Monday morning. Cherry blossoms in full bloom outside my place. Sometimes after a windy night I'll wake to find a few petals on my living room floor. Here in the sunlight my entire window is electric pink. Six days from Comox. A 14:55 5km last Sunday, in the middle of a longer workout. Today, an easy tune up session of 3 x 6 minutes working from marathon pace down to 10km.

Book 13, an enjoyable little story about a man who is diagnosed with a terminal illness and sets off with his wife to travel the world, working from A destinations to Z:

The End of the Alphabet - CS Richardson.


The weather forecaster said "sun", said sun for the next ten days, which is why on this grey and drizzly day I am at Habit with a hot apple cider instead of doing my workout. Here feeling burdened by the day. I'd felt good the past couple of runs, motivated, sprite-like, but today it is cold and damp and the blood runs from the peripheries to the core; it runs to the organs. I'm delaying. I'll get out this aft, into the park, a long session which will be less of a tune up for Sunday's race than an important brush stroke in the body of work for Comox.


Ran Sunday's session Wednesday. It was a battle, but I did it and I'm happy to have it in my pride of workouts. 15km of intensity averaging 3:07 pace. There were those two dry weather days, one of them (the workout) with sun, and it's kind of nice to be back to a rainy café day.

And that café today is Shatterbox, hidden upstairs in the art studio.

I've written nearly exclusively about running lately but I want those Canadian records and they will be fore in my mind until after Comox, after the Sun Run, and then hopefully I can let up and think about other things for a spell, Guinness and car bombs and Berlin and maybe I can go somewhere for a bit of dancing. Not that this running stuff isn’t fun, but it’s obsessive and it frays me; I feel less solid around the edges, less defined as a human somehow. Isn't this odd. Isn't it curious. If we're defined by our habits and routines, Jim? Yeah, I know him. He's the runner, right? Works at Frontrunners? I see him now and then at Habit. I should be more defined when I'm running; the edges should become sharper the more I train. It's not true though. Maybe it's because I think of running as frivolity. Maybe it's the psyche of a nation. I'm not qualified to write about this but doesn't it seem like sports are younger men's games? It's what we do before we get real jobs, before we commit to meaningful relationships, before kids. Before we move into the adult phases of our lives. I'm not talking about those who make a living from sport, the benchwarmers making a minimum, a minimum, of $450 000 per year, and the ones at the top of their sports too. I'm talking about me, earning somewhere between $50 and $500 per year, most of that and usually more absorbed by travel expenses and hotels and loss of wages from my other more stable job. So when I'm running as much as I am right now, and the total eclipse of running blots out any other creative pursuit, and I can't forget that competitive running has an expiration date and that date is nigh, I start asking myself why am I doing this? But of course I am passionate about it. I love it. It's one of very few ways I could spend my time that feeds my soul, and that alone dispels the doubts.


From Nick Hornby's More Baths Less Talking (book 8): My only complaint about this engaging and thoughtful book is that its author uses the word vanilla pejoratively too often, as a synonym for bland, dull, safe. This usage, I think must stem from vanilla ice cream, which, typically, tastes of nothing and is certainly the unthinkable option if you're in an ice-cream establishment that offers scores of varieties. The flavor of the vanilla pod itself, however, is sophisticated, seductive, subtle. Have you tried the Body Shop Vanilla Shower Gel? I don't want to write advertising copy for multnational companies - not for free, anyway - but Body Shop Vanilla, it seems to me, is much more suggestive of deviance and light bondage than it is of missionary position.

And from the same book, on Charles Dickens:

Quilp and Steerforth, Uriah Heep and MAdame Defarge, Fagin and Bill Sikes and scores of others... If these all came from Dickens's shadow side, then we must all be grateful that psychotherapy hadn't yet been invented. If it had, some well-meaning shrink would have got him to talk these extraordinary half-human creatures into nothingness.

We're four weeks from Comox. A third of the way between the last race and my next one, and what have I done? A couple of workouts that stayed aerobic. A sprint workout, on the track, with spikes. Some shitty runs and some decent ones. Nothing exciting. Nothing to suggest I’m on target. Yesterday’s workout was important and I pulled out during the first of five intervals. Lateral proximal hamstrings sore. Breathing ragged. Legs tired, not firing. I slowed to where it wasn’t worth continuing. Walked a kilometer back to the start. Changed out of my flats. Jogged home.

Ate a sad breakfast and drank two cappuccinos, completely off the wagon now. Beast mode is cute little rabbit mode. Schizophrenic Bunny mode. Whimpering, fearful, uncertain mode. Read the signs. Read the signs. I haven’t been sleeping well. On Saturday the wind off the water ran west to east and brutalized. I was in the park for my run. Giving the wind the finger the way crazies do. Friday was the same. Read the signs. Not sleeping well, agitated, irritable. Music from my ipod nothing but white noise. Words on the page two dimensional.

Monday: rest.

Finished book 9: The Dinner - Herman Koch. Wow.


Monday morning. Mid-February cold. The rain. Umbrellas and Hunter boots, children leaping puddles. Landing in puddles, her brother now chasing. And here, standing at a streetlight, the ubiquitous thrum of windshield wipers. Exhaust curling from tailpipes. At Habit, once I've removed my jacket, a kelly green shirt to lift my spirits above the threshold of the day.

I slept 9 hours. Woke and moved through sun salutations. Measured half a teaspoon of maccha into water, whisked it into a light froth, drank it in three sips.

No run this morning. Two days of terrible runs, cutting them short, cutting my long run in half. A rest day. Scheduled. If someone would turn on the lights. If someone could find the light switch and turn them on I would ... what would I do? I would have a look about me. I would find the button that says Beast Mode. I would press it. Five weeks until my next race. I need to be ready.


Book seven. Just like that. A collection of essays. Both Flesh and Not - David Foster Wallace. Some embarrassingly loud laughs while reading this collection at home in my Haruki Murakami room, alone, which caused my neighbours to stop whatever they were doing and listen.

From "Federer Both Flesh And Not", one of my favourite serious passages: Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war.

First Half

Just before the 1km Richard says it feels fast. He says We’re not going to keep this pace the whole way are we? and our pack of five is silent, not ignoring his query so much as evaluating it for ourselves, wondering if, already, we can rely on the feedback from our legs, our lungs, our hearts to tell us if another 20km at this pace is possible or if we’ll burn up. The top two are off the front. Dave Jackson, Matt Clout, Richard Mosley, Kris Swanson and I are building for a fight for the minor positions, with prize money going five deep and pride much deeper than that. Richard asks us if we’re going to keep the pace and four of us are silent, obeying some unwritten mandate, a set of gentleman’s rules, that say don’t fuck with the competition. Work together until the early anxiousness and energy has burned off and you must do battle, and then test each other against the terrain the way a strong chess player might test a weaker opponent against an opening gambit, but don’t speak. This is psychological warfare. We feel each other with our minds. We reveal as little as possible. To speak is both to show weakness, and to manipulate others on a human level, appealing to courtesy for us to respond. You don’t talk unless it is elemental to navigating the course. The four of us are silent until the 1km mark when Kris says 3:07. Richard has won this race before. He isn’t the most credentialed of our pack but he is the most precocious. As a junior he won the BC cross-country championships, and he has medals on a senior National level. A sharp man. A kind man. Matt is the hungriest. He trains in isolation with enviable and inexhaustible drive. Dave is the most consistent. I have the most experience but I’m also the oldest and I am not racing these four as much as I’m racing the clock, racing Bruce Deacon from when he set the BC master’s record of 1:08:02, and only as a late consideration racing Steve Boyd from 2005, the year he set the Canadian master’s record.

We loop through Yaletown, a quick out –and-back, before heading up Pacific Boulevard toward the south entrance to Stanley Park, cutting up the east channel along Park Lane, past Lost Lagoon to Coal Harbour. From there we will circle the park, popping out where we entered and finishing with a downhill kilometer on Pacific Boulevard. At 8km Richard solicits us once again. World’s most beautiful race, he says, from the back of our pack, and I sneak a look to my right out across the harbour and see the conical yellow sulphur piles, morning sun glancing off glassy downtown architecture, boats moored on still water. It’s beautiful, but I don’t acknowledge it. I refocus my attention onto the back of Dave’s singlet, and five of us run at 19km/hr in single file arcing northwest along the seawall toward the lighthouse in English Bay.

We pass 10km in 31:33. I needed 32:14 for BC record pace. I’m right on Canadian master’s record pace. I try to relax. I try to not think about it. Our finest races come from when we don’t pay attention to our splits and we use our competitors to bring out the best in us. But I can’t help thinking ahead. I can’t help wondering if I can hold this pace. These seeds of doubt.

So I banish them. I think of one positive thought and repeat it until there is no room left for doubt. Halfway in 33:16.

At 14km our pack splinters. Kris had already dropped off and now Matt surges ahead. Dave and I try to follow him and Richard falls adrift. 15km in 47:20. Still right on Canadian record pace. At 15km I am a full minute ahead of the BC record. And I think Today's the dayI can do this today. My coach and I are targeting the Comox half-marathon in 6 weeks as our peak race of the season, but I'm feeling really good, flushed with the feeling that I am doing something special today.

And then the wheels start to come off. Like synchronized swimmers Dave and I slow together, our movements becoming more exaggerated, more obvious. We’re into the most technical part of the course and Matt has disappeared up ahead and Richard isn’t far behind. I lose time on the Canadian record. We pass 20km in 1:03:32 and I’m still nearly a minute ahead of the BC record but I’d need something Herculean to get the Canadian mark and I know it won’t be today. My legs can’t move any faster. We crest the hill with 1km remaining and Dave attacks to see if I will respond and immediately he opens up 10 meters on me. We race into the finishing chute and I cross two seconds behind Dave in 1:07:03. My best time in two years.

Rob Watson: 1:05:39 Joseph Gray: 1:05:47 Matt Clout: 1:06:29 Dave Jackson: 1:07:01 Jim Finlayson: 1:07:03 Richard Mosley: 1:07:35

Race Morning

Up at 5:45 a.m. It says it's 1 degree. Could this be true? Drink my beet juice. Drink my maccha and a Rumble. Head outside for a jog. Only the police, and the volunteers setting up the finish line. It's brisk. Hands and ears are uncovered, cold. Just a shuffle at this hour. Getting the blood moving. The legs moving. City streets littered with pizza boxes, slick with spilled beer. A Canuck victory. I heard the shouts last night and covered my head with the pillow, rolled from my left side to my right.

Some light plyometrics to wake the nervous system. Body sluggish. Body heavy. Yesterday I woke with a sore back. First time. An old man's pain. I can't tell if it's bothering me as I run. I haven't been at race speed. Here in the early hour I feel it tugging at my left side.

Back where I'm staying I look at the BC Athletics blog. The top seed has already qualified for this summer's World Championships in Moscow. He went to my high school. In this race I'm not even the fastest of my high school alums, not even the fastest graduate from South Secondary School, London. Robbie Watson. He's funny as hell. And he works hard. He deserves anything that comes his way.

I don't know what shape I'm in. There's barely any wind. By race start it should be another degree warmer. Two celsius. No excuses. It was one degree for my last race. Too cold for the shorts and singlet I wore. This time I brought a pair of tights and cut them at the knees. I brought arm warmers, gloves. Long socks. 1:08:02. 1:06:33. I'm hoping to break at least one of those marks. But. I don't know.

Afternoon nap

Sometimes you don't even take off your jacket, your shoes yes but not your jacket, and it's only later, after the first and most gossamery dreams have worn off and the blankets are still wrapped around you kiln-like, that you start to strip down, the jacket and your sweater and then maybe your jeans with just enough energy to toss them to the side before you are asleep again.


Tuesday morning. Books four and five of the year: The Flame Alphabet - Ben Marcus Pastoralia - George Saunders

Couple of sharp men. I didn't enjoy identifying with certain characteristics of Saunders's protagonists, though. I didn't enjoy the depression I felt after some of the stories. The self-evaluation.

So after the final story in Pastoralia I drank the last of my cappuccino and went back out into the rain with my head low, passing Toque 'n' Boots on the way, passing her and not saying 'hi'. I walked home and put on my running clothes and ran around the park for 40 minutes, with a few hill sprints near the end. Muscle tension low after last night's bath. Trying to raise it before tomorrow's workout.

Third week of supplementing with iron. Third week of drinking maccha daily. Second week of wine, daily, sometimes with breakfast, a small glass, no more than 60ml, in the goblet my sister made, with my oatmeal. With my eggs. With any meal. Is this how to live a long life? It is.

Recalling Warmer Climes

What you want to do immediately after arriving in any cosmopolis is approach a man or a woman young enough to be hip, attractive enough to move in the right circles, and worn down enough that they don’t suggest somewhere too trendy. You approach them respectfully and directly, and ask them for the best place to go for coffee. You can ask them about food or clubs, too, but the first thing you need is coffee and that will be enough to get your mind whirring. And if you are in Lisbon when you query this young, attractive, emotionally threadbare man or woman, they will most likely direct you to A Brasileira. You will sit on the patio on a cobblestoned street and listen to instrumental Fada while you sip your $2.20eu cappuccino, which hardly seems like the tourist’s price. The music will tug at your soul. The only thing you would do differently next time is to pick a table upwind from your neighbour, who is smoking. After your mind has caught up to your physical location in the universe, you get up from your table and walk to the Alfama district where the streets are narrower so that sometimes cars can’t get down them, and impoverished women are leaning out of balconies so high up they look like stick figures. They are beating sheets and hanging them on lines over the streets like scenes from a movie, and you are certain Jason Bourne just leapt from one rooftop to another and will at any moment crash through the barely hinged balcony doors.

But down on street level you are in search of food. There is a Ben and Jerry’s sign out front of a café and it draws you in, and as soon as you walk through the doors you recognize the location from an article in the travel section of May’s New York Times. It takes you a minute to recalibrate yourself because you had imagined sitting at a specific table, and now four months later that table is full and you are walking to a lonely seat in the window, where you order a grotesquely good salad in the Mediterranean persuasion, with lightly smoked salmon on a bed of lettuce, dill, cucumbers and very fresh cheese. A second cappuccino.

By the time you have finished your meal you are bone weary despite the caffeine, and you make your way back to your residence where you are thankful for the blackout blinds. To the observer two hours disappear uneventfully, but to you the dreams are hot and intense and you wake up sweating and you flip your sheets back and throw open the blinds and all the windows.

It is time to eat again. You ask the man at the front desk for suggestions and he directs you to two small places nearby, in Bairro Alto, the vibrant center of Lisbon. It is dark now so you leave your camera at home and you leave most of your money at home. The first spot is full, and the second spot is so small you can’t find it, and in the process of looking for it up one dark street two burly men ask if you would like some marijuana, some hashish. Some cocaine. You are a foreigner and aren’t aware of the customs but you decline politely all the same.

The waiters are persuasive. They hand you a menu as you pass in the street, and they gently steer you toward one of their tables. Finally you relent and enter a restaurant that has distressingly few other patrons. After the meal you have learned that if someone tries hard to sell you on their restaurant it is because you don’t want what they are serving, and if the owner doesn’t care if you come in or not and he spends his time socializing with others who are already seated, that is where you should eat.

It is now late night if this hour was at home, but still early for you in your large European city. You weigh your fatigue on a balance scale against the remaining hours before the night truly begins. You add up on one hand how many hours of sleep you got over the past two days. You take a look at the calendar to be sure it’s a Tuesday and not a Friday or a Saturday, since time seems to have been upended. You head home for now, leaving the possibilities open.



We’re keeping our heads low. Training in the mornings. Hiding in the dark corners of cafés in the early afternoon, sometimes writing and sometimes reading, but mostly letting our heads drop onto the table. Mostly sleeping. Going to the familiar spots like Habit and Bubby’s, but also trying new places. Shatterbox. You go for their cappuccino. Go for the conversation and the art on the walls and go for the bright European space, but the first time you go you’ll want a cappuccino. It’s their signature drink. Calin spent two years as a Barista in Germany, and that’s the germ he brought home, along with the dream of a café. So he sets up on Yates street. He’s a block from Atrium Habit and half a block from Starbucks, and it’s not Habit’s customers he’s trying to draw. His flavour profile is different from theirs. He wants to pull from Starbucks. He wants to enlighten their customers. He's encouraging them to transcend. Shatterbox in the afternoon and out front the cars driving past and the sun angling in low over the opposing buildings. A bit of sun. Legs jittery. Legs wanting to run.

Sunday was a key session for my upcoming half-marathon. 3 x 3miles progressing from a few seconds over to a few seconds under goal half-marathon pace. First two intervals were good. 15:15, 15:10. Then I got cold. The wind and the rain slanting in off the Pacific ocean. I started the third one well but slowed to 15:28. Frustrated. I need 15:11 for our Canadian masters record. I don't like slowing down at the end of workouts. I work the other way. Build into a session and finish stronger. I need to be running 3:09km pace feeling controlled. Oh, my legs will get heavy. They'll start feeling like I'm running on Neptune. Then Jupiter. The gravitational pull increasing. Air getting dense. But by then I would hope to be in the final couple of kilometers and I'll be able to cross the threshold into ragged breathing and lactic acid.


Bit of quiet time in the early afternoon. Habit during one of their lulls. Except ouch! The fire alarm! Everyone leaves the building. Stands outside and nobody knows what’s going on. It’s raining and we’re crowded under awnings, staring at our feet, not sure if we should leave or wait. Sheila who owns AJ’s wasn't warned about a drill. It’s shrill and we can’t tell when it stops. We can’t tell if we’re hearing echoes or the real thing. No, I’m pretty sure it has stopped. I’m somewhere between highly agitated and exhausted. Between excited and sleep walking. Not between. I’m in the extremes. Like an electron leaping to a higher valence, then losing its energy falling back. I run hard, driven, body compelled to move, then move faster. Yesterday running my Berlin loop. 5km repeats in 16:14 / 16:07 / 16:00, the pace varied, the missing shade of blue, David Hume invoked. Warm up, intervals, plyometrics, cool down. Getting faster, breathing ragged, heart rate not coming down this time not coming down and …

Then I’m asleep on my chair. My book next to me. My light on, my clothes on. I’m chilled. Wrap my blanket tighter around me. Roll up in it until I’m mummified, punch my pillow into a craggy landscape. Head angled severely.

I’m trying not to think about it. Trying to observe, record, forget. Let the page remember. Just run, just do the job like it’s happening to someone else, just observe someone completing the workout. Me completing the workout. Someone said that. Nike said it. Just do it. Do it and let it go. So this. I’m recording it in case something comes of it. In case I break a Canadian record. I want a memory of how tired I was. How much it rained in January and how I still finished every run, and how deeply I slept and sometimes how I didn’t sleep at all because there was an electrical current running through my body and my mind, and I would lie awake as I did last night with tennis updates coming in from Melbourne, like soundless cheers, Federer just getting past Tsonga to reach the semis. I would lie awake with my mind feeling ocean cool and endless, no horizon to this mind until it blinks out.


Body’s all fucked up. Of the last 23 days I’ve had 5 clear from illness. Food poisoning over Christmas, and now the cold bandied about town has hit me. Watched so many fluffy movies over the past few days while I was incapacitated that I don’t know if my swollen eyes are from this less-than-grippe, or the tears. A week ago I found myself lying on my yoga mat watching Flashdance. Christ. If this is what colds do to men, I want nothing to do with them. So instead of running or doing anything fitness related, I’m drinking cappuccinos at Habit and eating a Mast Brother’s Vanilla and Smoke chocolate bar. Sometimes it’s a Bonnat, when the grittiness of the Mast needs some pacifying. And there outside the window, two beautiful women. This despairing fatigue, my lack of desire, and the hopefulness that it will turn around. Eye of Newt. Ran long yesterday. Sunday’s race, 25:10 for 8km, then the Tuesday long run and after 20 minutes I had my hand on my knees and my head between my legs, hacking, eyes getting moist. I was supposed to run progressively quicker, down to 3:30 pace for the last 45 minutes. Reached Mt. Doug moving at just over 4 pace and spent 30 minutes making it as hilly as I could on the wider trails and by the time I popped out I felt rejuvenated from the trees and the oxygen and the astrology of the run but my pace hadn’t been quick. Barely moving on the uphills. Back onto the bike path with the marked kilometers. Was able to get down to 3:45 for one of them but that was my top speed and I had to back down, so that my last few kilometers were slow and all coil and flight had fled and I wasn’t popping off the ground. Was barely getting off the ground. Passed through the arch of Point Hope shipyard and Fol Epi and then as I approached the blue bridge it went up and I was stuck waiting for a tugboat. Leaning against the railing, spitting over the bridge, listening to Lana Del Rey’s low arc. Cyclists engaging with pedestrians like there's no hurry, and me with my headphones stuffed in my ears, scowling.

Next race will be the First Half in Vancouver in less than 4 weeks. I need to rebound from this one. First I need to get healthy, finally rid myself of this cold, get my energy back. Make sure that the MS doesn’t kick up. Get through these great hibernating sleeps. Those Canadian masters marks are in a land far far away.


Last Saturday's tune up for this coming weekend's 8km went well, 7km of volume at 3:01 pace, but by Saturday night I'd caught a cold. Sunday's race receding. I've been curled on my nest chair for three days now, watching movies. Marigold Hotel, Bridesmaids, Certified Copy... movies I'd buy tickets to, but wouldn't make eye contact with the ticketeer. 

My chair, a blanket, hot drinks. Reading stuff piled around me but arms too weak to hold it. I finished my first book of the year, my first book-a-week-for-2013 novel, on Monday the 7th just under the wire. The Following Story, by Cees Nooteboom, a slender thing that captured well reverie and that shadowy time at dusk, between wakefulness and sleep.