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."