Part of the problem is that I don’t actually enjoy running most of the time. I once read an article about what professional runners think about when they run. It turns out they think about running. On one level, this makes sense: You wouldn’t expect a professional hockey player to be thinking about decorating while passing a puck, for example. But to me, this is mind-boggling. It’s incredible. Because running is the most brain-numbingly boring activity in the world. I’m not knocking it, I just think that beyond ‘Left-then-right Mark, not left-then-left,’ the thought process must get kind of… repetitive. Still, somehow, pro marathon runners manage to think about running for three to three-and-a-half hours. Average runners do it for four plus.
I, on the other hand, like nothing else when I’m running than to think about stopping. I can’t help myself. I’ve actually run a half-marathon before, and I spent the whole two hours fantasizing about standing still. It’s an amazing feeling, standing still. (I’ve actually also finished a marathon before, but it took me a very, very long time because I actually did spend quite a bit of it standing still.) So I do whatever I can to distract my brain while running. Music isn’t good enough—I need spoken podcasts or audiobooks. Only other people’s thoughts can distract me from my own, which after five minutes of light jogging inevitably run along the lines of: Oh God, please let it end.
All this to explain why I was intimidated by someone who had decided to become a competitive Ironman. This was, after all, someone who had chosen to dedicate her life to a sport that takes 10 hours of continuous exertion for the best athletes in the world to finish. (I don’t even have the endurance to sit in a chair for 10 hours.) This is someone who thinks, “Hey, I’ve just spent six-and-a-half hours swimming and cycling—why not top that off with a wee little marathon?” Someone, I might add, who chose to do this not once in her life, just to say that she had done it, but does it every year. Twice. And finally, this was someone—and here’s the real issue—who had chosen this life. She hadn’t been kidnapped when she was four by a traveling circus and forced into it. She really just enjoyed running that much.
So when I got a phone message from Sylvie I cowered a little. With a cheery “Allo, Marc!” she suggested we meet to talk things over. I wasn’t let going to let the friendly, singsonginess of her French-Canadian accent lull me into believing that she didn’t secretly want to cause me some of the most unbearable pain I’d ever experienced. I knew better. I made a note in my calendar: “Meet Sophie Monday 6:30.” Then I put another note just above it: “Tell Mom I love her, 5:30.” You know, just in case.