Running for Your Life: Plain Train Game

Maybe this isn’t for everybody. Especially in the heat of the summer. But last year at this time, K and I were gearing up for a summer marathon and a half-marathon. I’ve never taken any time off during even the hottest days of the summer (On those, full disclosure, I’ve taken to going to the air-conditioned comfort of our neighborhood gym to run on the treadmill, but still …).

It’s one thing (and definitely a good thing) to jog at a light pace – say, a 10-minute mile or a 9:30-minute mile. But another to train on the treadmill at a faster, stronger pace, closer to an average of 8:40 during an hour-long training session, with up to 3.0 incline, and interval speed increases of five-minute blocks, combined with, on alternate days, stretching and working on core, leg and upper body weight machines. Because now, with four months to go before race day at the Brooklyn Marathon, it’s time to get my training focus. I want to run this marathon – not run-walk it the way I did from the 21-mile mark in the 80-plus degree heat of the Nova Scotia Marathon last July.

That’s the Plain Train Game. And I’m locked in. Thankfully, each session ends with me feeling just a little bit better than the time before. I ease off when I feel a muscle strain coming on. But the Marathon Mood is striking. Number 9!

Next: Running for Your Life: The Subway. A Public Good?

Running for Your Life: If the Greats Were With Us Thursday

So much to quote about the great “Swoonatra” piece by Ian Penman in the July 2, 2015, edition of the London Review of Books, about the incomparable Frank Sinatra (1915-1998), in parts an elegy for a time when listening to music meant a long-playing album, what Sinatra was first to see as “an opportunity for sustained mood music, a pocket – (my aside between em dashes) what a deft phrase, dated and intimate, oooh so pre-Internet – of time focused entirely on one defining concept or tone.”


“It’s no coincidence that so much music from the next decade sounded so good, and still does, half a century on. At this make or break point (the 1950s), many jazz-schooled musicians saw which way was up and swapped the marriage-destroying purgatory of touring for well-remunerated union-protected session work.”

And, most pointedly, when it comes to our theme, If the Greats Were With Us:

“When today’s stars try to pull off an imitation of old-style song craft they may get the surface details right, but they completely miss the center of gravity, or sense of connective purpose.”


“It’s doubtful any singer will ever again possess that kind of sway. Who could reign as monarch of so much territory, and certainty, ever again? Maybe he is our last voice, at that.”

Next: Running for Your Life: Plain Train Game

Running for Your Life: Get Stoner!

It might not qualify as the best opening lines in fiction, and if John Williams (1922-1994) had have submitted this to an agent in 2015:

“William Stoner entered the University of Missouri as a freshman in the year 1910, at the age of nineteen.”

Chances are it wouldn’t have risen up and out of the slush pile. But do yourself a favor this summer and get Stoner!

“Stoner,” the novel by John Williams, has been reissued by the invaluable New York Review Books series, with an introduction by the great Irish author, John McGahern. Here is what McGahern (By the Lake, Amongst Women, The Dark, The Barracks) had to say about Stoner:

“If the novel can be said to have one central idea, it is surely that of love, the many forms love takes and all the forces that oppose it.”

In these days of the shortest of short attention spans, first lines of fiction usually clump in the extraordinarily clever or brilliantly concise, say in the variety of George Orwell’s “1984”: It was bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

But then there are those that catch fire like “Stoner” does, and don’t stop burning brightly until the end, with, in his case, perfectly chosen words in a final passage that leave us in awe of what it can mean to tell a story as large as life itself from such a simple beginning.

Next: Running for Your Life: If the Greats Were With Us Thursday 

Running for Your Life: Bern, Baby, Bern

OK, there was once an American national candidate by the name of Ralph Nader. When it came to character, he wasn’t my cup of tea. But talk about political leanings, and there was plenty in Ralph Nader that reminded me of my Canadian heroes: Tommy Douglas, David Lewis and his son, Stephen. Now, along comes this guy by the name of Bernie Sanders. And, lo and behold, after twenty-seven years in the United States, I’m finally feeling political again … Or at least am hearing ideas from a political candidate that, gulp, remind me of Tommy, David and Stephen. Sanders wants to represent the Democratic Party as its presidential nominee. (Sorry, Hillary.) Here are 10 reasons why I’m feeling differently as the presidential campaign warms up, with the first Iowa Caucus set for Feb. 1, 2016:

  1. Bernie cut his political teeth decrying the shame of oligarchic inequality
  2. He feels the media are not to be trusted (Yours truly excepted, of course.)
  3. As a true progressive, he harkens back to the days before the only authentic Democrat was a centrist Democrat
  4. Bernie was one of the first on the left to mistrust welfare-killer, high-finance facilitator, and jail-poor-people-and-hassle-parasites parvenu Bill Clinton
  5. He regards as his ideas mentor his older brother, LARRY
  6. Before embracing politics, Bernie was a carpenter
  7. He’s not a fan of campaigning  
  8. Bernie didn’t own a suit when he was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and was flat broke when he entered Congress
  9. Like me, in 1985, he traveled to Nicaragua to support the Sandinista revolution. Unlike me, he was dubbed a “Sandernista” and met with leader Daniel Ortega. Burlington and Managua became sister cities
  10. He played a tiger’s butt in puppet street theater

Next: Running for Your Life: Get Stoner !

Running for Your Life: My Dad on Canada Day

Later this month our family will be marking the 85th birthday of my father, the man who for decades was an integral part of public events on Canada Day in Owen Sound, Ontario. My dad, Bill O’Connor, supervised the setting off of the fireworks, a highlight in the city’s calendar year.

One year the daily newspaper, The Sun Times (where I’d get my start as a summer intern in this crazy business that I work in) did a feature on Dad, with a great picture showing the fireworks mortars that he’d had welded to his specifications. Given other circumstances, I firmly believe my pops would have plowed similar terrain as Elon Musk at Tesla, my dad had such an instinct for construction and science. His destiny, though, was different. His dad and my grandfather died in a farm accident when Dad was small and to help with the family income in those pre-World War II years, he quit his studies before high school.

Until just a little while ago, he’d put in more than a regular workweek, a lifelong dedication – 70-plus years – of providing for family, which he did, and how. But it wasn’t all about duty. Dad loves to work with his hands.

It’s not over, that’s for sure. Because that was my dad in the viewing area of my dad and mom’s new condo home, the tallest building in Owen Sound, on Wednesday night, where he had a bird’s-eye view of the fireworks out by the grain elevator at the mouth of the harbor. You can bet he had a fine time thinking back over all the hard work – and joy – he provided for thousands during those special years.

Next: Running for Your Life: Bern, Baby Bern