‘I’m signed up for what now?’

June 11, 2013

John Carson is a hard guy to say no to.

I’d just gotten off the phone with the charismatic founder of Run for Life, a local non-profit that promotes running to people of all ages. Somehow, Carson convinced me to sign up for something called the Social Media Mile, a race for journalists, bloggers and other social media types at his Cambridge Classic Mile event June 14.

The evening-long event at the old cinder track in front of the Galt Collegiate Institute will bring together Olympians, including local marathoner Eric Gillis, along with some of the best local school-aged, college and 40-plus runners in the area. The highlight will be when two-time Olympian Nate Brannen tries to honour British running legend Roger Bannister by running a mile, or four laps around the track, in less than four minutes.

I had called Carson to write a story about the Classic Mile for the newspaper, but must have been on a sugar low because I strangely heard myself saying “sure, that sounds like fun.” I foolishly committed to running a race before learning that a) There is no break for cheeseburgers at the halfway point, and b) You’re not allowed to finish the second half in a golf cart.

This will be a straight-up race, a running race, a run-as-fast-as-you can for a solid mile, or four laps of the track, race. Fortunately, there will be a race of local paramedics immediately before, so I hope they’ll stick around.

What Carson doesn’t know is that I’ve never run competitively in my life. As in, ever. Once, in elementary school, I ran two laps around the building because the class bully was trying to sit on me.

Later, I learned to sprint every morning for the school bus that always seemed to be pulling away from my neighbour’s driveway about two minutes too soon. I’d say it was about 150 metres from my front door to the moving bus, so counting a hurdle over the wooden fence at the top of the yard, it was practically a track and field event.

But that’s it. I’ve never lined up on a start line with other runners, never circled a track, never waited for a starter’s pistol, none of that.

I see runners go by my house every morning, and they seem to be enjoying themselves. Occasionally, I’ll pull on a pair of shorts and go for a jaunt that cannot be honestly described as anything more than a leisurely jog. But running? That’s for athletes. I’m a hired geek, built for typing and note-taking.

I’m mystified how people like Brannen make running at superhuman levels seem easy. Most of our hearts would explode if we ever tried to reach and sustain the paces that those guys compete at.

Don’t even try to understand how runners like Ed Whitlock, now 82 and another star at the Cambridge Classic Mile, seem to defy nature. Whitlock, who’s running in the 40-plus category next Friday, is the only person on the planet over 70 years old to run a marathon in under three hours.

His personal record of 2:54:48, set at age 73, is a mark most of us would struggle to top even in our prime. I would struggle to cover a marathon in that time on a bicycle.

Brannen, Gillis and Whitlock, these are the runners that the crowds at the Galt track will be coming to see next Friday. Then there’s me. I’ll be the comic relief for the evening, like the guy who makes the fart joke in a Shakespearean play before all the serious business continues.

Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

-Guelph Mercury, June 8

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