Thursday, 1 March 2012


I was forwarded this CBC radio show several months ago (thanks dad). It's worth sharing. I'm tempted to highlight certain parts, but in truth the entire 54 minutes is worth listening to. The radio show is CBC Ideas. Don't listen to it in a noisy room; the quiet pauses are worth savoring, especially for the third speaker.

This episode, titled Footprints, was taped at a Sport and Society conference in May 2011 at the University of Waterloo. The discussion takes exercise -in particular running- in context with society as a whole. The idea of the conference is to understand how running integrates with the rest of people's lives. Very refreshing topic. I see all too often that sports comes with a notion of "either compete or have more social life, time to work, read, etc.". In truth they are all inextricably linked. Below is my summary of the show.

The opening address is by Prof. Stuart Shanker, where the conference begins with a discussion on alternative, exercise-based therapies for children affected with Autism. You find immediately he understand Ritalin is a poor substitute for intelligent observation of the variance of childhood behaviour. I think adults, especially sedentary ones, forget how much energy kids have. Kids don't like sitting still doing tests, and exercise is a phenomenal outlet for hyperactivity. His story reminds me of a certain famous TED talk.

The second speaker gives a personal account of daily living with aspergers. By her account, cross-country running is her mental escape from an interior world. She finds rooms claustrophobic but the outdoors, especially in the dark, inviting. I have heard it said before that night-time running is grossly underrated. This is not a veteran public speaker and she must have felt very courageous sharing personal thoughts.

The third speaker is Alexander MacLeod, reading a passage from his book Light Lifting, shortlisted for the Giller prize (and available at my library; I'm going to loan it out today). He describes in a very intimate way what it is like leading up to and running a 1500m race. His starkly analytical view of the race reverberated well with me: splits, paces, PBs; I find myself dissecting races in similar fashion. His description of the last lap is particularly chilling and I mean that in the best possible way.  Some memorable quotes about his high school meet final:
[These runners] were the mathematical totals of what they have done so far.
The guy leading before the last lap almost never wins.
You only value what you yearn for
And responding to a question from the audience
There are no accidental 3:29 1500-meter runners. 
Alexander also compares his experience of writing a book to long-distance training. Both require years of effort performed in seclusion, while the only visible work lies in the finished product. The difference in world views between spectators and performers in such matters is great.

The final speaker was Sylvia Ruegger, distinguished Canadian winner of the women's 1984 National Capital marathon (in a fantastic time of 2:30 I might add). She describes her positive experiences directing Kidsfest, now known as Start2finish, which aims to teach underprivileged children bettering habits of reading and running, i.e. "nurturing mind, body, and social health". The program teaches kids to 'yearn' for sports, hence value them in life. A related kid's running organization, RunForLife, was also at the conference.

While on the topic, I'm giving a plug for another recent successful push to get Ottawa elementary kids into the habit of doing more regular physical activity. Chances are those know me know her too :)


  1. I'm sure you're enjoying "Light Lifting" - he's a McGill grad... think he ran track here too but not sure. One of my favourite paragraphs:

    "The problem with feeling good in a 1500 is that you know it can't last and that eventually, everything you have left has got to come draining out of you, either in a great explosive rush at the end or some painful slow trickle" (36).

    1. Hey Madeline. I just finished it. Very good stuff. And very intense. Oddly enough I was relieved there was only one story about running (guess because it means he thinks about other things too). Favorite was the one about lice.

      I still haven't figured out the 1500...