Chronicles of a writer abroad

Running from superstition


Soooo…ever since last week, when I waxed poetic (literally, and unfortunately) about the beauty of our spring weather, guess what’s been happening? It’s been raining or otherwise badly-weathered, pretty much constantly. The four-day Easter weekend passed in a blur of grey skies and raindrops; on Sunday it even snowed. As I sit here typing this evening, it’s raining and 7 degrees…this afternoon I went for a run in my winter gear and came back rain-stippled and shivering. In short, it’s a far cry from the sunny, warm days of a week or two ago.

It’s funny how the human tendency to superstition arises in such situations. A mental scoundrel, whom I will refer to here as Egocentric-Pattern-Detecting-Centre-of-My-Brain (EPD-COMB, for short) whispers, Look, you went and jinxed the weather! Yes, little old me, controlling the entire region’s weather pattern…But in all seriousness, superstition is a hard thing to get away from; our brains seem sometimes to be wired for it, and it’s evident in all kinds of human behaviour. It’s the reason, for example, that I haven’t yet announced to you that I’m planning to run the Zürich marathon in 10 days. Yes, on April 22nd, which happens, by coincidence, to be the date of my 30th birthday (EPD-COMB: See, the world is revolving around you again!), I will run 42.2 kilometers for the second time in my life.

Cool way to celebrate a birthday? I think so, but some of you might disagree. The thing is, I’m used to spending my birthdays outside, and this is because I’m born on Earth Day, which has existed since 1970, or about 12 years before I came along. In elementary school, it was always a day where we were  loosed from the classroom and allowed to do something outdoors, to connect us with Mother Nature (Younger EPD-COMB, in childlike voice: it’s because you’re special!). I remember, in fact, that one year we released helium balloons with little personalized note cards on them, requesting that if anyone found the balloon, they would send the card back to us. I can’t remember why we released the balloons — as a lesson about pollution? To see how far they would travel? But we released them on my birthday, and what do you know? Some weeks later, my balloon-card comes back in the mail. The man who found the balloon, elsewhere in Toronto (my memory might be embellishing here, but I believe it floated onto his balcony) wrote on the card, “This was special because the balloon arrived on my birthday.” True story, and my mom might still have the proof tucked away in a box somewhere. (EPD-COMB: You and him! You’re the chosen ones! The balloons have honoured your specialness!)

But back to the marathon. You know how I tried to run it last year…tried with a great amount of pain and frustration, not realizing at the time that it’s very difficult to train for a marathon while one’s body contains what my doctor described as “the smallest amount of iron possible.” Now, thanks to pills, infusions, and meaty meals, I’m no longer anemic, and following a training program since January has been a (comparative) breeze.

But still, I haven’t said anything. (EPD-COMB: If you reveal the plans, they will fall apart, like they did before!) Even as I completed all of the long runs (30 km, 32 km, 35 km), with the expected aching muscles but no signs of injury, I refused to mention it, and I refused to sign up for the race, waiting until practically the deadline. Now, I’m tapering (which is when you sit around, running much less than before, eating and hydrating, and trying to visualize yourself succeeding) and I realized that while I might still get sick (a cold has been threatening) or injured in some unforeseen way, it’s time to say “I’m doing this.”

One kick in the pants was the realization that today, April 12th, marks thirty-two years since Terry Fox (who attended Simon Fraser University, one of my alma maters) began his Marathon of Hope, in the year of my sister’s birth. Thirty-two years ago today, 21-year old Terry dipped his artificial leg (the real one having been lost to bone cancer) in the Atlantic Ocean near St. John’s, Newfoundland. Then, in order to raise awareness and funds for cancer research, Terry began to run the marathon distance every single day for 143 days, moving across Canada towards the Pacific Ocean, until his progressing disease forced him to stop.

EPD-COMB: Wait. Okay. Wait. Every day? 143 times? With a terminal illness and one prosthetic leg? So much success, despite so many obstacles? Doesn’t compute…doesn’t compute…frying…ahhhh!

Following Terry’s example in a much smaller way, I’d like to ask that if you had any intention of sending me a birthday present, you just think of me on April 22, and make a donation to a cancer charity of your choice instead (yes, if I was less superstitious I would have announced this earlier. Next time!). Cancer research and treatment has come a long way since Terry was alive, but it still has far to go.

So this is one attempt to travel from superstition to reality. To accept that this is not about whether the universe wills it, and it’s not about luck…it’s about pledging to make every step happen, until and unless circumstances force you to stop. On my birthday, then, 42.2 kilometers of communing with Mother Nature. Leaving superstition in the dust. But you can’t really blame EPD-COMB, can you, if it’s cheered by the sight of a balloon floating in the sky, somewhere along the way.

4 thoughts on “Running from superstition

  1. Now that is a surprise but a lovely one, inasmuch as your health has certainly improved since last year! Pretty sneaky though, to keep your plans so secret but if your balloon superstition helps you through the race, then good for you :).
    If I had read this latest edition of your blog yesterday, I could have done as you suggested and made a contribution in your name to the Cancer Society BUT Boppy had already left to mail your birthday/anniversary card. Use the cheque for something frivolous after the race – you will deserve every treat you can find.
    We will talk to your Mum later today but she seems to be doing well and has good care.
    Good luck on your special day, dear Kristen. Boppy and I send tons of love and good wishes.

  2. Dear EPD-COMB,
    Hello, I am Kristen’s mother. Please do not underestimate the power of Terry Fox to help a runner compete to accomplish their goal. He continues to inspire a whole nation and cancer will be conquered!
    warm regards,
    Proudest Mom Ever

  3. hi Kristen, I’m late reading this… you sure surprised us! a marathon? I knew you were doing some runs but had no idea. What a wonderful thing to do on your birthday/earth day..
    I will make a donation to one of the cancer charities, for sure. I’m glad your body has the iron it needs now.

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