26. “Hollaback Girl,” Gwen Stefani

Let me hear you say,
“This run is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S!”

Before I ran two marathons, I thought 10 km was a long run. And it is. But there’s relativity for you. (A marathon is 42.2 km, FYI.) Back in the spring of 2005, I decided I was going to commit to running 10 km at the Terry Fox Run. I’ve always been inspired by the story of Terry Fox.

If you’re not familiar, he’s a true Canadian hero who lost his right leg to cancer and decided to run across the country in 1980 – running a marathon every day – to raise money for cancer research. Unfortunately, a return of the disease he was fighting ended his journey at about the halfway point, and ultimately took his life a month shy of his 23rd birthday.

I was seven when I first remember seeing footage of him on the news. I was fascinated. In fact, before Terry Fox, I had never even heard of cancer before. I had to ask my parents what it was. All I knew, at first, was that there was this guy with a fake leg running across the country. And he had the coolest way of running. My friends and I would imitate the way he kind of skipped when he ran because he needed to give the springs in his prosthesis time to reset. I wonder now if anyone thought we were mocking him. But far from it. We idolized him. With that prosthesis he was like a combination of Wayne Gretzky and some kind of cyborg from Star Wars in our seven-year-old minds.

With all that in mind, I spent the spring and summer of 2005 running two or three times a week. Sometimes for just 20-25 minutes. Sometimes I’d push myself to 40-45 minutes. I never plotted out distances. But, having run cross country in high school, I had a good idea that it would ultimately take me about an hour to run 10 km, and I didn’t want to push myself to the maximum until the day of the Terry Fox Run, which is held every September.

There were times during those training runs when I got really winded and wanted to stop and walk. But I’d tell myself, every time, “If Terry Fox could do what he did, I can put up with a little exhaustion during a 40-minute run.” And I did. I put up with it. I ran through it.

Finally, the day of the run came. I had raised some money for the Terry Fox Foundation, as you’re encouraged to do, I had created an awesome playlist on my new iPod (fourth generation, I think, the first with a colour screen), and I was ready to go. (The playlist, of course, included this song, which was my first ever purchase on iTunes.)

The mayor was there. Our MP was there. A brave cancer survivor regaled us with an inspiring tale. A gaggle of aerobics aficionados led us through dance-y warm-ups, which I alternately did and did not self-consciously participate in, depending on the level of danciness. I had my own, stoic warm-ups and stretches, anyway.

During the warm-ups I noticed a girl in light blue shorts who was also doing her own thing and kind of looked like she knew what she was doing, in terms of experience as a runner. I wasn’t quite sure how to pace myself for the distance, so I decided to try to use her as my pace runner. I kept pace pretty well through the first half. Then she started to pull away. Eventually, she was out of sight. But I wasn’t going to chase her; I knew I had to stick to my comfort zone or else burn out.

Running down Yonge St. in Newmarket, Gwen Stefani began chanting in my ears about how this shit was bananas. It sure was, this running shit. I’d only run 10 km once before, and it was intense. But I didn’t feel bad. I felt pretty good, in fact. I knew I was nearing the home stretch, certainly in the last quarter of the run, and Gwen’s infectious beats were urging me on.

Suddenly, there she was: the girl in light blue shorts. And I was gaining on her! Maybe she pushed herself past her comfort zone and burned out. As I passed her, I felt a pang of pity. I felt bad for her. She had seemed so strong for the first 5 km, before I lost her.

But now I realize that, yes, she pushed herself. And she finished. And so did I. That’s the whole point of that run, to me. That was the whole point of my training, when I pushed myself to carry on because Terry Fox endured so much worse. The point is to push yourself – even to endure some discomfort – for the cause.

Cancer isn’t beaten without a fight. Not by patients, not by doctors and not by the scientists trying to end it. So I was happy to fight my body and mind a bit to cross a finish line.

I’ve been lucky (I write, as I literally knock on wood). It hasn’t touched me directly. But it’s taken my mother’s friends, my wife’s aunts, my cousin-in-law’s father. My father-in-law and friends’ parents have battled and won. Some have been forced to battle again.

I’ve tried to do my part in the battle, raising money and awareness by running 10 km in the Terry Fox Run every year since then. 11 in a row now.

Yeah, I take some pride in that. But you know, I don’t want to be that guy who says all the clichéd rallying cry things about how none of us should have to battle but we need to battle until we don’t have to anymore. I’m not a rallying cry kind of guy. But it’s true.

How about this? Gwen can do the rallying cry – for whatever righteous battle you’re fighting:

So I’m ready to attack, gonna lead the pack
Gonna get a touchdown, gonna take you out
That’s right, put your pom-poms down, getting everybody fired up

So I’m gonna fight, gonna give it my all
Gonna make you fall, gonna sock it to you
That’s right I’m the last one standing, another one bites the dust


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