1500m final: Canadian Master’s Championships 2017


Has anyone ever read Jack London’s short story called “ To Build a Fire?

It’s about a trapper who takes a shortcut back to camp and ends up falling through some thin ice… and gets his feet wet… at -50 Fahrenheit ! He then attempts to save himself from freezing to death. What he tries and why he fails make for an absolutely gripping story, which bears on the bad decisions runners sometimes make when they get a little desperate for results.

I read the story many years ago and running in the exceptionally cold weather this year brought it out of long term storage into present thinking. That and the fact I did something silly the other day for which I am still paying. Feeling like my training was not going as well as hoped, I decided to do a quick set of deadlifts at 11pm when I was tired and not warmed up…and pulled a muscle in my lower back. I knew immediately something was wrong and did not insist on finishing the set but the damage was done. I’m now in a 3 week rehab cycle and in a fair bit of discomfort.

I remember an athlete I coached some years ago, the top runner on the cross-country team who, unbeknownst to me decided to go on a radical weight loss diet while doing extra hardcore workouts in the belief that the combination would improve his performance in the provincial championships 2 weeks hence. Sadly we never found out if his secret to success was working because a few days before the competition he passed out while taking a shower apparently because of low blood sugar, fell and concussed himself thus ending his season and his (and the team’s) hopes for glory.

More recently, a friend and running partner who’d lost a week’s training due to the flu mentioned he’d just doubled the current week’s mileage to ‘make up’ for what he’d lost during his illness. He was worried he’d not be ready for his spring half marathon. In the same breath he confessed that he knew this tactic probably wasn’t going to help but might well  increase his chances of injury and/or illness… but did it anyway!!

Why do we make bad decisions when we ‘know better”. Like the main character in the Jack London story, I was looking for a quick result and feeling a little desperate for some sign of improvement, a sense that things were back on track. As an aging athlete (not sure when that label became part of my mindset!!) I’m frequently reminded, “things ain’t like they used to be.” My times are getting slower, workouts seem harder, my body aches and feels less lively more often. And this often stimulates one of  two responses; quit or go for the miracle cure. Is there an alternative? Yes! STICK TO THE PLAN ( what he the Alexander Technique we refer to as the ‘means whereby’ .  If necessary, do less!  So now that my brain is working again, pain often helps that to happen,  I’ve reduced my short term competitive goals and gone back to finding my flow…focusing on running smoothly…walking if necessary, reducing intensity…but still showing up. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.


To Build A Fire

One thought on “To Build A Fire

  • February 19, 2018 at 10:33 am

    Again and again and again I ask myself why I am doing something (swimming in water which claims to be 2.5 degrees but is probably 1.5 being a case in point – Celsius I hasten to add not Fahrenheit) . If the answer doesn’t include some sense of enjoyment (and I’ll take flow as giving “some sense of enjoyment”) then I look for another way. Bon rehab, Malcolm et a bientot


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