Saturday, February 12, 2005

Carbs, Carbs, My Kingdom for a Carb

After yesterday's 19K run I have been craving carbs all day. And given that I have 32K (20 Miles) on the training schedule for tomorrow, I have heeded the call somewhat. My weight is currently at 196, which is on target, maybe a little ahead for the month of February. So I have indulged in an early pasta dinner (with red sauce) and a beautiful piece of poached salmon, courtesy of my buddy Seymour.

Last night Tom and I went to the Vancouver Boat Show and oggled how the other half lives. It struck me that a goodly number of the middle-aged men who can afford to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on floating toys would be wise to spend some of that hard-earned money on a gym membership and a personal trainer. In fact from a survey of the crowd in attendance at the Boat Show, it almost seemed that a prerequisite for having the kind of buying power to purchase a boat meant that you also had to pack around a spare tire. And not just any spare tire, we're talking SUV style rubber, folks. I wondered how many men in attendance at the Boat Show were going to experience chest pain while straddling the fibreglass decks of the tupperware fleet that was spread across the cement sea of BC Place Stadium. For me, it reminded me just a little too much of my father's love for boats, the good life and his struggle with heart disease.

My father had his first heart attack when he was 46, not much more than a year older than I am now. We were just about to leave Coal Harbour in Vancouver for a weekend sailing trip aboard his beloved ketch, the "Stone Raven", to the San Juan Islands and the Jazz Festival at Friday Harbour when my father complained of chest pain. We never left. Instead I drove him to the ER at St. Paul's Hospital where he was admitted and firmly ensconced in the Cardiac Care Unit. So much for the benefits to be enjoyed by a family friendly healthy lifestyle on the water.

That was twenty years ago, this year. Since then he has had bypass surgery, a quintuple, congestive heart failure and more episodes in the hospital than I care to think about. A larger than life figure who was a superb athlete in his youth, he struggled most of his life with his weight, a fact caused as much by his love for the good things that life has to offer as his career spent behind a desk, the wheel of a car and on the telephone. Dad was an early devotee of the Atkins Diet and carbs were the enemy. The lone exception to this rule was the wine that washed down the protein.

At any given time as I was growing up, my father was on one end of a pendulum swing that saw him losing or gaining as much as fifty pounds over the course of his dieting, year in and year out. Before his heart problems, he had struggled with gout and back pain and not long afterwards he developed type two diabetes. Despite the abuse he heaped on his body he was vigorous to an amazing degree but it was not a health regimen that I would recommend to anyone anytime soon. My father is twenty-one years older than I am, and I have a hard time reconciling the man I see now with the figure from my childhood.

Dad is a big fan of me running and few would be prouder of their childrens accomplishments. Yet Dad remains firmly old school when it comes to running, often voicing his concerns that my high mileage is going to "wear out" my knees or bring on a sudden onset of arthritis. Trust me, I know well enough now to not even start that conversation. Because of his back injuries and joint problems, it would be tough for Dad to begin running, but a regular program of walking would probably do him wonders. Atkins has been dismissed and now he's a devotee of the South Beach Diet. At least former President Clinton is looking better these days. Maybe he could fly out to Arizona and convince my father to go for a walk around the block.

Two summers ago, after I had finished my fourth or fifth marathon and after Dad had come a little too close for comfort in the hospital, I convinced him to get a heart rate monitor. I guess I thought that I must gotten my OCD (yes, that's the obsessive-compulsive disorder that all true runners recognize in one another) from him if from anyone, and I was hoping to get him hooked on the data he could collect. At that time he was living just across the border in Washington and I was able to see him fairly regularly. We even went walking together. He got fitted with orthotics for his feet and finally had shoes that were comfortable. By that time he had lost so much muscle from his quads and his calves that it was painful for me to watch. And for a while he walked on a regular basis. But he never quite believed what the heart rate monitor was telling him and I didn't have the heart to argue with him. He's a grown man and he's going to live with the choices he's made. That's life.

I always think of my Dad as my Dad, as I'm sure most people do. He is who he is and looks like my Dad is supposed to. But now when I run a marathon I am always struck by the vigour and health of the men and women who are my father's contemporaries and then I am absolutely floored by the difference in appearance and health. And that's when I know I want to grow old running. I'll be damned if I'm going to grow old gracefully. Hell, graceful was never a word used to describe me in the full flower of my youth. Nope, I want to be dragged kicking and screaming from the marathon course in my nineties as I try to finish the course before they put the traffic control pylons away.

And I hope some of those portly middle-aged men at the boat show have the good sense to go ashore and get some mileage in. If not for themselves, then at least for the wives and the kids that a good many of them had in tow. And a good run will certainly help them deal with the pain of making boat payments, paying for moorage and the endless dribs and drabs of money that boat ownership entails. My Dad could certainly tell them about that part, "Son, a boat is a hole in the water that you shovel money into..."