I wasn’t a Sleater-Kinney fan. I wasn’t not a fan either. I mean, I didn’t dislike them in the active sense, I just never really listened to them. I’ve also never watched an episode of Portlandia. So why this book? Well, mostly because I won it in the raffle at the Real Vancouver Writers Series even a little bit ago. Times change. I used to be the guy that would buy an arm’s length of raffle tickets and never win anything. I’d be standing there, clutching my plethora of tickets, always the bridesmaid. All that’s long forgotten now. Now I’m the guy that shows up and wins the t-shirt every event. T-shirts coveted by others in attendance that I will likely not wear outside my house because they are either entirely too large (an XL Feminist Killjoy in a bluey sort of grey) or if my size, not exactly my colour, as would be the case this time ’round with the size M Anvil Books in hot pink. And a book about a band I did not listen to and a show that I do not watch. But I enjoyed the book. That era in Pacific Northwest music is close to my heart and brought back a lot of memories for me. Plus I think I now better understand the song “Olympia” from Ninety Pound Wuss‘ self-titled debut album. “It is completely lost on me why Jeff Suffering hates Olympia so much,” thought early-20s me. “JHC that was over 20 years ago,” realizes current me.
This week I flew 7,500 KM to run 21.1 which sounds cool even if it’s not quite the truth. That the Helsinki City Half Marathon was at the same time that we’d planned our annual spring sojourn was coincidence. A happy coincidence non-the-less. Friday we rode bikes to the race festival to collect my bib and race package and race t-shirt. My pink race t-shirt. My dusty pink Helsinki City Half Marathon 2018 t-shirt. Did I mention it’s pink? For those keeping track, I’ve suddenly gone from zero to two t-shirts for Anti-bullying Day.
I wasn’t out to break any PBs. Rather, I wanted to run 4:37 as a bit of practice for my full marathon goal in the fall. Plus the terrain, with seaside breezes and the occasional gusty headwind, and rolling hills throughout, matches what I’m expecting in Victoria on Thanksgiving. I also thought it would be a nice test of pacing during a crowded race. And it was. The course started rather narrow, which made for a very slow first KM and I was bumped a few times before the group spread out. I was on goal up until around 15 KM, and then started to fade. The rolling hills, especially over final few KMs really killed me. The heat didn’t help either.
I somehow missed the final two KM markers, trusted my watch and started sprinting with what Garmin said was about 500 metres to go, and crossed the finish line inside Telia 5G arena at 1:39:09 for my third fastest chip-timed half marathon. I really wanted to be 1:37:24 but anything sub 1:40 is pretty great.
My overall impression of the course was that they’d picked a route that they really liked and then measured it and realized it was a couple KM short, so they arbitrarily tacked on a dirt trail loop through the woods behind the finish stadium to make it up to 21.1 KM. It was really weird. Otherwise, the race was fun, and the organization that put everything together had it together. I was honestly disappointed when I saw the t-shirt colour. That’s my only real complaint. Now for a couple weeks of casual runs around Helsinki, Tallinn and Stockholm.
I’m going to see/hear Sedaris at the Vogue tonight. I’ll let you know how it goes. Probably not. Tickets came up and it made me realize that I haven’t really read anything of his (other than the odd New Yorker piece) since When You Are Engulfed in Flames a bit after it came out in 2008. So it’d been a while. Explore Diabetes is a collection of narrative essays, and it was fine. There’s that thing where you don’t necessarily feel like reading each and every essay but you don’t know which ones are the good ones and which are the skippables and you don’t want to miss the good ones so you end up reading every single ones of them anyway, which just leaves you somewhat resentful at the end of the collection. It happens a lot with short story collections too. Modest Bestiary is a collection of short stories as if the Grimm brothers had the internet. It’s a bit dark; I found it entertaining. Tonight should be entertaining.
I’m still riding a bit of a high from the BMO Half Marathon last weekend and in the midst of a deep spring clean of my studio and packing to fly off to Helsinki to run their namesake half marathon I signed up and paid money to run the Victoria Marathon in October. So no backing out now unless I want to essentially light $98 on fire, which is what probably more than a few people think I just did anyway. Anyway, my goal is to run a Boston Qualifier, which for me means sub 3:15:00. I realize that that won’t actually qualify me for Boston–to run 2018 the BQ times were minus 3:23, which dashed many a dream. I try not to dream. My goal is a BQ; actually running Boston, well, I’ve been sort of toying with the idea of the 125th Edition. For me to run a BQ I need an average pace of 4:37 per kilometre for an estimated finish time of 3:14:48. Yesterday I went out and ran 10 miles and aimed to run 4:37 and somehow, miraculously, finished 10 miles with an average pace of 4:37. There was a lot of watch watching. Next Saturday in Helsinki I want to run a 4:37 half marathon, for a finish time of 1:37:24, which is off my PB by a bit, but will be my second best. I also just want to have fun and not be dead afterward. Hey maybe a post-half-marathon sauna. I hear Finland has saunas.
I’m a fan of The Oatmeal so it makes sense that I liked The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances. I used to like The Simpsons. I thought How to Lose a Marathon was meh. Inman’s book is good because in the midst of all its Oatmeal stuff there’s some decent thought put into the stuff that got me hooked on running in the first place: the mental stuff. You can read a version of it online (for free) here. Before I read How to Lose a Marathon I couldn’t identify a Cohen-written Simpsons episode if my life depended on it. Now I could at least make an educated guess that if the episode tries really really hard to be funny but just isn’t all that funny and actually gets pretty annoying what with how hard it’s trying (and failing) to be funny then there are decent odds said episode is written by Cohen. I think that when I was first starting out running I would have liked Cohen’s book if it was funny. I just didn’t think it was funny.
This morning I woke up at 4:45 AM and made coffee and prepared to race 21.1 KM and checked Facebook On-This-Day because I’m a masochist who likes coffee. Sometimes there’s a gem. This would be my second run of the BMO Half Marathon, the first being 2016, which was also my first half marathon. I remember not really knowing what I was doing. If only I’d read a book…. Back then I wanted to run 5 min/KM for a nice round 1:45 and then worry about the last 100 metres later. Stephanie was kind enough to have explained to me what a pace bunny is (and tapering, which I recall thinking seemed ridiculous). So with around 7 KM to go the 1:45 pacer passed me, which was demoralizing at the time. I hung on for a bit before finishing 1:46:00. Fast forward to this morning. I really wanted to set a new personal best; I aimed for 4:37/KM— that would get me a new PB with a minute to spare and is my Boston Qualifying marathon goal pace. Then I saw the 1:35 pacer in the start corral, and thought, sure, what the hell. The course starts out fast with nearly 100 metres of descent over the first 4 KM. I passed 5 KM over a minute and a half ahead of goal pace. By 10 KM I’d stopped checking splits, but there’s a timing mat and gun-time clock. It read 43-something*** and I knew I was still well ahead of my goal, but wasn’t sure where the 1:35 pacer was. We entered Stanley Park and passed Lost Lagoon and started the climb up Pipeline Road and he passed me. Pipeline peaks at 15 KM then descends to Stanley Park Drive. I checked my time at 15 KM. My personal best I was chasing I’d split 15 KM at 1:10:00. My watch read 1:06. The seconds didn’t register the math did. I could run the last 6 KM at 5:00/KM and set a new personal best. And let the pacer beat me. Again. So I passed him back and held on with all I had left. Just before the lighthouse at Brockton point, with just over 3 KM to go, he passed me again. I fought to keep him in reach as we exited the park, up Denman, east onto Georgia, a slight left onto Pender and the gentle, cruel uphill slope to the finish. I watch that stupid hat with the stupid ears bounce away in front of me and then I saw the finish line and the clock at it read 1:34 and the seconds ticked up as I ran by.
I finished with an official time 1:34:52 for a new personal best by 3:35 and 11:08 faster than my first half marathon. This is the second time in as many races that the pacer I’ve chased has been ahead of pace. I’ll take that over the alternative any day. Right up until the start at 7 this morning I was a bit bummed not to be running the full marathon. Not anymore.
***I saw the 10 KM clock. It said 43:something. I remember because my second fastest 10 KM race time is 44:06. My official time at 10 KM today is 44:19 but I swear to dog that clock said sub-44. This isn’t the first time this has happened. I do not understand.
I going back to visit Stockholm in a couple weeks, and honestly one the the things I’m most looking forward to is running a complete loop of Södermalm. It’s about 10 KM. I normally wouldn’t consider Lost in Stockholm AKA Stockholm: Lost in City Guide AKA Lost In, Issue No. 10 a book insomuch as it counts towards an effort to read a particular number of books; however, (1) it is listed on Goodreads, (2) it has an ISBN, and (3) while only 68 pages, it has many more words than some (most?) of the poetry books I/we/they count as books. So it counts, I guess. It’s a very nice design, as one would expect for a periodical from Germany about Sweden. It gets me excited about going back. Following on the short reads, I picked up By Night in Chile. It reminded me of studying Beckett in undergrad. In a lecture on Molloy, the prof. Dr. Peter Murphy (!) suggest he read the first paragraph to the class and that I read the second. The similarities between Beckett and Bolaño extend beyond style, and I think that I should have liked By Night more than I did, or did not. It is one that I think I need to revisit, and it’s short enough that it wouldn’t feel like a waste my reading time (always a hazard). Plus I want to go to Chile one day.
One week until the BMO Half. Three weeks until Helsinki Half. All is coming together as well as I could have hoped. The weather for BMO Sunday looks ideal–sun with some cloud and morning temperature around 12 degrees (assuming today’s prediction holds). The BMO Half in 2016 was my first half marathon; I finished 1:46:00. I expect to crush that time next weekend. A great race and I could have a new PB, which will be bitter-sweet. I like that my current best is in Copenhagen last fall, and in the adventure that was less than ideal conditions. I have a chance to set personal bests twice in May. I’ve grown confident that it’ll happen next weekend. I think it’ll take an exceptional run in Helsinki on May 19. But anything could happen on race day.