Midday sun hitting the window and flaring, not quite reaching my table. Stopping at the chair opposite mine. The National on low over the speakers; three cafés in two days playing The Boxer. The lunch crowd packed and gone, back to offices, Government employees these, nearly all of them. A post-bomb radius of empty tables around me, the few occupied ones on the circumference. Against the bar, against the window, far enough from my table they look flung. Three young women and one dessert to share. A Japanese student with a black bow in her hair, pink-framed glasses, reaches into her purse, pulls out a mirror and tucks back an escaped strand of hair. Runs a thin manicured finger across her left eyebrow. Contemplates for a moment, then runs her finger across the other eyebrow.
In 2012 no Pulitzer was awarded for fiction. Train Dreams, a novella by Denis Johnson, was shortlisted for the prize. It was his second time in the final three. Twelve pages remaining.
The First Half half marathon is two days hence. Halfway in to last year’s race I was on Canadian Master’s half marathon record pace, 33:16 through the split. Before the race I wasn’t sure Boyd’s record was assailable. He was enjoyable to watch. One of the longest careers in Canadian history, if any of us can really call running a career at our speeds. A 1:06:33 half marathon on a record eligible course when he was in his early forties. At 50 years old he won the Canadian Master’s cross-country championships. The guy just wasn’t slowing down. Still the same power and knee lift he’d had when he ran away from the best 10 000m runners in the country in 1998, en route to winning the national track championships. Broke free from the pack early and hid a curve ahead, and nobody could catch him. Outspoken, opinionated, sharp. In a conversation with him you’re accountable for every word you speak.
I’d hoped to be able to threaten his record, but our bodies become such temperamental things as we age. Sometimes we can get close to our former levels of performance. More often, that transcendent level of performance eludes us. For a variety of reasons. Most simply don’t give racing the same courtesy. It doesn’t mean as much anymore, priorities have changed. Some of our intensity has been mollified, or diverted into other pursuits. Tendons instrument-tight. Muscles just not firing as rapidly or consistently as when we were beautiful. And then I just straight up don’t have Boyd’s kind of talent. Weather, course, competition all would need to be near-perfect, if I’m going to run that fast. At last year’s finish I surprised myself missing the mark by only 30 seconds. It was as close as I would get all year.
On Sunday I could maybe run 1h08’ - 1h08’30”. I don’t think I’m anywhere near last year’s 1h07’03” fitness. Still. I’m interested in this race partly as a harbinger for the season; if I run well enough I’ll consider flying somewhere flat and warm to chase Boyd’s mark. Somewhere that’d ignite the spirit. Lisbon, Vienna. Somewhere you have to run fast if you’re on the startline, because look at all those eyes looking back. I’d go somewhere I could feel important for one last time, like I’m doing a job. Travelling for a job.