Having an elevated level of mindfulness is not the typical default setting of the psyche in teenaged boys, particularly when on summer vacation from school. Most tasks are completed without significant forethought as to the vicissitude of possible outcomes because, unless there is nudity involved, or a new bike, surfboard, or video game, the adolescent’s ability to focus on any one thing at a time is dulled by the sheer heft of the payload of distractions that muddle the possibility for considered thought. Though you do not have to go very far to find a deluge of examples to prove this point, allow me to introduce the Morin Brothers of the late 1980s.
The Morin family had a summer cottage on Lake St. Francis, not far from Cornwall, Ontario where the boys, Kevin and one of my best friends, Dave, lived out their many summertime passions based around their father’s Boston Whaler motorboat. That cottage is where I learned to waterski and where we were convinced we had invented wake-boarding by dragging one of us on my Channel Islands surfboard behind the boat. The lion’s share of every single summer day was spent on that boat in a constant struggle to maintain the homeostasis that exists between siblings, each trying attain the role of Alpha Male. The Morin’s would fluctuate between acting in total brotherly harmony with each other only to leap into near fratricidal rage at the drop of a paddle, fighting like a pair of hungry wolves over the carcass of a freshly killed caribou.
Though they spent most of their time on the boat, and loved it dearly, they did not quite take care of it the way you would expect. Once they were done using it for the day, the boat was forgotten and tossed aside like a wet, dirty dishrag. In this regard they took after their father who ran it aground on no less than four or five occasions per summer on the same sandbar about forty metres out from the wharf, taking off the bottom portion of the outboard motor every single time. The boys never bothered to hose it down after use, never tidied it, and they had absolutely no conscious idea how it miraculously seemed never to have anything but a full tank of gas every morning. I suppose you could say they loved the boat the way an abusive boyfriend loves his girl, which is why it was so surprising that one year, at the very end of the summer, right before school was about to start up again, Mr. Morin entrusted the boys with the task of loading the boat onto the trailer and hauling it all the way back home on the South Shore of Montreal, a two and a half hour drive away.
That morning, as was always the case, the brothers woke up hours after they were supposed to, packed up all of their clothes in typically hurried and excessively casual fashion, and made their way, yawning intermittently, to the water’s edge to load up the boat. After attaching the trailer to the hitch, Kevin, being the older of the two, backed the car towards the boat launch, following Dave’s instructions. Miraculously, they managed to secure the boat on the trailer on their first attempt and after a couple of high-fives, they got in the car, turned on the radio and began the long drive home bopping to Herbie Hancock’s ‘Rockit’.
The drive itself was entirely uneventful and saw the boys fluctuating between singing ‘Police’ songs together and fighting over French fries, never allowing themselves to be distracted by trivial matters such as the other vehicles with whom they shared the road, or the various rules and regulations found in the Quebec Highway Code. Though the car came fully equipped with a rear-view mirror and side mirrors on both the driver’s and passenger’s side, it might as well not have been, for once Kevin put the car in DRIVE, these frivolous safety features went entirely ignored for the duration of the journey. They could have run into a cow on the freeway without even noticing the thudding noise such an impact would make; such was the level of their utter distraction. In fact, on the drive that day, while on the Metropolitan Expressway (the Met as it is more commonly referred), an elevated three-lane-in-each-direction, heavily trafficked and very fast-paced ring-route skirting the city of Montreal, motorists constantly honked at the boys, pulling up on either side of their car, arms waving at the apparently reckless manner in which Kevin was piloting the car. The Morin’s blew all of it off and waved back without missing a beat while singing ‘Tea in The Sahara’.
When they finally arrived home, both boys rushed out of the car and, being full of a litre and a half each of Jolt Cola apiece, sprinted to relieve their distended bladders in the bathroom. While they were peeing, Mr. Morin, noticing the boys had finally arrived, called out to Dave asking him to fetch something from the boat which Dave, of course, ignored for a couple of hours. The boys spent the rest of the afternoon watching MuchMusic and reading Thrasher Magazine issues until it was almost dark out. It was then that they figured they should go out and empty the boat so it could be stored for the winter. When Dave arrived in the driveway, he saw Kevin staring, mouth agape, at the trailer behind the car and wondered, briefly, what was the problem. Just as he was about to ask, he looked behind the car and figured it out on his own. You see, the car and trailer seemed all good but missing something…like a boat for instance. That’s right, it was gone, completely. The trailer sat there attached to the car, SANS BOAT. Turns out those motorists on the Met were acting hysterically because they had witnessed a fifteen-foot Boston Whaler Montauk go airborne, causing cars to scatter like a scene from the movie ‘Bad Boys II’. Due to their carelessness, the Morin brothers hadn’t even noticed. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and very little damage was done except to the boat which was, as you can imagine, totalled.
Recently, I did something almost as careless: Last Sunday I made all the requisite plans for an easy 20k run. I did all the right things including checking the weather and laying out the proper clothing I would need to keep me both warm and cool enough, setting my alarm for 5:30 and having my teacup ready with one Earl Grey pouch and a lump and a half of sugar waiting at the bottom for the boiling water to arrive the next morning. When I woke, I fastidiously went through my regular pre-run routine like clockwork, which consists of an indoor warmup of light calisthenics followed by a good 30 minutes of stretching (which now that I am 52 is absolutely essential). With that done, I checked the weather app on my phone once again to confirm that no cataclysmic meteorological changes had occurred overnight and took the 10-15 minutes that are required to get dressed for a January run in Southern Quebec. Once I was adequately clothed and had my hydration pack filled with boiling water (which would end up frozen by the end of the route partly because it is so cold out and partly because I never get thirsty in the winter and, therefore, never drink any of it), I made my way outdoors to my driveway where I performed the same ten-minute warmup as every other time I have gone running. At 7:00 AM, a full 90 minutes after getting out of bed, it was finally time to begin running. At the edge of the driveway, I held out my left arm so I could see the display on my Polar M430 watch, selected the screen for ‘OUTDOOR RUN’, and waited for the slight vibration on my wrist indicating to me that the GPS signal had been located and we were all set. Once the watch buzzed, I hit the middle button on the right side of the watch-face to start the run, and I headed out onto my route. Because of the time of year and knowing that I had planned a reasonably long run, I knew my pace was going to be kept comfortable the entire way. These are my favourite runs because I don’t have to be particularly concerned about my overall performance and I certainly do not need to be bothered trying to go fast. All that matters is that I go for a long time, which permits me to actually look around and enjoy the scenery. I do not need to feel guilty for taking a piss or stopping to snap a couple photos. Hell, I don’t even bother to pause my watch at all. These runs are purely meditative, therapeutic and where I get most of my best thinking done (the morning dump is a close second). In fact, I love these sessions so much that I never look at my watch for pacing or any other reason until the workout is done. I love the anticipation and the surprise I get when I finally stop at home to see how far I’ve gone and how much time it took to complete. It’s kind of like opening up a Christmas stocking after every run. On this day I was feeling so smooth and fast that I was tempted to check several times, but I resisted knowing it would be so much more rewarding if I held off until I was home again, especially since what was intended to be a 20k run was surely going to be much more. The route I had planned was to run along the river to the car bridge and up to the parking lot where the trails start on Mont St. Hilaire. Instead, I ran all the way around the perimeter of the entire mountain, and it felt amazing. I couldn’t wait to get home so I could finally find out just how far I had gone.
As I made the final turn onto my street, I tried to guess what my distance had been, settling on about 30-32k. I was so excited because I knew I had done way more than I had planned and because, since the COVID outbreak hit almost a year ago, I have not had the opportunity to race, leaving Strava as my only opportunity to check my progress and performance against other people and to validate my worth as a runner. When I finally made it home, I took off my right glove and placed my thumb on the button at the bottom-left of the watch face to end the session and feel the little vibration again. As I pressed it, I felt a slight buzzing sensation and looked at the screen. What was displayed confused me because what I saw did not match the expectations my brain had foreseen. Usually, the numbers on the face stop changing like a Vegas slot machine, but this time all that was displayed was a bunch of zeros. It took a moment to figure it out, and when I did, I was crestfallen. My excitement to begin the run had forced me to be careless and I never actually pressed the ‘START’ button after all. My boat trailer was empty and somewhere on the roads around Mont St. Hilaire was a run just waiting to be recorded. So, what did I do, you ask? I did the only logical thing I could; I hit the fucking ‘START’ button and went for one of the worst 10k runs I’ve ever done. I swear Strava is giving me OCD.
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