So I’m not great in the morning. I look forward to the weekend when there’s no early morning con-calls with Europe or any need to try and beat the Massey Tunnel rat race before it clogs up worse than a student toilet.
No – weekends, and in particular Sundays are for lie-ins. Sometimes I’m as decadent as to lie there until 8 o’clock. Not today though. No, today I was on the road by 7:15 and heading for Vancouver. In a moment of weakness I’d signed up for the company team entry to the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation ChildRun 2013.
I figured after the 10km Vancouver SunRun in April that this would be a doddle. Even better, the company was paying for my entrance fee. All I had to do was turn up and run. It’s definitely a smaller affair than the premier SunRun… but it’s got a very different rationale. It’s actually a Fun Run. There were lots of kids of all ages taking part – and I was soundly over-taken by many who were only a third of my height. It was quite heartening really. We hear so much about how unfit our kids are – sat in front of TV screens, listening to their iPods and playing video games. But here was a group of kids of all ages and ethnicities out in the early (-ish) morning sunshine and being active. Of course – I also passed quite a few of them walking, but at least they were there. (I really must get a T-shirt with “50th year, Overweight, Pre-diabetic, Heart arrhythmia… and in front of you!”)
A few were there only because their super-fit Lululemon-clad parents had bullied them into it, but by and large, most seemed to be there of their own volition. There was no super-accurate start; no timer chip; no first prize for the “winner”. This was an event. A happening. The only race was against yourself. I overheard one little chap complaining to his mother than other kids were cutting the corners as the race wound through Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver. She laughed and said “they are only cheating themselves – we’ll follow the proper route”. A small lesson, but a powerful one. I was once impressed during a Scout Leader training course when moral fibre was defined to trainees as “what you do in the woods when nobody’s watching”. If you cheat when there’s only yourself measuring, what does that say about your standards?
On paper, the route looked plain enough. I wasn’t familiar with the area, so got quite a shock when a few metres past the half way mark, the route took a 90 degree turn to the right… and almost the same vertically! I’m sure in practice it wasn’t that steep at all, but it felt bad. The Sun Run has a similar “are you sure you want to do this?” moment, just as you turn to climb up to the Burrard Bridge. I decided I’d just dig in and reduce my stride, but keep “running”. At this point a few lithe souls cruised past me without breaking into a sweat, and my breath was definitely a bit ragged. I recalled an English lesson when I was about 11 or 12, when we were learning about puns, similes, metaphors and the like. The example was “His breath came in short pants”. I chuckled then. I chuckled now. But I was definitely on the edge of “let’s just walk for a bit”.
Then I saw a sign at the side of the road. It said “Pain is only temporary. Have courage and keep going“. Something along those lines anyway. And I got to thinking. Why was I even doing this run? It was a fund-raiser for the Children’s Hospital. Specifically for the cancer care and research part. And I thought about it. I had chosen to enter this event. I had therefore inherently chosen to undergo this temporary inconvenience and discomfort. But the kids in the hospital had had no choice. They were there through some cruel twist of fate. Some as yet poorly understood mechanism of nature that bestowed cancer upon them. A genetic propensity perhaps. Some food sensitivity. Walking past some chemical emission at the wrong time. Any or all of the above. But not a choice they had any part in.
And I remembered the video clips and pictures so carefully selected by the marketing geniuses for this and similar charities. Of kids with bald heads from the side-effects of chemo treatment. Crippled or bed-ridden from their internal fight against the disease. But with a smile. A laugh. A joy in life. They had no choice but to accept their pain, yet still found that joy that every child deserves. And I realised that though we may call it “courage”, they call it “life”. And suddenly I was at the top of the hill, snagging a cup of water, and depositing the empty vessel into a bin bag helpfully held out by a fireman volunteering on his day off. Another little kid (who let’s be clear – had been ahead of me until this point!) was enquiring of his mother why other folk were discarding their paper cups on the roadside. “Because they’re litter bugs” she said. Kudos. Even in a “race”, there’s no reason to make more work than necessary for all the volunteers who are giving of their own time to make the event run smoothly. This kid was getting a great grounding in acceptable behaviour for a Canadian – social awareness, looking out for your fellow citizens, respect for others, and a healthy outlook. My faith in humanity was ever so slightly restored.
From there it was downhill and flat, and our merry throng soon got to the 4km mark and passed the tail end of the 1km walkers as they embarked on their own little demonstration of solidarity and support in the opposite direction. But then…
… I turned the corner and someone had transplanted Everest to Vancouver. Where had that last hill come from? That can’t be right! Why would a race organiser put a bloody great hill up to the finish line?! Nothing for it now. Dig in, keep the momentum, and keep right on truckin’…
We’re funny animals us humans. Sat in the calm of your living room with a cup of tea and a digestive you really would not credit the effect that a friendly voice of support can have on your physical being. But a few young ladies waving pom-poms and yelling “you’re nearly there – keep going”, or random strangers clapping and cheering really can do that. That tone of support from the crowds lining the finish stretch really do have a positive effect. Your legs suddenly find energy you were convinced you didn’t have, and you somehow keep going. And then you’re over the line and it’s all over. A smiley-faced volunteer presses a participation medal into your hand, and it’s off to find a banana and a drink of juice.
It wasn’t really a race. But I beat Mrs E for the first time ever. Just sayin’… 😉
So, feeling quite pleased with myself, we wandered back to the car – parked in the Children’s Hospital. And as we did so, we passed a young mother with a pushchair carrying a young child. On the canopy was a hand-written sign. I forget the name, but it had a photo and said “This is my brother…” I didn’t have time to read the rest as we passed, but it had a poppy – the emblem of remembrance. She was leaving the hospital. I suspect it was a regular trip she made. Suddenly I didn’t feel so pleased with myself. I’d done nothing really. Just ran 5km. Something anyone could do.
Why not take the $5 you’d spend on that next pint of beer and give it to a great cause instead? Here’s where.