On Saturday the REGINA FARMER’S MARKET was the place to be ... for a busker. On Saturday the sky was blue, the air warm and windless, and my guitar strings gleaming in the brightness of the morning sun.
Cap-a-pie I was hatless, a long-sleeved collarless dark fitted shirt, a pair of Jack & Jones walking shorts purchased in Amsterdam, and I wore sandals. It was a glorious Saturday and my consumers were munificent.
Even so, the three and half hours that I stood and strummed, I kept wondering what my blog topic of today would be. Dear reader, please know that I usually post my blog entry on a Sunday, but ofttimes do not have my topic until Saturday, the day before. Once my topic has been decided, I create a snappy title and then off I go, rising at 5 o’clock Sunday morning to make a first draft. I knew the QUEEN CITY MARATHON would be blocking the Regina roadways starting this morning at six a.m. (preventing me from my morning run), and could not for the life of me think of a snappy title … that is until this morning while not running, but instead sipping Americanos with cream and sugar.
The QUEEN CITY MARATHON is running right now while I type (pun intended). I remember when I use to run marathons and I remember the moment I quit running marathons. First, dear reader, without seeming the braggadocio and very much for the record, here is a brief history of my bona fide credentials for this quick commentary on running, hoping to convince you that I am much more than just a handsome scrivener, more than just eye candy atop a pair running shoes.
In 1977, the year it was published, I read THE COMPLETE BOOK OF RUNNING by JIM FIXX. At the time I was enrolled at CARIBOO COLLEGE (now THOMPSON RIVERS UNIVERSITY) in Kamloops, British Columbia taking a scuba diving certificate through the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF UNDERWATER INSTRUCTORS (NAUI). I smoked at the time.
After reading THE COMPLETE BOOK OF RUNNING I took up running and decidedly had to quit smoking. One cannot be a long-distance runner and a Players pack-a-day smoker. (I must mention that one can be a scuba diver and a Players pack-a-day smoker, as was my instructor at the time.)
Those years I mostly ran MCARTHUR ISLAND PARK and RIVERSIDE PARK both situated right in the city, though McArthur Island was in North Kamloops, and Riverside right along the South Thompson in downtown Kamloops. Those were glorious years.
Moving to Regina I ran in WASCANA PARK, the second largest urban park in North America, bigger than CENTRAL PARK in New York, but smaller than STANLEY PARK in VANCOUVER. Running WASCANA PARK changed my life.
My teaching assignment was as a GUIDANCE COUNSELLOR at BALFOUR TECHNICAL SCHOOL (now officially BALFOUR COLLEGIATE). During my six year stay at Balfour, each morning I ran five miles to work, then ran around WASCANA LAKE every noon hour, and then ran five miles home. At that time I was running at least thirteen miles each weekday.
On weekends I did not run Saturdays, but rain or shine, frigid or humid, every Sunday I ran ten miles with my friend, BURT GIBSON. Burt was the real marathon man. Each year he ran not only the SASKATCHEWAN MARATHON, but also every year ran in the MANITOBA MARATHON and … the HONOLULU MARATHON. Burt and I ran ten miles together every Sunday for over twenty-five years!
From Balfour I was transferred to the SALVATION ARMY YOUTH RESOURCE CENTRE (which officially came to be THE HOUSE OF CONCORD), an open-custody facility for young offenders sixteen years old and upward. At Concord we (the twelve youth in custody and I) ran three and half miles every morning before lunch and before ENGLISH and ART classes.
I had been invited by my REGINA SCHOOL DIVISION DIRECTOR and the MINISTRY OF EDUCATION (SASKATCHEWAN) to create an academic program for young offenders (of which there was not one at the time). The program that I introduced was based upon that of JIM DEATHERAGE’S READING, ‘RITING, and RUNNING. Jim was an American English teacher that had been written about in RUNNER’S WORLD MAGAZINE, of which I was a subscriber. I phoned Jim and he graciously gave me the spiel of what exactly he did to promote such a program.
Shortly after several discussions with Jim, I worked and ran out of the HOUSE OF CONCORD for seven years, during which I wrote my Master's thesis, ONE HUNDRED DAYS AT THE HOUSE OF CONCORD: An Ethnographic Study of Young Offenders in an Exercise Programme (and defended such in 1994).
While assigned to those seven years at the House of Concord, Burt joined me and the students (those young offenders) to run in the ECHO LAKE ROAD RACE, a half-marathon run around Echo Lake, hosted each May by the town of Fort Qu’Appelle chamber of commerce. Burt and I had run that race at least twenty times together.
Besides having run many ECHO LAKE ROAD RACES, my running years with Burt also included several WASCANA RELAYS (one of which we ran four times just to have a marathon run that day), and two twenty-six mile SASKATCHEWAN MARATHON races, held in SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN. (I remember one marathon it was raining at the start line, snowing near the wall, then the sun shining brightly over the finish line.)
Back to ECHO LAKE. Every Echo Lake Road Race, Burt and I would drive out together, register and pay our fee at the start line. The race was always agog with hundreds of runners, mostly rabid, some nondescript, and some panjandrum, and then side-by-side we would run the thirteen miles, just the two of us, yakking and solving the same ol’ same ol’ political state of the province and country and planet we did as every other weekend we ran together. After every Echo Lake race we would sit next to one another in the town hall during the winner awards ceremony, wearing our Echo Lake running caps and munching on oleaginous beer sausages (both free gratis with the registration fee). Following the awards ceremony where all the same runners year after year won the same awards for finishing first, while others like Burt and me would sometimes win a watch in a random draw (these races were in part sponsored by TIMEX), and before driving the hour back to Regina from Fort Qu’Appelle, we would ritually make our way to the local ice cream stand, sit outside at the lonely picnic table, and lick our delicious made-with-dairy-product treats.
One particular May long weekend, I picked up Burt for our drive to the Qu’Appelle Valley for another Echo Lake Half Marathon Road Race. A few minutes outside Regina I posed to Burt this question:
"Are we training for something?"
Burt replied, "What do you mean?"
To which I replied, "Are we training for something? Here we are driving out to Fort Qu’Appelle again for another run, a run where we run together and chat and solve all the world problems. Except this time, we have to pay. We are paying to do the same thing we do every weekend, save for that ugly runner’s cap and greasy sausage we get for signing up."
Burt: "Hmmm …"
Self: "Hmmm …"
I turned the car around, with Burt’s permission of course, and we ran ten miles through Wascana Park, after which we did not snack on a sausage, nor sport a new running cap.
For the both of us, that was our last official road race.
‘Tis bittersweet for me to write that I am still running, though ever leery of slipping on the ice, substituting JACOB’S LADDER for running until the ice has melted.
‘Tis bittersweet because in 1984 my writing and running hero, Jim Fixx, died in a ditch in Vermont while on his daily ten mile run.
‘Tis bittersweet because in 2011 my long time running mate, Burt Gibson, had a heart attack and has not run since.