Running – a new era

I haven’t blogged about my running since the end of 2012. So this is a bit of a departure. Back then I was giving my year end running review and was rather proud of myself for breaking my yearly record. Ever since I started running in earnest I have been recording how long I run each time out. 2012 marked a significant highpoint for me. Indeed, I managed 30% more running that year than any previous year I had on record. But that highpoint was followed by, first, a lessening, and then a substantial drop-off as life (and death) distracted me from my regular routine. This year, I’ve regained my form and gone to a whole new level. Earlier this month, on 11 June, I surpassed my 2012 yearly total. With more than six months left in the year, every time I go for a run now I’m breaking new ground.

How did I manage this?

Mostly I just wasn’t thinking about it. In the late autumn of 2016, I took up running on the track at the Waterloo Recreation Complex a few times a week. By December I had increased my usual outing from 30 minutes to 50 minutes. Then I started adding stairs. I was seeing a fair number of people running the stairs and thought I’d give it a try as well. It’s not as easy as it looks! But it’s not as hard as you might imagine as well.

For Christmas, my wife gave me a FitBit Charge 2. It is one of the ones that tracks your heart rate. I was very curious about whether my heart rate was in a healthy range during my runs. It turns out that it was just fine. The FitBit had a secondary effect, however. One of the things it facilitates is very simple logging of one’s weight and diet. So I started recording my weight each day and being a bit more conscientious about not over-snacking. Modest reductions in my food intake almost immediately had a dramatic impact on my weight. Combine this with the fact that I’d also increased my standard run and one thing led to another.

Over four months I shed 30 lbs. As the weather improved, I moved my running outdoors. Again Fitbit added an incentive. The Charge 2 interacts with my smartphone so that, if I have the phone with me on a run, I am provided with a Google map of my route at the end and an accurate record of the distance and split times for each kilometre.

The last time I had run 10 km was during the Oxford Town and Gown fun run in 2006. According to my log book, I ran that 10 km in 61 minutes and 22 seconds with rain falling throughout and a temperature of 11c. And that was my best 10 km time to date.

This year, with my FitBit Charge 2 on my wrist and my smartphone strapped around my waist, I mapped out a few 10 km routes and decided to attempt to make this my new basic training run. I convinced myself that this would be much easier now that I was 30 lbs lighter. I ran my first 10 km on 29 March while visiting Providence Bay on Manitoulin Island. Needless to say it was rather cold up there at that time of year. But much to my surprise the time for the run was 60 minutes. Wow! 11 years after my last attempt at 10 km, I was able to run it more than a minute faster.

As the weather warmed up so did my times. Today my standard run is about 10.3 km. I usually complete that in 58 minutes. So I’m probably managing the 10 km in about 56 minutes. And I’ve done that 20 times already.

It’s a whole new era. I wonder where I’ll go from here.

Cutting the hard line

We no longer have a landline. This past week our household made the shift. By no means the first to do so. And certainly not the last. It just made sense at this time.

I needed a new phone. My venerable Nexus 5 was on its last legs. In truth it was probably beyond its last legs. Its battery no longer held a charge for more than a few hours. And there were some other issues all age-related. Plus I was due a new phone for entirely extraneous reasons, which I might mention in a future post.

I’ve had my eye on the Google Pixel ever since it arrived on the scene. And yes, I know there is a new version coming some time in the late autumn. But I needed a new phone now. It seemed like a good opportunity to simply transfer our landline number to a new mobile. But there was a catch.

Without a landline, there would be no way for K. to reach me (or anyone else) when I’m out and about. K. has never had a mobile phone. She says she never needed one. Still, it would be hard to convince her that if she also got a mobile then the only apparent challenge to getting rid of the landline would be obviated. She’d need a stronger reason. But then disaster struck.

A minor disaster. K. lost her beautiful iPod Touch while we were on vacation in Spain. It was a brilliant little device and she was heartbroken. (I’m exaggerating a bit because it had been a gift from me.) So we were faced with the choice of either replacing the iPod Touch with another iPod Touch or move to an iPhone with 128GB of space so that it could also carry all of our music and podcasts. In the end it was not such a hard decision. K. now has an iPhone SE. It’s a little bulkier than her beloved iPod Touch, but still very small by mobile phone standards these days. And she’s already loving it (I think).

The only challenge now is remembering where my phone is at all times (since it now has the old landline number that most people used to reach us) and remembering to turn on its ringer.

I’ll adjust.

Wild Writers Festival 2016

It seems like every year around this time* I’ve got a choice to make. I could spend the first Saturday in November writing furiously (but with a touch of grace). Or I could attend the Wild Writers Festival and learn from the pros just how difficult it is to write and (worse) publish. Few of them, I think, will mention the challenging distraction of the best Canadian writers festival within walking distance of one’s house.

It’s not procrastination if you are gaining valuable insights into the art and craft of writing. Right?

This year, The New Quarterly has brought together such luminaries as Michael Crummey, Carrie Snyder, Madeleine Thien, Michael Helm, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Rosemary Sullivan. As per usual, there is a Friday night gala event, a Sunday brunch event, and a Saturday night speakeasy. But for me, the heart of the festival is on Saturday when a raft of small-enrolment workshops are offered (for a small fee) as well as a series of panel discussions (free) on everything from small press publishing to the art of dialogue or writing a thriller. There is something there worthy of distracting almost any writer from a hard-won full day of writing.

Maybe I’ll see you there.

* Well, every year since 2012.

NUMUS concerts and fundraising

For a number of years (though not every year in the past 9) my wife and I have had season subscriptions to the NUMUS concerts. NUMUS showcases some of the incredible musical talent, both musicians and composers, found locally as well as from across Canada and beyond. The concerts are diverse, sometimes challenging, thought provoking, and always filled with exceptional musicians. In advance of the 2016-17 season, NUMUS has embarked on a fundraising effort through Indiegogo.

Please consider contributing to NUMUS’ future. Or even better, come out to one or all of the concerts next year. You are sure to find something breathtaking.



In the autumn, my wife and I attended an “experimental” jazz performance held at the Kitchener Art Gallery. It was a lead guitarist (and composer), electric bass, sax, synth, and drums. The music was scored but I think the “experimental” bit was that they were all playing their own thing with no reference whatsoever to the others. The drummer was off in her own world totally drowning out everyone else. But no one seemed to mind. They all seemed to be having fun. At the end of it I turned to my wife and said, “You know, I think I should take up an instrument.” (Because it is unportable, I never really think of the piano as an’ ‘instrument’; it’s more like furniture.) “You should,” she said. “Maybe I should get a guitar,” I said. We often have scintillating conversations like that.

I set about doing my research. I did a fair bit of comparison online in terms of quality at various price points. I settled on either a Seagull S6 Original or a Simon & Patrick Woodland Cedar. I arranged for the local music shop in uptown Waterloo to order both in for me to try out. As it happens both of these guitars are made by Godin in Canada. They are sold at exactly the same price point. And they both have exceptional features for the price. So the decision would largely come down to how they feel.
Simon & Patrick Woodland Cedar
Having tried them both, I decided to go with the Simon & Patrick Woodland Cedar. There was a noticeable difference in the width at the nut and with my smallish hands I liked the smaller dimensions. Although the bodies vary marginally, I couldn’t really find a preference. Both are full size guitars so for me they are rather large, but still manageable.

Along with the guitar I also purchased a hard case so that I can transport it easily and safely in my car. I got a capo and I got a guitar stand because, well, this guitar looks beautiful just standing there in our living room.

Of course once I’d selected my instrument, I needed to relearn how to play the guitar. I had originally learned how to play in school in a guitar group organized by our grade 5 teacher. But I’ve never played very well, and mostly just cowboy chords. These days, however, you can get any amount of teaching you desire on YouTube. And there are dozens of really good intro books in the library. So in what seemed like no time at all I was up and playing better than I ever had before.

Since then I’ve even learned some new songs, including some Billy Bragg tunes and a Hey Rosetta song that we love. And I’m looking forward to many a pleasant hour in the year ahead.