Friday, April 18, 2008

Is That a Power Bar in Your Pocket, Or ... ?

It’s April 19th today. That means the marathon is….hang on,….borrow ten, carry the two….15 days away.

Oh. Dear. God.

I’ve done all I can to get ready, I think. I ran the miles, I quaffed the mega-ultra-dynamo power drinks that make you pee out more nutrients than half the world’s population sees in a month; I ate Gu, ShotBloks (carbo gel snacks made by Gatorade), a host of energy bars of varying descriptions; I cramped, chafed, sweated, cursed, rejoiced, and I ran, ran, ran. Mile after thumping bloody mile.

I’m sick to death of running. Depending on how the marathon goes, I will either have my tights bronzed or burnt, but I don’t want to spend any more time actually wearing them. I calculated the number of training miles I will have run by the time I get to the start line—it’s 550. I know. I did the math three times. At my haggard 10-minutes-per-mile average, that’s 5,500 minutes (92 hours) I could have spent on my couch. Or doing pretty much anything else.

There are real runners out there. I see them all the time, wafting past me, the little wings on their shoes flapping furiously. I read their comments on the RunnersWorld forums, how they found peace, lost weight, gained self-confidence, had epiphanies, cruised mile after effortless mile, breezed up hills and over dales, even their blisters are fun! fun! fun! They gave up drugs and cigarettes, they kicked coffee, gambling, and bad marriages, they straightened out troubled kids between miles 11 and 13, solved the mideast crises at mile 18 and found an endless, clean, alternative energy source just before bursting through "the wall" at mile 21. They are slim, confident, happy people who love to run. When I see them, I push them down.

OK, it hasn’t been that bad. Actually, some of the miles have been pretty good. Probably not "good" to the point where someone wants to push me down, but at least there have been miles where I was only soggy with sweat and not with misery and tears. I think there were at least 6 like that.

As race day approaches, I’ve started making lists. I’m in the "tapering" part of the training now, which means my weekly mileage is dropping faster than Wile E. Coyote off an unsuspected cliff. Last week (the biggie), 52 miles. This week, 29. Next week, 21. During marathon week, I’ll run only 9 miles over the course of 5 days. The joy of so little is somewhat ameliorated by the massive sink-hole-of-fear-and-trembling 26.2 at the end of the week, but I’m trying to stay positive here. My lists—and there are many, mostly saying the same stuff over and over and over again—consist almost entirely of items like "socks" and "extra socks." I don’t seem to be able to think about the big stuff, so I get there in baby steps like "socks." But then, that’s how I’m getting to the start line of a marathon, so I guess it makes sense.

I’m looking forward to the race, I really am. There’ll be a big crowd, it’s a pretty part of a pretty city (Vancouver), Toasty will be there (yay!), and on Sunday, May 4, when the race is over and no matter how it turns out, I will have an excuse to eat absolutely and without question of guilt or my mom’s well-intentioned voice in my head anything I want. I’ll be able to chat with other runners at the start. I’ll line up somewhere between the greyhounds and the basset hounds, feeling the charge of all the nervous energy buzzing around me like hummingbirds on crack. I’ll lament my stupidity for signing up (a lot and loudly) and promise the Fates that if they just let me live through this, I’ll never be this ass-ignorant again.

I’m trying to have some measure of confidence. After all, I’m not running to compete, and my only goal, really, is to finish under my own power. But as I sit here, imagining the race day, the start line, crossing—for the first time ever—the 20-mile mark (should I get that far), the length, the hills, the miles stretched end-to-end, and, quite frankly, the portapoddies, my heart is beating faster and I kinda have to pee. I’ve worked hard for this, and I don’t want to choke on the day of because my head is full of I-can’ts despite all the miles I’ve put behind me. I know that race-day adrenaline is a powerful drug and can take you far; I’m hoping that training, plus adrenaline, plus some well-timed ShotBloks will get me far enough.

Thanks, everyone, for support, encouragement and patience beyond the call of duty. Thanks especially to Toasty who volunteered to ride alongside me on several loooooong runs (including 2 ugly 20s). He truly is the new generation of male athletic supporter.

One thing I’d really like to pass along to everyone: if you’re out and about and a runner goes by you, particularly if that runner is a little older or slower or chubbier or more desperate-looking than the ├╝ber-runners who just need to be pushed down, a sincere "You’re looking great!" or "Keep it up!" or just some well-timed applause is worth gold. Trust me on this.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Getting Your Shit Together™

One day in the very recent past, I was standing at the water cooler. Now, pardon my digression here, but where did we get this notion that the water cooler is some sort of hub of human social activity? As far as I can tell, people go there to get water, and like animals at an oasis, there's a kind of unspoken free zone that surrounds the Holy Water Cooler. Everyone must be friendly or at least polite. We stand back and wave others to the taps first; people fill up quickly, make--at best--nominal conversation about work-related issues or the recent weekend's weather and get the heck gone. Maybe it's because I was a temp and not there for very long, but I heard NOT ONE thread of gossip that I didn't start myself. It's a gossip-free area. I heard plenty of gossip launched over the tops of cubicles and toilet stalls, but seriously, it's like there's something sacred about the acquisition of water that's too serious for idle chatter, like we all had to walk miles through searing desert carrying goat-bladder canteens or something.

So I'm standing at the water cooler, waiting my turn to make tea, wondering when the alligator that is McBitchy is going to wrap her face around some cute, fuzzy, wee little mammal of an assistant that I know she doesn't like and drag them to a damp and sudden death at the bottom of the pool. I've seen her do similar things in meetings. This girl has no problems at all with lashing out at someone in front of the assembled, drawing blood with a thinly disguised joke. But not at the water cooler. Weird.

Anyway, when it's my turn, I pass the uncomfortable moment of awareness that all these people behind me are wishing--politely--that I would hurry the hell up by looking idly at the bulletin board above my head. There's a poster advertising a program for "overstressed employees." Now, I'll just mention that this poster pre-dates the announcement of layoffs, so we're not talking about especially stressed employees, just the normally stressed variety. The program is called something like LifeEra™ or similar. I didn't have much time to read it, it being first thing in the morning and the line of cordially hostile tea-drinkers behind me increasingly deep, but I went back later when the cooler was less popular as a destination site.

It's a program about all that feel-good Oprahesque crap: finding your bliss, your inner child, your hidden bitch, your childhood dreams, Jesus, your lunch, whatever you might feel you've lost along the troubled path of adulthood. It's "getting on the right track!"™ and "forging your way ahead!"™ and how to "be a fully realized person!"™ That last one always kills me. At some point, will this program provide me with a personal epiphany when I jump up and down and wave my arms and say, "Holy crap, so this is the person I am!"? What if I fully realize who I am, and I turn out to be a bit of a shit? Can I unrealize myself and go back to the foggy haze of thinking I'm generally OK? And more importantly, can I get my money back?

I think that's the part that weirded me out most. The program costs money. It's trademarked. Does that strike anyone else as a bit sinister? Your ability to Get Your Shit Together™ in life has been trademarked. Now I'm worried. This morning I tidied my kitchen -- is that copyright infringement? Will I have to pay royalties on every to-do list? It disturbs me that as a society we are so far removed from our blisses that we have to hire someone else to go out and look for them.

On the other hand, people searching for their blisses in all the wrong places means there's a lot of good second-hand camping, skiing and biking gear available, so that's OK.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ode to a Small Lump of Silly Putty in Her Armpit

OK, as promised, stories from my brief-but-meaningful interval in the world of retail marketing. Lemme tell you about the pictures. You know how American women learn the Art of Self-Loathing from pictures of flawless women in catalogs and magazines? I'm here to tell you: those women could have arrived at the photoshoot looking like the Loch Ness Monster herself, but by the time the pictures get in print, they've been Photoshopped and Pre-Pressed, and the Loch Ness Monster has morphed into Naughty Nessie the pouty-lipped, slim-hipped, scale-free fantasy girl next door. At least the Loch Ness Monster might actually be real.

I found this out when I sat down to add copy (the words) to some pages that were due to be printed as a mailer. Most of the photos were in place, but the files weren't complete. Basically, several someones (our art directors, the company selling the clothes) go through the files and circle all the stuff they want removed: moles, birthmarks, tattoos, etc. Now, I can see taking the tattoo off, I guess. It's hard to concentrate on that darling little flouncy blouse when the model has a naked harpy astride a barbed wire snake inked on her bicep. But when they get to the point of circling for removal the invisible freckle on the inside of her left shin, well, that's when I start getting testy.

So my introduction to the wide world of fraud and misrepresentation began when I had to add some very basic copy to a page of bras. It would be bras, wouldn't it? Not socks or sandals or even flouncy blouses, no, it would just have to be bras.

I bring up the page, and there are maybe eight or ten women on the page, all of the shots very typical, just head and upper torso. But every single picture had a circle around both of the model's nipples. The instructions? A very terse, "Remove." Oh, and you're not allowed to have wrinkles at the juncture where your arm hooks to your body. There's a smoothing process to take out the "extra" folds in your skin that keep you from ripping great holes in your outer layer every time you move because those folds are apparently unsightly. And we're not talking about huge flappy winglettes of skin here, folks; we're talking about those wee wrinkles that naturally occur wherever your body has to bend and stretch. The smearing that they do to take out those wrinkles makes every woman look like she's been touched up with Silly Putty. Check it out next time you see a bra catalog. Oh, and obvious cleavage has to go too. I know, I know, it's a bra page, but no nipples and no cleavage allowed. Don't ask me.

It's got to be a relief for the models, though. They can have moles and freckles and tattoos and wrinkles and cleavage and curvy hips in real life, and the questionable magic of Photoshop can air brush them into golden goddesses, flawless in everything but attitude. They can be disassembled and reassembled, parts of their bodies traded for other body parts from a more "appropriate" model. It's like the art people have a bucket of KFC in their computers: a big bunch of breasts, thighs, legs and .... well, not wings probably. And no heads. Huh. Reach into the bucket, pull one out, determine if it's golden and crispy... ok, this is where the analogy falls apart, but you know what I mean.

Real women (and men, 'cause they do it to the guys too) are not buckets of chicken. I think I may print that on t-shirts: "real people are not buckets of chicken." I'll make a fortune.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


Two more days among the fearlessly fashionable, then it's back to the world of fleece and baggy butt jeans. Have I got stories for you.