Monday, September 15, 2008

1/2 marathon of the 2008 Montreal Marathon

This was my first time at a big race. I've run some 5 and 10k races, but nothing with as many participants or events as this. I must thank my friend Erik, who enticed me to take part after he did last year's marathon in a blistering sub-six-hour pace.  ;-)

Not wanting to be shown up by that inspiring performance--and I mean that in all seriousness: my hat goes off to anyone who has the guts to enter and finish a marathon (and this year, Erik broke 4:30 for the marathon, bettering last year's time by well over an hour!)--I decided I should start training in earnest. My main concern, however, was that had I injured my knee at the end of last season and, not wanting to aggravate it, I embarked on a very gradual training program this spring.

By the beginning of September, I had worked my long run up to 24km and felt pretty confident that as long as my knee held out I could put in a pretty respectable time. Earlier in the season, I set my goal at 1 hour 45 minutes, which works out to a pace of just under 5 minutes per kilometer. But my training had gone so well that two weeks before the race, I revised that to 1:43, and secretly I hoped that even 1:40 was possible.

The race itself was wonderful and extremely well organized. Over 2000 volunteers helped out, and they should be commended. Race day was grey and rainy but warm, so aside from having to dodge puddles, conditions were almost ideal. I was running with my friend Jeff, with whom I had trained on a couple of occasions and whose pace and conditioning is very similar to my own. We had decided a few weeks before to run the race together.

Almost 2000 people ran the half-marathon. That's a lot of runners to cram into a start area. One thing I've learned in the few shorter races I've run is that positioning at the start line is important. You don't want to be too far in front so as to hinder faster runners; nor do you want to be too far back and have to pass a lot of slower runners. Big races like this one often have "pace bunnies": runners who are paid to run the race at a certain pace. Jeff and I looked for the 1:45 pace bunny but couldn't find her, so we settled for a spot well ahead of the 2:00 pace bunny. It turns out we were WAY too far back in the pack. It took us four minutes just to cross the start line! We spent the first 5km weaving in and out of traffic, passing slower runners. (Incidentally, I don't blame the slower runners for this; it was our responsibility to start farther up.) We finally ended up passing the 1:45 pace bunny at the 15km mark, so obviously, she started quite a ways in front of us.

The course starts in the middle of the Jacques-Cartier bridge, which spans the mighty St. Lawrence River. It then winds through the streets of Montreal, finishing up at Olympic Stadium. The course is relatively flat, with only one short uphill at about the 5km mark and a longer but less steep uphill section at about 16km. Because we spent the first half-hour dodging traffic, I found it really hard to get into a rhythm, so I felt more tired at the half way point than I expected, but by 14km, I was feeling pretty good and we were keeping up a pretty decent pace. Then we hit that last uphill section, and I really started to struggle. This is where I'm really glad I was running with Jeff. Jeff is an excellent and natural runner who seems particularly comfortable on uphill sections. I focused on the back of his jersey and kept pushing, but by the top of the hill, I was really pooped. At this point, Jeff could have taken off, but he yelled at me to keep going. Luckily, what goes up must come down, and the next few klicks were gently downhill, so I was able to rest a bit while maintaining a decent pace. By the last 2k, however, I was starting to play head games with myself. I knew I was on a sub-1:40 pace but started saying to myself that 1:41 wouldn't be so bad. "I'll just slow up a bit and catch my breath." Then Jeff started picking up the pace! I forgot all about resting and did my best to follow his lead. In the end I couldn't catch him, and he finished 10 or 15 seconds ahead of me, but I credit his run for my sub-1:40 finish (my "chip time" was 1:39'48").

After the race I was simply elated--and this may sound funny, but I was emotionally moved by the event--on an endorphin high that lasted 3 or 4 hours. My knee had held up beautifully, and obviously, I was thrilled to break 1:40! We walked around the stadium, picking up food and fluids and soaking in the joyous atmosphere that always permeates races--all these ordinary people so happy at accomplishing a goal, whether it be a certain time or simply to finish.  We eventually found our respective cheering squads before heading home, tired but happy.

Last night I was awoken by the remnants of Hurricane Ike spending itself against our bedroom window, and I was glad the storm didn't pass through yesterday. But I'm sure even Ike wouldn't have stopped the thousands of runners to took part in yesterday's race from having a great time.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tomb of the Kings

I think I've posted a version of this before, but I went through and made some fairly major changes. You can read the French original here.

I love this dream poem, with its almost cinematic imagery, by one of Quebec's truly great writers. It's so dark, so filled with sadness and bewilderment, yet, by the end, bears witness to the heart's miraculous optimism.

Tomb of the Kings
-Anne Hébert (Translation, Peter Garner)

My heart is at my fist.
Like a blind falcon.

The taciturn bird grips my fingers,
Lamp swollen with wine and blood,
I descend
Toward the tomb of the kings,
Only just born.

What thread of Ariadne leads me
Through soundless labyrinths,
Each step’s echo consumed as it sounds?

(In what dream
Was this child tied by the ankle
Like a spellbound slave?)

The dream maker
Grasps the thread,
And bare footsteps come

One by one
Like the first raindrops
At a well bottom.

Already, the odour moves in swollen storms
Oozes under doorsteps
To secret, round chambers
Where box beds lie.

Drawn by the reclining figures’ static desire,
I look with astonishment
Set into the black bones
Gleam encrusted blue stones.

A few tragedies patiently worked
Upon the breasts of recumbent kings
In the form of jewels
Are offered to me
With neither tears nor regrets.

Arranged in a line:
Smoke of incense, rice cake
And my trembling flesh:
Ritual, submissive offering.

The gold mask on my absent face
violets for pupils
Love’s shadow disguises me with meticulous strokes

And this bird I hold
And laments strangely

A long shiver,
Like a wind that catches from tree to tree,
Stirs seven great ebony pharaohs,
In their solemn, ornate sheaths.

But it is only the depths of death lingering,
Playing out the last torment
Seeking appeasement
And eternity
In a light rattling of bracelets
Vain circlets playthings of another place
Around the sacrificed flesh.

Eager for the brotherly source of evil within me
They lay me down and drink of me;
Seven times I know the vise of bones
The dry hand that seeks to rend the heart.

Pale and filled with the awful dream
Limbs untangled
And the dead gone from me, murdered,
What glimmer of dawn could stray here?
Yet how, then, does this bird tremble
And turn its sightless eyes
Toward morning?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Wild Ginger

 It is enough—enough today it seems—
to stand rooted among these living spires,
knowing the shy wild ginger blooms close by,
leaves unfurled in this very air to breathe.

No need to seek the beech’s shade, to scan
the forest humus for its tell-tale heart-
shaped foliage, to push the leaves apart,
and touch the pungent rhizome with my hand;

or without thought to rip it from the ground,
transplant it to a sheltered garden plot
where it might grow but never flourish—not
enough could come of this to make it sound.

Such phantom-cleaving does no harm and fills
the void when ownership would only kill.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

This loss is like a passing year,
a fading sun down earlier each day.
But memory is candied lime,
a taste mere water cannot wash away.

Look now through winter’s rime-etched pane,
sun sprawling in to light an empty page.
Your memory will wane with time,
and with it, wisdom come, a cage.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Harraps Online

Great news for translators of French and English: the Harrap's French-English dictionary--the best French-English dictionary in print, IMO--is now available on-line. I've been waiting for this for years. No more flipping through pages, poring over tiny text to find the translation for that elusive idiom. A quick search and it's right there on the screen. Hallelujah!

There's a free 30-day trial (an incredibly no-hassle process) and the subscription costs are actually pretty reasonable (£20 per year). I've only used it for a day, but I'm impressed thus far.

Did I say Hallelujah already?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Halley's Comet

I am not the first to set eyes on this scene.
Over the course of life on this planet
some other sentient being has undoubtedly gazed
over the lake at sunset, with the wind just so.

Over the course of life on this planet,
I have come to cherish mergansers flying high
over the lake at sunset. With the wind just so,
I am sure they will come down here, on the bay

I have come to cherish. Mergansers flying high
are a sign of spring, and yes, like wild ginger
I am sure they will come. Down here on the bay,
in the full dark of the new moon, May showers

are a sign of spring. And yes, like wild ginger
flowers, they mostly pass unnoticed, blossoming
in the full dark of the new moon. May showers
fall from the tail of Halley’s Comet; modest

flowers, they mostly pass unnoticed, blossoming
discretely in the night sky, their sole purpose apparently to
fall from the tail of Halley’s Comet. Modest
observers of the heavens turn their heads

discretely in the night sky, their sole purpose apparently to
witness the fiery passage of dust grains in air.
Observers of the heavens turn their heads
now toward sunrise, as pollen dances in the dawn.

Witness the fiery passage of dust grains in air!
Some other sentient being will undoubtedly gaze
now toward sunrise, as pollen dances in the dawn:
I am not the last to set eyes on this scene.

Monday, March 03, 2008

On bagpipes as a metaphor for puns

Well-placed and shrewdly played
(say on a mountainside or battlefield),
The bagpipes’ loud and noble bray
does uplift hearts and heal.

But poorly blown and frayed
(say at a party chic and spiky-heeled),
They end up causing much dismay
And make one’s ears congeal.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Atlantic drops its paywall!

Fans of the journal The Atlantic will be thrilled to learn that the magazine has decided to open up the site to non-subscribers. This includes free access to the archive going back to 1995, plus some access to even earlier articles.

This is great news. Upon looking at the site, however, I can't find the old Forums section. Did The Atlantic  do away with them at some point?  The old poetry forum was for many years a vibrant place for on-line poets to post works and engage in discussion. But I guess when they put up the paywall, everyone went away. Imagine that!

Blogged with Flock

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Quebec's Ice Hotel. You've got to be kidding me!

Photo credit: Etolane

This past weekend, I traveled to the Quebec City area to do some skiing. Aside from the fact that the weather was so cold that we might as well have had sandpaper on our boards, it was great to get outside.

Our first skiing stop was the Station Touristique Duschesney. I've always known it as a great place to ski, though I haven't been there in years. But in recent times, it has also been home to Quebec's so-called "Ice Hotel." We drove past this curiosity as we were leaving Duschesney in search of our chalet for the night.

Now I remember as a kid always loving fireplaces. But my grandfather never had a fireplace in his home, though he possessed just about every other amenity a house could have. When I asked him why he didn't have one, he replied  that during his childhood in England, the only source of heat most houses had was a stove that constantly had to be supplied with coal. So the idea of a fireplace as a luxury was anathema to him.

I think most Canadians must feel a little bit the same way about the ice hotels, of which there are apparently several around the world. When you spend a good 4 months out of the year making major efforts to keep warm, the idea of paying good money (and lots of it--rates start at about $600/night for two) to sleep in a glorified igloo seems like an idea for people with more money than brains.

That night, the temperature in the Quebec City region dropped down to about -30 degrees Celsius. I fear the poor saps staying in the ice hotel that night may have resorted to burning wads of cash to keep warm.

I wonder what my grandfather would have said.

Friday, January 11, 2008



In the movie of your memory
Rio envelops you like twilight
sneaking up slowly until night
falls and you are lost.

Lost in the aroma of roasting meat and passion
fruit juice, of piss and sweat, lost
in Christ’s eternal, concrete blessing.

But the truth is an abrupt assault,
a stunning cacophony of brake squeals,
unmuffled engines, taxi horns, the ubiquitous
dual roars of football fans and the Atlantic.

Rio intoxicates you, suddenly, with bittersweet
lime and sugar, orchid scent and warm sea air,
azalea and bougainvillea blossoms.

Bathes you in skeletal yearning, entices with the sense
that any thing can be, that music is all you need. Only
frigate birds and vultures indicate your peril,
but no one here looks at the sky.