Back in the 1980s, among the myriad activities we engaged in as early teenagers, there was paddling. Specifically, those of us lucky enough to have discovered the Otterburn Boating Club, trained hard at making flatwater sprint canoes and kayaks go as fast as possible, and, as a result, we were pretty good at it too. Every weekend in the summer the members of the club would travel to various other clubs throughout the province of Quebec to compete at local regattas where the best of us would test our mettle against some of the best ‘local’ paddlers from other regions. Near the end of summer all the clubs would gather and compete over an entire weekend in the Provincial Championships where the absolute best canoe/kayakers would battle to see who could qualify for the Nationals. We looked forward to the Provincials not just because we could find out how good we were compared to the best, but way more importantly, because they took place at the Olympic Basin which was the canoeing/rowing venue for the 1976 Summer Olympic Games in Montreal. This site was special for several reasons, most of which were about the quality of the course, flatness and fairness of the water, and the convenience for spectators. But for a bunch of teenage boys, there was so much more to it than that. Firstly, the basin is directly adjacent to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve Formula One race car track, which is so cool that it needs no further explanation. Also, right next to the track was the abandoned site of the 1967 World’s Fair that had been billed as ‘Man and His World’, which consisted largely of ramps and paths of the smoothest concrete and, therefore, was ideal for skateboarding.
We all brought our paddles AND skateboards to the provincials, and if you didn’t have a skateboard, or yours was broken, you borrowed or stole one. In early August 1981, I shattered the deck of mine and was forced to borrow one from my neighbour, Stevie. Stevie’s wasn’t the best in the world, but it had a deck, trucks, and four wheels, so it would have to do. All it needed to make it work for me was for the trucks to be tightened, so that’s what I set out to do. Once I got the board home, I grabbed my father’s tool kit, set myself up on the kitchen table, attached the wrench to the kingpin nut, and began to tighten. The job was actually quite simple, I mean all I had to do was go righty tighty. This was one of the few mechanical jobs my limited skillset could easily tackle, but just as I got going my dad came into the kitchen and asked what I was up to. From previous experience, I knew exactly what was about to happen: he was about to look at me, unable to hide the disappointment from his expression and ask me to hand him the wrench so he could do the job for me. In other words, to do it properly. Don’t get me wrong, his intentions were good, they always were. My father never did anything or said anything that was intended to hurt; he just wanted to help. Always. Unfortunately, he was, and is, very logical, efficient, and businesslike possessing the prototypical Protestant Work Ethic and insists on getting a job done well and as expeditiously as possible which meant he tended to be blind to potentially perfect teaching moments. Add that to his very generous nature, and what you end up with is a person who is much more a ‘give a man a fish’ rather than a ‘teach a man to fish’. I remember when I was in the Cub Scouts wanting to go for the ‘Arts and Crafts’ badge, I decided to build a diorama of what a typical Saturday looked like in our living room, and if it was good enough, I would be able to enter it in the craft fair. Seeing me fumble around with a bunch of popsicle sticks and a bottle of Elmer’s Glue, my dad ‘offered to help’ which is to say I got relegated to handing him supplies while he created a display worthy of The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I got the badge and won ‘Best In Show’, but felt hollow and shitty because I knew I hadn’t built anything.
Anyway, seeing that he wanted to help, I handed him the socket wrench. It’s not so much that I didn’t ever want his help, but this was something that I was easily capable of accomplishing on my own. Unfortunately, I cannot stand disappointing people (least of all my father), and I didn’t want to deny him the joy he would feel knowing he was helping his son. He sat down at the kitchen table and began to crank away at the kingpin bolt. As I watched I began to feel super uncomfortable because the nut really only needed about one and a half turns to be nice and snug, but he had his tongue out and was really giving it all he had. Several times I battled inner demons desperately wanting to tell him to stop but fearing I would risk hurting is feelings by questioning his technique, so I remained quiet. After all, he was, and is, the smartest person I had (have) ever known. He had to know something about the metallurgical integrity of cheap Taiwanese steel that I, quite certainly, did not. At one point, when the metal was starting to change colour from the heat caused by friction, I whispered that I thought it was good enough and gently touched his shoulder. He did not hear me or was too focused on the job at hand and stood up from the chair to get a better purchase on the wrench, wiped the sweat that was now beading around his temple, and continued cranking away. Soon enough, I was so uneasy feeling that if he placed another ¼ Newton-metre of force on that bolt, the kingpin was going to snap that I started to circle the table like a dog looking for a spot on a snow-covered lawn to take a shit and closed my eyes in fear of what I might see.
Then it happened. He pushed it too far and the bolt, indeed, snapped off with the nut stuck in the ratchet. Even though I kind of knew it was going to happen, I was still stunned. In fact, I was so taken aback that I reflexively and unconsciously stared at the carnage that used to be my friend’s skateboard truck and said, “Way to go, you dumb bastard. You busted the fucking thing!”.
A nanosecond after realizing what I had said, I bolted through the kitchen and out the front door knowing for certain that I was about to become a dead teenager. As I reached for the little handle on the screen door, I could see my reflection in the window. What I saw terrified me: it was me with an Edvard Munch stunned look on my face with a sweaty, shirtless, forty-something lunatic brandishing a socket wrench in his white-knuckled fist bearing down on me. Once out the door, I took off at top speed along the driveway and down our street towards the park. I did not have a plan per se, but I was fully committed to the idea that I would need to find a new home. After a minute or two at top speed, my father reached his lactate threshold and was forced to cease running. Not wanting to be denied the opportunity to cave my forehead in with the tool, he bent over, placed his hands on his knees, lifted his head to see me disappearing into Helen Park and, between gasps for air, barked one very stern order: “STOP!”. He bellowed the command out with such force as to eliminate any possibility of ambiguity whatsoever. This was not something that was up for negotiation. In no more than three seconds I had to force my brain to figure out an intricate, complex calculus. Either I stopped, went home and took whatever punishment was on offer, OR I kept running…forever. There was no C. option.
The manner in which my father treated that kingpin is the very same way I deal with injuries. So far, I have had two kinds of injury: There are acute ones such as going over on an ankle, bruises caused by a fall, cuts, and even the odd fracture. Then there are overuse injuries which consist of stuff like tendinitis, stress fractures, pulled hamstrings, etc. Up until about five years ago I have dealt with, treated, recovered from both categories of injury using the exact same technique for each, which is to say I’ve done absolutely nothing about either of them. No ice, no heat, no stretching, no physiotherapy, no rehab exercises, and definitely a grand total of zero rest days to permit the trauma to repair adequately. Simply put, there just wasn’t any need for such faff. Either my body recuperated on its own overnight, or somehow the pain just wasn’t sharp enough to stop me from running the following morning. I miss those days. Unfortunately, now that I am over fifty, it is often quite difficult to keep this up, though, I must say, I try. Recovery for me now takes anywhere from one day to several months and the strange, scary part is that I no longer have much conscious ability to manipulate the equation that I once did. It seems that now my body will actually fight back and simply not permit me to run. It just won’t function. That is not to say that I don’t try to fight my body constantly to move to get out the door and just fucking run, dammit. It’s just that now I don’t always win that battle. Matter beats mind way more than it used to, and, quite frustratingly, way more than I can handle psychologically.
Friends, colleagues, even fellow athletes, often ask me why I don’t just rest and give a particular injury the time that doctors, scientists, biomechanics experts, and physiotherapists insist is necessary to properly repair the damage that has been caused and avoid future, even permanent, damage. I always have trouble answering them because, unless they feel the way I do, it will be impossible to explain in a way they will comprehend. To me, it’s like asking someone why they breathe, eat, or love. The simple answer is because it is necessary for my personal survival that I continue to run. It is essential. However, if I was forced to break it down, I suppose there are six general reasons for why I will always push it and attempt to return from injury way before I probably should.
- Though I am almost 53 years old, I never want to grow up. I guess a more crass way of putting it is to say that I never want to get old. Strangely, even at my age and knowing I have been a teacher for over twenty years, I still haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up. People I went to high school with send me friend requests on Facebook and the like from time to time and I struggle to remember much about them because their profile pictures are all of old people that do not match the image my brain recalls. I never want this to happen to me. This is not a mid-life crisis thing either; it has always been this way. I can remember being a teenager and listening in terror to my friends bragging about how they now have to shave. That’s what old people do. I never had a girlfriend in high school or college for the same reason. These things require adult responsibilities that I wanted absolutely no part of.
- I am terrified of death. More specifically, my own death. Because of this fear, and knowing that death is, of course, inevitable, I want to keep doing the things I love most as much as I can. The last thing I want is to die knowing I could have lived more while I was alive. A broken rib is not going to take a day of my life away from me simply because it hurts to breathe. Running makes me feel alive, and so does pain. Connected to this fear of death is a worry that if I do not run, I increase the likelihood of dying while doing something else…something I don’t like. Can you imagine what it would be like dying whilst shopping? What a horrible way to go.
- Running connects me to my primal self and to primitive human nature in general. Life, for most people in the First World has become so easy and sedentary that the instincts we used to possess that placed us at the top of the food chain, have become severely blunted. We no longer HAVE to do anything physical to survive today. There is no real urgency to get up off the couch to procure the necessities of life. Running connects me to that primitive past. Though I do not need to, I know that I can outlast a cheetah or antelope. If it came down to it, because I can run, I would survive when and where most people would not.
- I fear that if I stop running for a couple of days, a week, a month, I will never run again. When I am unable to run for any considerable stretch of time, I become consumed by an emotional grey cloud that is impossible to dissipate. If I am injured for too long, I fear that depression would completely consume me and I would disappear. People who love me for who I am would no longer recognize me because a major part of my persona would ne gone. They would no longer want to be with me and would fall out of love.
- A good, long run is often my only opportunity for true daily adventure. That is what a proper run is: an adventure. It is a quest to find whatever you are looking for and when I run, I feel like every bit the explorer as Shackleton, Livingstone, or Tenzing Norgay forever pushing the envelope of what is possible for me each day. The rest of daily life, with few exceptions such as being with loved ones, is by comparison, dull, devoid of colour, and fatuous.
- If too much time is taken from my training, I fear that I will lose valuable fitness and will be unable to recover it in time to race. Friends and coworkers of mine believe that I am a good triathlete. Many of them, at least in part, live vicariously through my adventures racing all over the world, and I do not want to let them down. Most of all, when I do well in a race, my eighty-year-old father (the same man who chased me down the street with a socket wrench in his fist) tells me he is proud of me. Ultimately, that is all I have ever really wanted him to be.
I will always come back from injury ‘too soon’ because I am a runner and triathlete and it is in my nature to run, and not to rest. Until I am forced by someTHING or someONE over which I have no control to stop, I will push it. I will turn that wrench tighter and tighter until, one day, the bolt snaps. Until then, you can find me running.If you enjoyed this post, leave a comment and share it on your social media platforms. Also, if you haven’t already, please consider buying my book, “My Coworkers Think I’m A Pro” for yourself or as a great Christmas gift for the athlete in your life. It is available from Amazon,