first sight. That triangle of thin milk chocolate is actually thin chocolate-flavoured toasted bread. The rice mound? Some kind of dry custard with sandgrain-sized flecks of vanilla bean mixed throughout.
The strawberries and the wine were authentic. And really good.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Making tracks

"It's enough to make you go crazy /
And I'm amazed I haven't yet"

Music & running go together like milk & cookies. Sometimes I leave my player home and let the route mix me up a random soundtrack. Barking dogs, lovesick couples intergiggling, mothers instructing their kids on how to eat melting ice cream cones ("lick fast! faster!") on the canal paths. Rustling leaves, squawking seagulls and cyclists switching gears on the River paths. Car radios and open windows on the street sections of my routes. When I catch a whiff of a song with a good beat my tempo rises like a gas flame and I can almost feel the tune burrowing deeply into my ears. I have begun and ended runs with one song endlessly on repeat.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Smoke signals

“When you go, know you are perfect /
Please let me know if I was worth it”

"I don’t want to mess with your free spirit qualities. They are who you are, and I found them attractive; I felt completely at home with them. I was surprised that you would agree to my requests (as well as the length of our call that night) and relieved that you rejected them.

If you really want to do things like learn your language and live with your people, why don’t you do that? They are not impossible desires, are they? And put into action, they’d benefit you and your people, wouldn’t they? Nothing holds you back except yourself. You have a forest of possibility growing inside of you. You know that, so what’s stopping you?

You underline your free spirit quality in heavy ink. It can trap you just like a profession or a religion or anything else we cling to for our identity. A desire for freedom and caring for others are not mutually exclusive, any moron can see that. I am half wild myself, but only half, so maybe I don’t know what it’s like for you. Still, I think I get some stuff about you. Yeah, not everything, but for sure I get more about you than you do about me."

Sunday, May 31, 2009


We've been away, running in different cities and provinces. Time apart deconstructs the team, loosens us up, makes space where we can activate the skills we've been practicing in group sessions. Our focus changes; we rely on ourselves for motivation and assurance instead of looking outwardly to the coach and the schedule for support. The question of ability shapeshifts to statement form: can I? I can.
When we regroup, our long table buzzes with shiny new tales of travel, romance and adventure. Also: new blisters, running costumes, lobster dinners, salty Atlantic breezes and Cape Breton Island.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Solar flare

Under the orange sign, just below the bluest sky, I traded excited wishes for a good race with the yellow-dressed runner beside me. We started to run, slowly. I fidgeted with my waterbelt which had settled too low on my hips. A runner just ahead and on my right stepped on an abandoned water bottle and the spurting liquid baptized the leg of a man on my left, shocking him out of his reverie and causing him to look around blankly for the source; I explained the linked events and shared a laugh.

Considered the impact of 9,000 pounding feet upon the gravity of the Earth. Looked around for people I know. Thought about thinking nothing. At the first water station Pedro handed me a cup and a friendly smile. The sun shone and I ran. Felt like a vistor as I read signs above bars on the Quebec streets, and a bored local near Carleton. Fell into step with drummers and sang along with singers. Let my eyes linger on runners' tattoos as I ran behind them, and considered how otherwise I'd never stare at a person's calf for so long in public. Smiled at cops who held back traffic and wished us luck. Watched runners ahead of me and thought about who they were, what kind of training they did and how they got to be so fast. High fived smiling kids. Remembered Philly, and how cold the asphalt had felt through the thin soles of my Mizunos. Kids with colorful sponges soaked in cold water, how I loved them eternally, and the energetic fella with the purple cowboy hat, I loved him too. The digital clocks set up at the 10k, 21.1k and 30k markers ticked on and my feet ran to the next water station, a connect-the-dots puzzle. Crumpled every drained paper cup as a gesture of something. Watched kids gather discarded cups with flicks of their hockey sticks. Noticed that my urge to pass was not as aggressive as it had been at the half marathon race last year, when every person in front of me was an obstacle. Noticed my forced exhalations. Tricked myself into believing there was no shame in stopping but that I don't need to stop. It was just me and the road. Felt pained as I watched the faster runners in front of me slow to a walk by the farm where the stetch of road seemed unending and the sun rays the most oppressive, and a stride-lengthening surge of happiness five minutes later as Jess called out from the side in her clear, tall voice, Natalie King, you're my hero, and I turned to see Peter waving at me. At that point I was starting to tell myself I had already run the race and was now into the conclusion, the cooldown. But I bought that line for only a short time and had to replace it with: almost over, 40k down, 2k up, don't think, run. You could stop now, but you've come all this way. Release the inner cheetah.

Then the last signs taken in glances: 300m, 100m, and then the final archway dares me and I hold on to my heart so it won't fly away and I jump over the line and yell and then the finisher's medal is around my neck, as shiny as my smile and heavy as my feet. My face a salt lick.

I talked haphazardly with other runners, ate a half poppyseed bagel and drank some protein, stretched on a picnic table, smiled at a man with lilacs tucked fetchingly behind an ear, sank into the park grass, backpack cradling my head, not a care in the world, nothing on the agenda; I had left home, roamed the world like a hobo and returned filthy, spent and utterly blissed out; the body sacrificed on the road like a deer, the tiny yellow bird of my spirit following Icarus.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The day before

I hope it did it right. The preparation, I mean. My running clothes are laid out, along with gels and shoes. Bottle of ibuprofen. Sun-shielding ballcap. Garmin.
Tonight's entertainment will consist of heavy water drinking and refraining from setting goals. Goal are like tigers: fun to play around with but dangerous.

But, this is a good goal for tomorrow evening.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Brown, black, white & gold

Although we hit the downtown streets as a pack, it's not long before each body is a lone wolf running. My first 20k were dull, lacking energy and nothing special. Then I noticed white people offering samples of ultra-rich chocolate milk, and those two ounces of brown diesel powered my return trip on the canal and may have contributed to my wondrous joy upon turning a corner and seeing what appeared to be three thin humanoids walking stiltingly, jovially, perhaps four metres in height. They were dressed entirely in white flowing garments and matching top hats, and I thought they might have been the hallucinatory product of the long run, but I decided they were material beings on stilts when the male gallantly approached me and took my hand in his. The gesture as well as the sight of my fuzzy black gloved hand encased inside his two smooth white hands almost sent me reeling, so I smiled and withdrew, heading back to meet the pack and hug a white mug of black gold with both hands.

Monday, January 26, 2009


There is a network of caffeine-themed support that keeps North Americans operating at hyperspeed like microbes in a light-induced frenzy. I was introduced to this buzz-bolstered lifestyle when I started my career and was slowly incorporated into office coffee culture. Each company employee was assigned a day per month to make coffee in the office kitchen for the rest of us; by mid-morning, when the pot was milked dry, workers would troop to the grimy bar next door which transformed with the rising sun into a grimy coffee shop (the filth was more noticeable during daylight hours). This routine was occasionally topped up by an organized "Timmy's run." This coffee obsession was novel to me and I chalked it up to another office culture peculiarity until I realized, with some paranoia, and that my office's obsession with coffee was a microcosmic example of the dependence prevalent in my culture at large. Social events are coffee kick-started: mornings, meetings, friendships, and the day's last mugful is served after dinner to tide one over until the first dose of the next day.

I believe that coffee shops and other enablers gain financially from the addictions they cleverly sustain in two populations: office workers and, weirdly, runners. My club convenes at a coffee shop before and after running sessions. Gels and other "energy" sources (I won't call them food) contain caffeine (my favorite is not named Espresso Love for nothing). Caffeine is a marathon drug that quickens the blood, enabling us to do more, faster. Is that the main purpose of running and work? Only tyrants would agree. In defiance of this ridiculous association between my work, my sport and my unconscious desire for coffee, all which work together to make someone else rich and leave me dehydrated of coins and fluids, I am loosening my iron grip on the mug. For the last month, I have been greeting the day with a cup of coffee substitute and I tote a thermos of jasmine tea to drink at the office. I'm trying to wean myself off of the daily dose so that coffee can enjoy a new status in my life, that of a treat, and thus release me from its shackles – a reference to the theme of freedom in my life. We shall see how well I manage. It's a big change. And one day, the tea will have to go, too.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


I tread the slushy sidewalk, the bitter wind matching the taste in my mouth. Dirt-flecked snow, dun concrete. Walking, always walking, I think. Waiting at the traffic light, I raise eyes to the horizon. The trail of parking lots to the west offers a wide view of the peach pink orange sky (is there a word besides salmon?). I blink and realize that it's still light, it's the end of my working day and still it's light, and there are tons of people around me dressed in snowman/woman costumes. Masquerades of urban arctic explorers holding steaming coffee cups in skidoo-gloved hands, missing their dogsleds. Cyclists dressed as bee-loving cat burglars, black balaclavas and jackets bright yellow, Sorels heavy on the pedals, bikes emblazoned with small red blinking lights switched on and out of synch, two-wheeled carnivals, and still it's light. I watch my breath engrave my mortality in cloudy curls of calligraphy until the sun sinks and the spectacle is closed for the day.

Later, by the butter yellow light of a kitchen lamp,
I bake nutrient vehicles masquerading as
oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

Monday, January 19, 2009

If Kerouac had been a runner

It was a Sunday of shapes and surprises. The sidewalks were still snow dusted when I set off for downtown. Rested and excited, my initial intention was to crash the run club for the first time in months, but had not accounted for the cans of Rockstar shotgunned by the fast kids. My walk break question was met with a snicker: "You won't get many of those." The Gaz and I let them go ahead so we could be free to design our own adventure where endurance would take privilege over speed. Stoked by our overarching vision of The Great Run, we bravely cut fresh trail in Rockcliffe then took a shortcut to duck into a market cafe to warm hands and top up courage levels with a quick shot of espresso. A display case of handmade chocolate delights held our attentions long enough for her to carbo-load a square of rose-flavoured Turkish Delight and a rectangle of honeyed baklava as light and flakey as falling snow. Spirits high from city lights and stimulants, we wound our melting way through tables of books at Chapters, dissing shrink-wrapped hardcovers before pushing open the door to whatever would become the next leg of the run. A few steps to the icy canal, a few cautious strides on the sublime surface and we were rejoicing at the clarity of our new path which we accepted honourably as a sign: "to whom much has been given, much will be expected." We dodged skaters and ubiquitous snowplows, both determined to bruise, and give us a run to remember, we were still high from the warmth of the break. To Dow's Lake we charged, side by side, the wind at our backs. To the canvas-covered lean-to's where we stretched hamstrings on long wooden benches and marvelled at kids' kitty cat hats. On the return, we encountered uphill wind resistance and tried to keep the motivational entropy at bay. Gaz talked up the Beavertail until its simulated presence in our hungry, clutching minds gained sufficient substance to carry us as though on a wave to the end, at which point we ripped away thrilling morsels of the lemony cinnamon sugar bread like it was freshly killed prey. In a way it was our savior, imparting strength for the remaining km, at the end of which we stumbled into the meeting place, blind with fatigue, shaking from spent effort. More caffeine and warm milk and some twisted conversation, Gaz pounding on her arms to regulate blood flow and then we were collecting radiator-heated mitts and jackets for the final leg. I wished for a handful of chocolate-covered coffee beans, dark stones of artificial stimulation to help me fly over the snowy sidewalks leading me home. Gaz turned a corner and I foolishly slowed to a walk, feeling happy and crazy and tired. I reached my basement cave, unlocked the door, body crumpling, and I felt compelled to lie down where I was, eyes closing with relief. 29km.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Pancakes and weekend mornings. A perfect pair. At any hour.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Philly Cheesesteak

The Philly Cheesesteak: the ultimate intersection of running and food.

Excuse moi?

I had never laid eyes on this classic menu item before travelling to its native city to run the marathon. I had heard of it, and had idealized it into a food of mythic proportion.

The day before the race we strolled through a random market and stumbled upon a rowdy crowd of hungry eaters waiting for one man's interpretation of this classic cuisine as he prepared them one by one in his stall kitchen. He pounded the frying meat on the grill until it formed soft strips, which were then shovelled into a submarine bun loaded with condiments. The sandwich in its entirety filled, and I mean filled, the brown bag it was shoved into.

Note the sweatshirt logo of the female customer as she fixes her gaze on her greasifying lunch: "unathletic."