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Pique N Yer Interest

My running problem

Last Thursday, while running around like a madman trying to put together a respectable Halloween costume, a heavy piece of luggage fell on my right foot while I was in line for the bus. In my hand was the plastic bucket that would ultimately be used to create my lamest Halloween costume ever.

I didn't think anything of the incident at the time, and good-naturedly accepted the apology of the poor traveller, who was wrestling with several big suitcases while attempting to root through a handful of foreign lucre for Canadian coins.

Two days later I found myself on the Lougheed Highway, huffing and puffing up a long, winding hill in my running shoes. The stabbing pains in my right foot, or more specifically the raised area above my big toe where the suitcase fell, are all I can think about - at least until a couple of blisters develop under the big toe on my left foot.

Ah, running!

My leg of the relay run, the 100 km Haney to Harrison relay, is about 13.5 km - my personal longest run since I took up the sport of running back in April, although I ran almost double that distance over three legs during the Hood to Coast race back in August.

Both feet held together until I reached the handoff point, as they always do, and after consuming a few mouthfuls of water I reached for the first beer of the day. It wasn't even 2 o'clock., but I felt it was well-deserved for my hour and five minutes of labour and discomfort - as was the next beer, the next two after that, and the next four after that.

By five o'clock that afternoon I couldn't even feel my sore feet, and that suited me just fine. In fact, that's what I was counting on.

For me, that is what competitive running is all about. You get up early, you stretch, and then you pound pavement until you hit the finish line. And then you either go somewhere for a huge, greasy breakfast or hit the beer tent to sympathize with fellow runners.

Running events are a lot of fun, I'm discovering, except for the running part - I'm glad I started, and think I will be a runner for the rest of my life. But I have started to worry that I might be developing a little bit of a running problem.

One member of our relay team started the first leg of the race at 6:30 a.m. that morning. He cracked his first cold beer at about 7:15 a.m. and kept up a an astonishing pace until about 1 a.m. the following morning.

That may sound impressive, but then you have to take into the account that the person in question is an accomplished, veteran runner with several marathons under his belt - therefore his tolerance to alcohol is more finely developed.

While I've always gone for the odd jog in the past, it was always with an alternate goal in mind - usually to get in better shape for another sport, like rugby.

Even so, I haven't been motivated to run in the past. I used to run around the track at my old high school instead of taking the scenic route through the parks so I could pretend that my old football coach was there, yelling at me to quit dragging ass and suck it up or I would be benched. Sometimes I would run up and down the hill beside my school because I'd rather go hard for 10 minutes than jog for half an hour.

Until this year, I never thought of running as a sport in its own right. There was a cross-country running team at my high school, but I had no idea how tough the runners were or how hard they competed until I started to do a little bit of off-road running myself.

This season I've run in the Vancouver Sun Run, the Whistler stop of Nike 5 Peaks Series, the Terry Fox Run, the Run for the Cure, the Hood to Coast, and the Haney to Harrison, among others. I go trail running and road running at least once a week, and sometimes I've even enjoyed myself.

In the process of embracing the sport, however, I've unwittingly turned running into a form of penance, a trade-off that's akin to the medieval practice of buying indulgences, or sins, from the Church.

Way back when, you could steal, commit adultery, and even kill somebody providing you had blue blood and enough gold to pay the church for your wicked deeds. Some corrupt cardinals of the church even had price lists for frequent sinners looking to stay out of hell.

My version of penance and buying indulgences isn't as twisted, but there are some disturbing similarities:

For example, if I go for a run, then I get to eat what I want and stay up late drinking beer. Conversely, if I eat what I want and stay up late drinking beer, then I have to go for a run. It's one step forward, and two steps back.

The problem is that this vicious cycle goes against everything I should be running for, namely my health.

Running keeps your weight down. Big breakfasts and beers do not.

Running is good for your heart. Alcohol and greasy foods are leading causes of heart decay.

Running is good for your circulation. Fried eggs and homefries plug your arteries.

Running improves your energy and lifts your spirits. Huge fatty breakfasts put you back to sleep, and hangovers suck.

The irony of running as an excuse for doing other things that are not so good is not lost on me.

I just hope that I'm breaking even.