Archive | “Thoughts” Series

50 Thoughts # 9: Celebrate by completing Boston Marathon in 87 (F) heat wave

I was certain the day would yield a personal best.

As we left the Hopkinton start line, the temperature hit 78 degrees, rose to 84 as we passed through the Newton Hills and screamed up to 87 degrees as we ran into Boston.

The Boston Keeners Beaners I had been training with all through the winter (Phyllis, Danielle, Mary) started out together, forming the “Boston Bus.” Mary had energy so scampered ahead, running with Joanne from Texas who lost 200 pounds (not from the start line that day; since she started running). Then Mary realized that she has a young daughter who’d like her mom to see her grow up so Mary reconvened with the Boston Bus at 6 k or so.

To survive the heat, we ran slower than even our training pace and I obnoxiously sang “XX number of bottles of beer on the wall” as we passed mile markers, knocking one down for every mile. The math got difficult to do after 10k, which suggested brain in need of cooling….

The crowds were absolutely awesome. Between official water breaks, fans were handing out water bottles and cups, glorious ice (I probably put about 3 dozen ice cubes in my sports bra over the course of the race and tucked another 3 dozen into my cap). Home owners along the route turned on lawn sprinklers, sprayed us with garden hoses. Kids had a blast shooting us with water guns. Crowds were screaming at the top of their lungs, cheering us on, yelling “go Canada” and even singing “oh Canada” as we passed – thanks to Danielle’s Canadian flag on her shirt.

Running easy in the heat, I was having an awesome time through that first half, cheering on the fans and waving like I was the frigging Queen of Canada. Managed to high five every Wellesley girl (well, almost) as we passed by them. My right arm was sore going up that hill. A few kilometres on, I even high fived a dog — it was very cute. But maybe I should have conserved that energy.

Because at the half, the awful Gatorade and heat were starting to wreak havoc. We could not keep enough liquid in our systems — struggling to drink at water stations but couldn’t take enough in as the inclination was to throw it all up.

The wheels started to come off the Boston Bus (or at least my wheels came off) with about 12 k to go. Danielle and Phyllis pulled ahead of me at Heartbreak Hill. I struggled to keep up but was starting to cramp — let me count the places. There were stomach cramps, the cramps in the calves that made me fairly afraid I might pitch forward and land on my face. I had to stop and walk to stretch those cramps out. I’d start running again and get maybe .25 k in and the cramping would start all over again.

Mary was scampering ahead of us, setting the pace, such as it was, like she was out for a Monday run on Patriot’s Day….impressive energy & stamina. She noticed me falling behind so like the sister-for-marathon-life she has become, she dropped back to run me in. (She turned 50 in January, me in April, so this is the way we celebrate — we didn’t get the memo about the Caribbean cruise). She really had way more in the tank and could have finished way faster, but she stuck by me and I’m so grateful because there’s nothing worse than being on the marathon course in a 87 degree wave when you feel like you’re either going to throw up, seize up, or die. But she claims I kept her alive by holding her back– or at least I kept her out of the medical tent.

We passed our fans — Bruce, Alan, Katherine, Nancy — with just under 2 k to go to the finish. They were out early enough to see the elites pass and watched the woman’s winner of last year’s Boston Marathon WALKING past them — it was that kinda day. They were very close to our B&B so were able to dodge back there for beers, cold drinks etc. and watch the marathon on TV in the AC then scamper back out to watch us. (They said they needed the break from the sun — PLEASE!)  It was pretty emotional for them — they were afraid for us…. They were tracking us on the Boston Marathon website so knew we were running “slow” (we called it running “smart” in the heat ) and coming along way late. Meanwhile, they had to see some wicked performances of runners stumbling, walking, looking about ready to keel over while they waited for us, wondering what shape we would be in.

I was so happy to see them — familiar faces to cheer us on and give us energy for those last brutal 2 k. I gave my partner Nancy a huge sweaty Gatorade-soaked hug, then pressed on.

Mary runs to finish line. Marg runs to fans.

I don’t remember a lot of the last mile except the streets were lined several rows deep with screaming fans who really understood how brutal the conditions were. Mary said we passed  waves of faster runners who had started before us but were just done in by the heat and struggling to stay on their feet to finish. The whole field was batting just to keep moving forward. Yet, even if I cramped up again and had to walk past Boston College, the students screamed encouragement like it was the bottom of the ninth at a world series game, with Boston needing a run. It was wild.

I had the thought of tears in my eyes but was too dehydrated to cry them out.

Danielle paced Phyllis to a 27th place finish in her age group (60-65) — not too shabby for Boston. Bloody impressive, I’d say. They crossed the line together, about 7 minutes or so ahead of us. Then they immediately headed to the medical tent — Phyllis was feeling faint. The medics got her into an ice blanket (“packed up like a fish on ice,” as she reported later). She begged for an IV but was denied. While watching Phyllis get help, Danielle passed out. She scored two IVs. She’s competitive like that.

Mary and I stumbled across the line at 4:38ish, about an hour slower than Mary was aiming to run in “normal” marathon temperatures of mid 50s, and quite a bit less than the 3:50/3:55 I was hoping to run, but we held hands and raised our arms in “we survived” triumph. Damn, we earned those Boston medals.

Canadian Joshua Cassidy set out at 9 a.m. in slightly lower temperatures and wheeled to a world record in the wheelchair race. Yeah Canada!!!

And mother nature set a PERSONAL BEST for the Boston Marathon, hitting 87 and knocking off records for 2002 and 2003.

Like I said, I knew a personal best was in the cards. The personal best set among the runners was for our very good cheer in enduring it.

I was thinking as I ran (I lost track of the bottles of beer falling), given the spirit of the awesome fans and the won’t-quit attitude of the runners, the human race could really get together and accomplish something special — like solving this climate change thing. Hey, we could ditch the cars and run to work and truly green our food production by eating organically and just, you know, simplify life a little.

That would make it “win win” for mother nature and the Boston Marathon.

Otherwise, I think they better start the run earlier next year — like say 5 in the morning — because this race was verging on the dangerous.


50 Thoughts #8: I’m only 35 in gay years! (And how to use the calculator)

You subtract a year from your chronological age for every year you spent struggling to be something you’re not and living in misery for it.

I call these the “lost years.” You can’t go back and change them from anything other than a colossal waste of time, so consider them well and truly lost. Why let those years count against you now? Lop them off. Eliminate them.

What you have left is your gay age, your spirit age, your true age of living the life you consciously intend.

You don’t have to be gay to age only in gay years, though when I introduce the concept to gay people, they get it, instantly.

Other folks need some explaining.

You may know from the “It Gets Better Project” that life for gay adults is way better (though they leave out the caveats: IF you live, work and play in socially progressive circles).

But the fact that life is better now does not make up for the “lost years.” I’m with Rick Mercer on this: We need to make life better for gay kids right now.

They have a right to happiness as much as any kid. If they are miserable, not only do they lose, society loses out on the best of what they have to offer.

It’s lose, lose, get it?

My experience growing up gay was not nearly as horrific as it is for gay teens now, given that 20Teen teens know all the queer markers and ruthlessly bully hapless victims.

I wish I knew the markers when I growing up, so that I could at least see them in myself! In high school and university during the 70s and early 80s, virtually all girls wore jeans, sweatshirts and runners or work boots. It was okay (and often pretty easy) for girls to be smarter than boys. Sexuality wasn’t turbocharged by the pedophiliac pink princess culture consuming girls now. Few wore makeup or frilly nonsense. I didn’t even have to try to fit in. In fact, I didn’t even know what “gay” looked like.

But I did know what it felt like, and it was awful. The derogatory remarks, the paranoid and insecure attitudes, the relentless, oppressive heterosexuality of society, it all tells you that being gay is abnormal, bad, sick, despicable. I didn’t think I was any of those awful things; therefore, I was not gay.

From high school (subtract five years), through university (four years) and a heterosexual marriage (six years), I tried on the straight jacket. Yes, it kept the gay feelings under wraps but, often, all the happy feelings too.

Which left a whole lot of misery. Too much misery. Misery is a black gob of useless weight. It saps energy, obliterates vision, gets in the way of learning, excelling, contributing to society, of living a full, joyous and meaningful life.

I managed to get a degree and start a career, but I was a shell of what I could be. And if I let myself look back on those lost years, I can get spitting mad furious in the time it takes to say “Rob Ford.”

I like being happy, so I don’t count my conscious years as properly starting until I came out when I was nearly 30, which puts me at 35 now, plenty of joyous spirit time left to do the things I want and help save the world too.

So, if you’re looking for a little boost to help you through a little midlife crisis, there it is — the gay age calculator. Feel free to use it to lop off your own “lost years,” whatever they may be, to calculate your true spirit age. Just remember to pay back the gift by making life easier for gay kids now.


50 Thoughts # 7: Can I repay the gift the Ethiopians gave me?

I am running the Boston Marathon, a week after I turn 50. I don’t need gifts, cards or anything like that. Rather, I’m asking friends, family and those who like this blog to consider throwing a few bucks towards the Girls Gotta Run Foundation, which you can do by visiting my FirstGiving page:

I learned about the organization when I travelled to Ethiopia last summer, on a mission to find out why Ethiopian women are emerging as the world’s best marathoners.

In the capital of Addis Ababa, teenage girls dreaming of professional running careers train in Meskel Square, an outdoor amphitheatre in the city centre. One morning when I ran to the square, six teenaged girls were training together, repeating one-kilometre laps — up 50 uneven dirt steps, across the back row past homeless people sleeping in cardboard boxes, down the other side, along the front row of seating through thick clouds of exhaust pouring up from the city’s main intersection, all keeping in perfect rhythm with each other.

When they stopped for a break, and I asked for a picture, they giggled with excitement, thinking I was a Canadian race promoter, here to help them. “Only a writer,” I said, holding up my notebook. They ran ran off to do more laps.

Washington Post correspondent Emily Wax first wrote about these girl running gangs in 2005. As the running infrastructure in Ethiopia is centralized in Addis, many girls run away from their families in the countryside to train in the square, hoping to get noticed by a coach or running team. Often, they’re fleeing horrific situations — desperately poor parents may marry daughters off as young as age 12. According to UNICEF, Ethiopian women and girls are more likely to die in childbirth than reach grade six. The country also has one of Africa’s highest caseloads of AIDS, and girls are expected to quit school to care for sick family members.

The girls throw themselves into training, believing that becoming a professional runner will allow them to escape early marriage, stay in school and control their own fate. But their dreams don’t always work out — many end up living on the streets and working in dodgy nightclubs or get pushed into the sex trade.

When retired university women’s studies professor Pat Ortman read the article, she started the nonprofit Girls Gotta Run Foundation (GGRF), a United States-based charity that raises funds for coaching, shoes, racing expenses and food to help the girls train. The goal is not necessarily to produce professional runners but to use the discipline of training to help girls stay in school and pursue careers to become economically self sufficient. “These girls are demonstrating courage and gumption and determination,” Ortman told me. “These are leaders in the making. If we support these girls, they’ll make a living and support so many more people than young girls having babies. They will drag the rest of the country into the future.”

Girls Gotta Run now sponsors girls at four different training camps and have forged a partnership with a fifth, Ethiopia’s first private athletic facility, the new $80 million birr Yaya Village built by businessman Joseph Kibur, who was born in Ethiopia but grew up in Canada, where he became both a successful cross country runner and high-tech entrepreneur. Yaya has a four-star hotel for running tourists, which will help offset training costs and accommodation for Ethiopian athletes. Legendary Ethiopian runner Haile Gebrselassie, an enthusiastic supporter of girls’ running programs, is a partner in the venture. The two plan to provide one-year scholarships of full board and training to GGRF athletes. “This hopefully will act as a stepping stone to them becoming independent and escape poverty,” Kibur told me.

After visiting the square, I met up with Mersha Asarat, who coaches GGRF athletes as well as male runners sponsored by Running Across Borders (RAB), a similar US-based charity. Asarat and I took four city buses (15-seat vans into which about 20 of us squeezed) to get to a bare-bones RAB house on the outskirts of Addis. Eleven athletes lived there, including Dinkinesh Mekash. Like many of the Ethiopian greats, she grew up in Arsi and became strong doing farm work and running several kilometres to school. When a man tried to abduct her at a local market, she was able to use the professional opportunities opening for women runners and her talent to convince her parents to let her move to Addis to train. Now, she divided her days between training and studying. She won the first marathon she entered and lowered her time by some 12 minutes in her second marathon in Rome. She told me that running was about achieving respect first, then earning money to send back to her family who have invested in her and repaying GGRF by helping other athletes. “People don’t view men and women at the same level here,” she said. “Women have to show their strength and make an effort to become equal, to rise up. When I train, I change not only my body but my mind. What I have learned from running is to work hard, be patient and responsible.”

Other stories Ortman’s proud of — two young runners rescued from homelessness graduated from the GGRF program and started a foundation to help others like themselves; another recently entered an engineering program in university. The only thing GGRF asks of its runners is that, one day, they “pay forward” the help they received to help other girls in their country. “We hoped for good things,” said Ortman, “and we got wonderful things.”

While in Addis, I also had a chance to meet and train with some of the country’s top female marathoners, coached by Haji Adilo.

I wore my running gear to Adilo’s training sessions, hoping to sneak in a run with the world’s star runners, Dire Tune who won the 2008 Boston Marathon, and Mare Dibaba, who finished second in the 2010 Toronto Waterfront Marathon. The women set off to do four loops of a five kilometre course, starting at a 4:23 per kilometre pace and getting progressively faster. I got caught up in a conversation with Adilo. As the women approached for their third loop, I figured it was now or never to realize my dream of running with the Ethiopian stars. I leapt onto the road in pursuit.

I figured if I went full out, maybe I could keep up for a kilometre. But after chasing their heels for 200 metres, the pace and altitude (Addis is the world’s third highest capital) had me doubled over, sucking wind and laughing hysterically at my feeble attempt. As I watched the knot of runners disappear over a knoll, I wondered if running on the same road counted as running with the Ethiopians?

I decided that it did and continued on.

The dirt road looped through farm fields that were being converted into housing though, like everything here, slowly and haphazardly. Half-built houses loomed against the sky with not a worker in sight. Goats and chickens wandered onto the road and farmers driving donkey carts clattered past. Even stranger, farm children walking to school waved at me ecstatically. On the back stretch, three kids, about 25 metres off the road, squatted in the long grass, performing their morning ablutions. As I passed, they waved even as they squatted, and screamed, “running, running, running!”

Taking in my white skin and the red Canadian flag emblazoned on my running shirt, they probably thought I was a Canadian elite runner here to train with their running heroes. For the sake of Canada, I desperately tried to pick up the pace.

Then, with about 300 metres to go in the 5k loop, a woman who had broken away from the group to do speed work, pulled alongside me. Her running clothes were badly worn, and she was so far down Adilo’s depth chart that when I looked for her later, I couldn’t find her name. I picked up the pace, trying to match strides with her. When I faltered, she pointed to the ground beside her. “C’mon, c’mon,” she said smiling, insisting that I run with her!

I dug deeper, way deeper, and she checked her pace ever so slightly, though not so much to be condescending I like to think, and we ran into the finish together, arms and legs thrusting through the thin cool air, joy dripping from every pore of my body, for it is like she had just plucked a beautiful fruit from a tree and given it to me as a gift.


Me and Mare Dibaba (who finished 2nd in the 2010 Toronto Waterfront Marathon) and Dire Tune, winner of the 2008 Boston Marathon).




50 Thoughts # 6: I’m only 26, in marathon years. But this is what it takes:

Admit it. You’d love to have the experience and wisdom of fifty, but packaged in the body of a twenty something.

Whoa, I discovered it’s actually possible.

Last Wednesday, a month before I turn 50, I stepped on a set of whoop tee do scales at my personal trainer’s. It calculates a whole whack of things — bone and muscle density, water percentage, weight — including health age.

My health age, thanks to marathon running, is 26 and that’s a super-fit 26 year old.

Most runners have a time goal for the marathon. In training for Boston this April, a week after my 50th birthday, I set a goal of being in the best shape of my life — and finishing the marathon happy.

No question, I’ve already achieved goal one. Late for my annual physical last week, I jumped off a streetcar stalled in rush-hour traffic and ran the last four kilometres to my doctor’s office, arrived barely breaking a sweat and registered a heart rate of 68 and low blood pressure. Doctor pronounced me in excellent health.

Proud? Damn right I am. Determined? Even more so.

Certainly, I love the aesthetic benefits of being super fit. In three years of marathon training, I shed about 20 pounds and got rid of sags, saddle bags, chins, cheeks and even thigh bulges I’ve had since I was a kid and I thought would never disappear without plastic surgery (were I so inclined, which I’m not). Running has, as many of my running buddies have told me, literally transformed my body.

I love being strong. Physical challenges don’t daunt me (climb Kilimanjaro, as I did last year? No problem. Run a half marathon right after that? Bring it on). My body is a vehicle that carries me around the city — running, walking, cycling — with sweet joy and little effort.

Best of all, I love the healthy productive decades that being fit will give me to make big dreams come true.

Hitting 50 is about going after the thing you’ve always wanted to do — start that business/dream career/volunteer/ political work that allows the highest expression of your values; commit to deep learning (in books, adventure, psychological horizons); end the negative relationships; grow the positive ones; start the farm/art form to feed the world organic goodness.

As a writer, I feel I’m just hitting my stride. For whatever reason, I’ve explored virtually every genre a writer can, run down the path of poetry, playwriting, screenwriting, journalism, fiction. Now all that experience is coming together as I tackle big projects this year, and I want decades more work time for creative pursuits.

How much would it suck if my body were giving out at this glorious moment?

But what does it take to turn the age calendar backwards?

Here’s a look at this week’s training schedule — a peak week leading into Boston.

Sunday: 35 kilometre long run with about 10 major hills.

Monday: Stretching out those tight leg muscles.

Tuesday: 18 kilometres.

Wednesday: 8 kilometres and a one-hour personal training session with leg-strength training and ab work.

Thursday: 16 kilometres with fast tempo, hills.

Friday: 15 kilometre run.

Saturday: One-hour ab workout (equivalent of 500 sit-ups) and weight training.

Total Kilometres: 92

Total Hours of training: 12 to 14.

I didn’t get there over night. It took me three years to build up from three 6-kilometre runs a week to Boston qualifier. Put another way, it only took three years.

And it’s a true anti-aging formula. No B.S. No snake oil.



50 Thoughts #5: Finally, I get what the marathon has been trying to teach me

A couple of weeks ago, renowned sports psychologist Peter Jensen came to speak to our fabulous running club, The Runner’s Shop. As he talked about performance in sports, I was thinking about writing.

I rarely acknowledge this, and certainly never to myself, but running long, writing long — indeed, chasing any big dream — is brutally hard. It takes physical and mental strength, focus, discipline, a sense of humour, will, and, toughest of all, a belief in the worthiness of yourself and the thing you’re going. And that can only come from deep within yourself.

No one else, nothing else can give it to you, not money, awards, fame, booze, drugs, not even great sex or therapy. At least this much I have learned as I stare down 50.

I took up marathoning for a bizarre reason, perhaps. I wanted to write a novel. I sensed that running long had something to teach me about writing long. Yes, you have to set an end goal, establish a writing schedule, put in the word count, be patient with the training drafts, sharpen creative skills, blah blah blah. It’s not like I’m new to this writing game.

But for the biggest dream project of all, I sensed I had some deeper lesson to learn, though I had no idea what that was, until it clicked during Jensen’s talk.

Running is my pure place, my innocence, my five-year’s joy and glee and ecstasy. Yet, as I pushed towards the finish line of my novel, anxiety, doubt and dread began to bleed into my running, stalk my steps, weigh down my strides. I was training for Boston — Boston! I had qualified for Boston! By 16 minutes! — yet something was sucking the thrill out of it.

Jensen was explaining strategies to deal with hitting “the wall” in running, that precipice when physical energy is exhausted and all you have left is mental energy to carry you to the finish. What mental energy are you going to summon when you’re at your weakest? Positive? Negative? Friend? Foe? Believer? Critic?

What your mind feeds, the body eats.

Negative energy is a McDonald’s Big Mac. Positive energy is a grass-fed, organic steak.

As Jensen spoke about hitting the wall in running, I realized I was hitting the wall in writing. I could see the end but rather than being energized, I felt dread. Rather than having a friend on my side as I wrote into the homestretch, I had a snarling black dog questioning whether I had the finish in me, whether all the time, effort and love I had put into my novel was a big fat useless waste of time.

For years, friends have told me I’m hard on myself. I finally heard them. I was stripped to the core. And what I saw, I did not like.

Jensen preaches the power of positive visual imaging to Olympians and other high-performance athletes. Like any training, it takes work to come up with feel-good images that can power you through the wall — and practice to fix them in your mind, so that you can draw on them when you’re most vulnerable to the snapping black dogs.

I hate platitudes, like you have nothing to lose by going after your dreams. Oh, there’s everything to lose if chasing the dream stirs up a voice that’s intent sucking the life and vitality out of you. Maybe there’s good reason I put off that novel.

Which poses a question to self: Can a brain that’s so clearly brilliant at taking me down, with a little conscious rewiring, be as brilliant at taking me up?

This much I know after two university degrees and 20 years of teaching university courses: I’m a physical learner. I know things through my body.

Towards the end of a brutally hard 30-kilomentre run last winter, on a freezing, blustery, snowy day, this memory flew into my mind, actually flooded it so that I felt like I was inside the image. I was a kid again, riding my horse Rebel, who was full of wild, pent-up winter energy, and we were burning off that frenzied power by galloping through deep snowbanks, and he was lunging through the air, and I was hanging on, terrified, laughing. And in that moment, my exhausted aching runner’s body became weightless, floating, and I charged through those last kilometres, a smile on my face, a kid’s zealous smile.

Now as I write, I will focus on summoning up the marathoner in me, to carry me home.




50 Thoughts #4: The future is here and it looks a lot like yesterday

I detest platitudes — like learning to live in the moment — yet here I am working on that very thing in my Boston marathon training.

I put off writing this because I thought these 50 Thoughts would be bright, humorous dispatches — as if colonoscopies and forgetting words for groceries when you’re making a grocery list is downright hysterical.

Talking about depression has become all the rage since Stephane Richer admitted to trying to kill himself four days after winning a Stanley Cup, while driving his Porsche 911; since speedster Clara Hughes confessed that the black dogs have hounded her through six Olympic medals.

I don’t know if this makes me feel better. You’d think folks with Stanley Cups, Porsches and Olympic medals would have it all going on. And I don’t have any of those things.

I did have a father who wanted to end his life, whoa, starting at the age of 50! I don’t worry about a genetic inheritance. I can put that in a box. He was a modern progressive farmer. His brain had been polluted by agricultural chemicals (gee thanks, Big Ag!) and also dented by a rock to the head. When I was researching an eight-part series for The Toronto Star, “Crisis on the Farm,” I spoke to Carlton University researcher Shawn Hayley, who studies the links between Parkinson’s and pesticides. He thought the bang on the head (causing inflammation) was like “throwing a match” into the chemicals that had pooled in my father’s brain tissue, starting “a forest fire” in his head. The researcher actually used that poetic language (thanks, literature!).

My dad saw the black clouds of confusion closing in. I came home from high school to hear the tearful ultimatums he gave to my mom: either take him to hospital to fix his confusion or take him to the cemetery. The doctors tried and could not fix his Parkinson’s dementia. We hid the hunting rifle, the keys to vehicles, kept an eye on him. He once managed to go for a walk across Highway 400, though the police apprehended him and returned him home, “safe,” ironic quotation marks fully intended.

I was 15 when dad started going off the rails. Being the kind of kid who wrote poetry, I perhaps sympathized too intensely with his drama. I went through high school asking myself this question each and every day: What makes life worth living? And every day, I would have to come up with an answer, for both dad and myself.

I really struggled with answers for dad. His autopsy report, which I bizarrely keep on my writing desk, says he lived to 70, though it was in a thick mental fog for the last 15. Still, he lived to meet all six of his grandchildren, and he delighted in them and I think they felt that he, confused and unhappy as he was, gave them a lot of positive love.

As for me, I always came up with the same answer. Growing up gay and denying it to myself for many years (cause it was considered vile and despicable, like it’s changed all that much for kids) didn’t make high school or university life particularly peachy. So my answer was always rooted in future. Things would get better in the future. I believed in the future. And for too much of my life, I have lived not so much in the now, as for the future.

But at 50, the future’s not such a great place to live. If there’s ever a time for an occupy-the-present movement, it’s now.

Last night, I was at my alma mater, University of Toronto, doing speed work around King’s College Circle, pounding out 10 kilometres of laps, passing undergraduates spilling out of evening classes, thrilling in being in the best shape of my life (and likely better shape that 95 percent of those 20-somethings).

I was not thinking about Boston or the blessed end of the workout or even the next lap, but exhilarating in the speed and gruesome effort, living in the wondrous moment of each stride. And I was strong. And I was happy.


50 Thoughts # 3: I’m not freaking out. I’m running marathons.

I have been turning 50 for more than two years now.

At age 48, I decided to train for my first marathon. Actually, I hadn’t even turned 48, but that January, when I started my usual three-month preparation period to deal with the psychological trauma of my birthday in April (the cruelest month), I realized with some horror that my mom was 48 when I first took note of her age and by then she was already old.

Though I’m a writer, I can do some basic math. At 47, you’re closer to 45. At 48, there is no turning back. It’s a flashing, fret-lined, fat-fuelled, free fall to the big ‘ffing fifty. Might as well skip the denial and accept that you’re already 50.

The number has a way of concentrating the mind — even mine, which given my sign, a goat, is prone to scrambling up this mountain pass, only to reach an impasse; then scrambling up that dead-end path because the view is just spectacular over there; and then trying another whole new route because I’m curious like that; and on and on.

As I stared down 48, 49, 50, I realized there was no more time for scrambling. I had just two years to grow up!

Bizarrely, that’s when I decided to train for my first marathon. Never in my previous five or six lives did I ever dream of running one. I have flat-feet for gadsakes.

But in the middle of some hot flash of genius, this idea came to me: The marathon had something to teach me.

I figured that by chasing that terrifying goal, I might develop superior commitment, discipline, focus, even fearlessness, and perhaps other things (maybe a tight runner’s butt?), which I could apply to my career.

Because there are a few really big things I want to accomplish and time, as they say, is running.

So far, my strategy has worked, for running anyway. This April, a week after I turn 50, I will toe the line of my third marathon, at the big kahuna of all marathons, Boston. Yes, I qualified in the 50 to 54 age group. Yep, moving into THAT age category (another set of numbers to prepare for.)

But I’m okay with it. Really, I am. I mean, I’ve been preparing for 50 for more than two years now. How bad can it be when it really happens?


50 Thoughts #2: Because it’s the environment, stupid. Why we need a permaculture world.

Oh that sounds crotchety. I apologize on behalf of the 10,000 species (or more) that went extinct last year  (and, oh, why not the 22 percent of all species that may be extinct by 2022 if no action is taken).

Is there an angst gene that suddenly turns on as we approach 50? I haven’t felt this way since I was a kid, worrying every time I turned on the TV (everything in black & white back then), that this might be the moment, regular programming of The Partridge Family interrupted by a newsflash of the big flash: Nuclear war has broken out. 

Now the world around me in this wet whimper of a winter seems not just ill, but carooming toward some bad end. So-called free markets enslaving the poor. People starving when there is more than enough food to feed everyone. A handful of corporations controlling food, drugs & education and therefore our very minds and bodies. Democracies throwing citizens under the corporate bus. And the economy just keeps unravelling at its plastic seams.

But there is one word that keeps me from despairing.

It captures one of those ideas that seems so obvious and and true and right when you hear it explained.

Permaculture — as in permanent human culture. It’s about designing human systems that work in harmony with nature rather than against nature because, obviously, we are a part of it. Screw nature and we screw ourselves, eventually.

Permaculture has been catching on with food growers since Aussies Bill Mollison and David Holmgren developed the idea in the mid 1970s. They said, before designing a food system, study the master, as in the most productive innovative, self-renewing designer of all time, nature. Then mimic nature, which is complex, rather than design in our own image, which tends to the self serving and simplistic.

So what do we get with permaculture?

*Good healthy organic crops, obviously, because nature offers her bounty without the crutch of chemical pesticides or genetically modified seeds (and 99 studies say organic agriculture can feed the world versus 0 studies that say industrial chemical agriculture can).

*Crops that mimic what would grow naturally in a region (for example, a complex mix of perennial grains in the prairies versus monocultures of annuals).

*Local sustainable food systems and new care and respect for every inch of land we stand on and the human stewards who care for it.

*A waste-free system that sustains itself, by recycling waste and using available energy.

*A go-slow approach that values creativity, diversity, human and natural traditions and careful scientific observation.

And that’s just poking at the fecund edges of what permaculture means.

Permaculture is catching on in urban design and architecture (LEED-certified buildings being an example). It’s central in transition-times thinking, as in how to survive peak oil, peak food, peak economic meltdown.

But how do we “permaculture” the areas we work in — energy, natural resources, business, banking, online, retail, heath-care, education, travel, entertainment?

How do we think in permaculture?

Who do we create and live permaculture lives?

For more, check out this video.



50 Thoughts #1: Where are you in 2012?

Where were you in ’62? That tagline question of George Lucas’ rock-and-roll romp, American Graffiti, is easy to answer for those of us who popped out of the womb that year, blinking against the bright glare (America will put a man on the moon, declares JFK!), suckled by end-of-world despair (Russian missile buildup in Cuba threatens global nuclear war, warns JFK).

The tougher question — with no rhyming jingle to soften the blow — is where are you in 2012? That’s the big fat question facing the tail-end-of-the-baby-boomers generation that has been wagged by that beat-you-first-to-everything oppressive lot our whole lives.

Trying to answer it will be the likes of Jon Stewart, Jim Carrey, Jodie Foster, Steve Carell, Ralph Fiennes, Jann Arden, Sheryl Crow, The Breakfast Club (Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy), The Outsiders (Tom Cruise), and who the hell are you (which would include me), all turning 50 this year.

So ’62 seems like a vintage year for entertainers, not so good for us writers (perhaps the most notable, David Foster Wallace, checked out early).

Admittedly, I’ve experienced plenty of bright glare and despair — I was born into it, after all. But I’m hanging in there, a whole lot astonished that this moment rolled around so fast but eager to explore what it means (and feels like) to hit the half-century mark and get really serious about this business of living, when there is, undeniably, less than half of it left.

I can say now that I know exactly where I will be one week after I turn 50 this April (if all goes well, that is) — toeing the start line of the Boston marathon.

In the meantime, I guess you could say I’m in training to turn 50.

With some months of practice, perhaps I will get it right.

If you have suggestions, comments and thoughts for 50 Thoughts, please do share!