Throwback Thursday – a story

This is a post that has been sitting in my drafts folder since last July. I think it’s okay to share this with the world now.

July 19, 2014 was a day for a very personal victory for me; I didn’t realize I would be facing phobias that I’ve suppressed while competing in the 2014 Warrior Dash at Horseshoe Valley in Barrie, Ontario.

Before you go & (playfully) say, “but your Batman!”, you gotta understand that as a child I was claustrophobic & afraid of heights. I didn’t even crawl under my bed once as a kid…

At Warrior Dash today, when having to crawl underneath wood over dirt & gravel, on my elbows & knees, I reminded myself of how running has made me more mentally tougher, and that I could do it, because the phobia is no longer defining me. Staring up at a 30-foot wall of rope, and going around it was not going to be an option, I said to myself “I’m going to conquer you – you’re not stopping me!”
With each obstacle finished, I whispered to myself ‘claimed’, because I took back a little piece of myself away from fear that use to grip me.
It took us, my son & I, one hour & 20 minutes to finish, with mud kicked in my eye (literally), climbing hills, walls, under barbwire & over fire… and loving every minute of it. My training for marathons and other races learned a lesson today – danger is real, but fear is a choice.

While waiting for the shuttle bus back to the car, someone said to me that Tough Mudder has a 17k course. Hmmm…that sounds…tempting…

 

:)

 

#goforward #faceyourfears

Monday tunes! Music that mentally pushes Batman while training for races!

Music is such an integral part of many athlete’s mental performance for their respective sport. It can transcend them into ‘the Zone’ – that space where one’s belief in themselves rises, where the impossible becomes the possible and in many cases helps others raise their game to a place where they’ve never been to before.

I have always needed music to help me raise my game – to allow my mind to dive into the mental reserves that I have forged with the help of motivating tunes. From when I was a tween (many moons ago, I was a tween?!) trying to make my respective school teams, to being a hockey goalie for over 20 years and needing that mental edge to keep my team in the game. The lyrics in music is absolute to me – if it speaks to my heart, then it’s message is one that I want told to me again and again.

What makes the music that we use to listen to while training is that it speaks to us – it doesn’t have to be understood by others. There was something that resonated with you when you first heard it, be it the lyrics, the drums, whatever – a genre of music touched you at the very core and because of that it is personal, it means something to you.

Whatever it is you listen to – jazz, pop, techno, rap, hip hop, country – I encourage you to use what it is that motivates you. However, please mind your surroundings if you do run with headphones, and I would leave them at home when you’re with your running crew and tribe (s’up, Night Terrors Run Crew & Tribe Fitness!) The company you keep can help push you to new heights, too!

I myself have listened to many tunes for motivation over my lifetime: from the Rocky IV soundtrack (a favourite from my high school days that I still go back to) to music scores (anything by Hans Zimmer), I can’t possibly put everything I like into one post, but here are four that come from various genres but absolutely push my mental abilities and come alive in my legs when I tackle any hill, or the final 100 metres of the marathon:

1) Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Ray Dalton, ‘Can’t Hold Us’
The beats, the lyrics – this, to me, is one of THE ultimate tempo/speed workout songs but I’ve got it in my long run playlist too, when I want to shake it up. Like I said before lyrics are important to me, so when I hear these lyrics I push harder:
“We came here to live life like nobody was watching, I got my city right behind me; If I fall, they got me then from that failure gain humility, and then we keep marching ourselves.”

2) K’Naan – ‘Better’

Another tune that has a nice beat for tempo or speed workouts, this one also has that powerful touch – you guessed it, the lyrics:

“Win or lose right now, I’m betting all my chips; when I’m broken down, I’ll be brushing off my kicks. I’ma get it somehow, yeah you can count on this – I’m only getting better…Better…BETTER!”

3) Imagine Dragons – ‘Radioactive’

Seriously, didn’t Tyler Durden say it best? “I ran. I ran until my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery acid. Then I ran some more.” I think of this quote (and for some reason, the Zombie apocalypse) when I hear this tune:

4) Hans Zimmer – ‘Flight’ (Man of Steel score)

You read that right – Batman digs tunes from a Superman film. But if you can believe it, I’m actually more of a Superman fan, as I grew up on the Christopher Reeve films. As much as John Williams’ score is iconic, it’s not a running tune for me. Now, Hans Zimmer has produced some amazing music for great movies. When this film was released, I paid close attention to the music selected for this important scene. In a word – goosebumps…

Every time. I. Watch. It. The drums – powerful and heroic.

I connect with this tune but for nostalgic reasons: the moment he flies so powerfully, I am sent back in time to when I was a little boy, planking myself on my mother’s couch and ‘flying’. When this tune comes on at the tail end of a training session, you can bet that I am pushing myself to finish strong, to a place where I feel ‘super’ and free, and nearly every time in the final 100 metres of a race, and this tune pops into my mind, I’m giving it everything I’ve got, connecting me with my childhood, and reminding me of how I use to soar like Superman.

What about you? What are some of your favourite running tunes that push you out of your comfort zone?

2014 Recap – A year of training and running as The Dark Knight Runner

“Well, a guy who dresses up like a bat clearly has issues.”

A line from the 2005 film ‘Batman Begins, and at this point in the film Bruce Wayne has already begun his career as the Batman, so it’s obviously meant to steer any possible indication that he’s the Dark Knight. It’s a line that I remember had me chuckling, thinking to myself “good point.” Funny how time and chance would lead me to be in a similar situation 8 years later.

I won’t recite my full story; I was fortunate to have had some media coverage through TV and print, but for those who don’t know: I ran the 2013 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon dressed as Batman, to not only say thank you to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto for saving my life 30 years earlier when my appendix ruptured but to help raise funds for the SickKids Foundation for those children who are there right now fighting their own battles (and fighting them very bravely, I might add). My belief is that super heroes are among the best icons we can use to symbolize the potential and hope that I see in humanity, that we all can be a force for good. I wanted to brighten the day of the crowd on race day, simply the sight of Batman running a marathon.

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From there, the ball really got rolling – through Twitter and Facebook, a team was formed by interested runners who wanted to help further raise funds, and this team would be called ‘The Justice League Runners’ (ironically – I once told my parents that I would one day be a member of the Justice League). In April, 9 members of the JLR ran the Toronto Yonge Street 10k  to help support the SickKids Foundation. That’s when it hit me – the power of social media and what can be done when people connect for a common cause and goal; it still leaves me in awe.

As a group, we surpassed our goal of raising $1500 for the foundation; that was truly, truly amazing. I am now proud to call all these wonderful people my friends and apart of my extended family. Little did I know, that would be the start of a year filled with running (and lots of it) and the best part – making new friends.

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Over the course of the spring, Batman was called upon on two more occasions to run (and sweat) for the greater good; there was the GoodLife Half-Marathon in May (which was challenging because I came down with a cold and cough two days before but didn’t want to let people down with a DNF – “Did Not Finish”), and the other race I went to (which turned out to be a favourite of mine) was a nicely titled course called the “KidsAbility Superhero 5K Run”. I was sent a kind invitation from a young lady named Deirdre (@dela_2012) who follows me on Twitter (there’s that social media thing again!). It was literally a race full of people dressed as any hero you can think of – Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, the Hulk, and more. If I had forgotten what the symbol of a super hero can mean, I was given a wonderful reminder on that day in June. This race was practically a dream come true for me – parents, their children and other runners converging in unison with a desire to help, using the positive message that super heroes can give. That race, it’s organizers, the participants and the volunteers will always have a special place in my heart; thank you Deirdre, Graydon and everyone associated with the KidsAbility Superhero run. I can not wait to see you all again in 2015!

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My goal race for 2014 was a familiar one – the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, but this time I wanted to be faster, and stand out more. And just like Batman, I needed to take it up a notch, and that required me to do two things: up my training over last year and work on some mechanics, and (the one that was more fun) come back with a new Batsuit.

My commitment to training was a given – I live for it, but I also wanted to help those who were going for their first race. So, I came up with an  idea – I volunteered at the High Park location of the Running Room to help pace those running their first half-marathon. “A half-marathon” you say? “But Batman – aren’t you training for the full?” Yes I was training for the full, but I was showing up early before the clinic would start and running the distance we were planning to do that evening. That happened for even the long runs – if we were going to do 15k, then I was going to put in 30k. No excuses; to quote Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson: “Be humble, be hungry, and always be the hardest worker in the room.”

Now, I’m proud of the costume I did for the 2013 STWM, but this year called for something bolder, more authentic. So, I purchased a compression top and bottom set in grey colour. I already knew what I wanted to go for – Batman’s look from a recent TV show. I made it as authentic and functioning as I could. I think the results speak for themselves:

Batman side by side

Yes, that is a nylon military-style belt with nylon pouches that wrapped around my waist, that would hold 8 flasks for my hydration and gels. Was it as hard as it looked? Yes. Do I regret it? Not one bit. Why? Again, I remind you of those for whom I’m run for – the kids at the Hospital for Sick Children, who are battling unspeakable illnesses with bravery and super-human strength. Surely, if they can do that, then I can endure something like running for 42.2K with added weight.

So, the big day arrives – time to get this done! I will admit one thing that is really a cool feeling – stepping out of a building, in costume, and seeing the first child you see and his/her eyes light up with astonishment and surprise, and you can just read what their lips have said…”Batman”. Within seconds of stepping out of the building where I changed, I can hear cameras shuttering, and little kids (and their parents) saying “Go Batman”.

As I approach my corral I’m approached by runners, spectators and running friends (with whom I’ve trained with) alike offering words of encouragement and asking to selfies. I get a great rush out of the start, and try to encourage everyone as I can to just simply do their best and everything else will take care of itself. Then the gun goes off, and it’s time! The elites are the first to go – then off we go for the time of our lives!

While running along the route as Batman, the one thing I try to do for every race (and I guess if there is one rule for costume running) is that  I always make time for the spectators and volunteers who’ve come out on their free time to cheer and help EVERYONE, and not just me. We runners build a network of support from our fellow running colleagues, family and non-running friends (who think we’re nuts), but it makes such a huge difference when a stranger is shouting your name to keep pressing on, especially when the going gets tough around the 34k mark. I don’t know; I’m not the authority on costume running, but I do my best to say hello and thank everyone, no matter what stage of the race I am at. I will wave as often as possible, no matter if my arms are tired. That’s why the Dark Knight Runner belongs to the citizens of Toronto.

The following are images from the race. Thanks to those who allowed me to share these in this blog:

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Was there a moment where I was in pain, given what I had on? Yes, there was – it happened as I approached the Eastern Avenue bridge. I think that was the 34k mark; I was done. Unfortunately by the 8k mark, my hip was in pain, and not long after both my calves sore. As I got to the bridge, I couldn’t run it anymore. I told myself “It’s okay – you’ve given it your best.” In other words, I was telling myself that it was okay to quit before the task was complete.

Then, almost as soon as that thought came in, another popped in immediately – “NO! It’s never okay to quit, it’s never okay to settle! Those kids fighting for their lives – do you think they have a choice?! No, so stop being a whiney little bi**h and finish this!” And, as if God Himself wanted the moment captured, it was:

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In this moment, I was getting angry with myself, because I felt like I was going to let the SickKids Foundation down. I would have never been able to forgive myself if I quit – this moment of pain would be worth a lifetime of glory (a quote from the film ‘Unbroken’). So – I put one foot in front of the other, and I finished the marathon, and with a faster time than the previous year – 5:05. Another thought was captured at the finish line, one that had pain on my face, but in my mind I was telling myself “No regrets – period”.

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No regrets. None. This has been truly a year I pray I will never forget. I’ve met wonderful new running friends (super friends, if you will) while further engaging with those I’ve known for some time, set and surpassed my goals and expectations, and ran more than I ever have my whole life (as of December 24, I surpassed 2014k in 2014) while doing my best to help inspire a city, because I was inspired. So many people to thank – the clinic instructors at the High Park Running Room (Chris M. & Chris H., Sandy & Paul), Tribe Fitness (led by Heather G.), Night Terrors Run Crew (Toronto leader Bill C.), but most of all, my kids and grandkids – Violeta, Ben, Noah and Selena. You four – at the heart of it, you are the reason I put on that cowl and cape, so that I leave you with something by example. I can’t leave you a fortune – the richness of helping others and doing your part to help make the world a little better is the gift that money cannot put a price on. I love you all.

Thank you for taking the time from your busy day to read my story. I think with all I did this year, I could fill a volume; there are big things planned for 2015 – the Justice League Runners will be back at the Toronto Yonge Street 10k with current and new members, and there are plans to establish a world record for the fastest marathon run by a group dressed as superheroes at the 2015 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

Always remember – it’s not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you.

 

– TDKR

Why I still run as The Dark Knight Runner

It was only going to be the one time. I didn’t look beyond last October 20th, the day I completed my first full marathon but with a superhero twist – dressed as Batman for the entire 42.2k distance. I mean yes, I knew I was going to run another marathon – the exhilaration I felt was truly amazing (aside from the pain, which made it an even better experience for me – I like making things hard on myself). To do so again in a costume which consisted of light running compression gear, a cape and a rubber cowl (yup, it was kind of warm under there) was just going to feel like a gimmick to me.
I don’t run to seek attention; I run because it transformed me, it gave me something to strive towards, to aspire to. It gave me an example to set for my kids, whether they knew it then or not—the example that even though life is always going to throw things your way, it’s how you handle it that defines who you are. I ran the 2013 STWM as Batman because I was inspired by the heroes who fight every day for their lives at the Hospital for Sick Children, and to also say thank you to the Hospital for saving my life in an emergency one night over 30 years ago.
But why Batman? For those who are unfamiliar with the character (I forgive you) – Batman a.k.a. Bruce Wayne has no powers, and by powers I mean he didn’t come from a planet that exploded, he wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider, nor was he exposed to gamma radiation. Batman’s ONLY super power…is his will, the will to act, the will to fight for injustice. The character witnessed his own parents murdered right before his eyes, so he made a vow to fight for his city, but in order to do so he would have to train both his mind and body, forging each into a weapon. And so, he went off to train…
To train is something every runner knows is crucial and vital to the outcome of their race. Much like Batman, I prepared for the grueling road ahead, to expect the unexpected and to be prepared for it both mentally and physically. I wasn’t going to just be a guy who went out and bought a costume – I was going to forge my entire body into a vessel that would carry me over a distance of 42.2k. Since nothing has ever come easy for me in life, I was going to earn the mantle of the Bat. And in the end, after a grueling 18-week marathon clinic, where I also grew mentally stronger with each training run (speed work, hills, tempos, etc.), I knew I could answer the question “Why run as Batman?” Because I knew that I could, that I believed in myself, and because I earned it. I then ran the full, and enjoyed one of the best days of my life enduring the marathon. It was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever felt while crossing something off my bucket list.
But to do it again? That wasn’t in the cards, ever. I just wanted to enjoy the experience and not top it. Then, a funny thing happened – I received a Facebook message from someone named Marina who said she was also running her first marathon that day, who (like many people who run marathons) began to doubt themselves, in addition to being in physical pain. She said that at around the 23 or 24k mark, she saw me pass her, and that in passing her a smile came to
her face. And suddenly, without any warning, I was pacing this amazing woman; when I ran, she ran. When I walked, she walked. If I took a break at a water station, she would, too. It was around the turn around in the Beaches area that we got separated, but that the sight of Batman, struggling along yet not willing to give in, got her back on track.
I’m the last person who wants to take credit for something like this, and while I am grateful for Marina’s kind words (we became Facebook friends after all), I want to say this: it could be anyone in a Bat suit running and inspiring others. That is the purpose of Batman – he’s a symbol; Batman could be anyone.
Soon after, I received some Twitter messages about putting together a team for a future race. My reaction was more “yeah, right!” than “yes, sign me up!” I mean – really? Before I could even say “Holy Facebook page, Batman!”, there it was – the official page of the ‘Justice League Runners’ was up and running. Suddenly it occurred to me that the world needed the symbols of these heroes, and I’m not referring to myself in general; it was the symbol of what the logo represented – Superman (hope), Batman (justice), Wonder Woman (empowerment) – these are what people in today’s age needed to believe in again, men and woman, boys and girls – all of humanity.
I believe it is very, very important that we, as a society, have a hero we believe in, a symbol to shine a light for us in our darkest hour. Be it spiritually or through another medium, we need something to believe in, to draw strength from, and to have hope in. That’s why I choose to continue to run and raise funds for charity as Batman – so that people don’t see my face, but rather the symbol of the hero, doing what he can to help world be just a little better than it is now. There’s a hero in all of us – we just have to tap into our hearts and discover it.
Passing the half way point and saying hello to the crowd!

Passing the half way point & saying hello to the wonderful and supportive crowd!

– TDKR

“It’s not who I…

“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”

That’s what I told myself when I decided to embark on a tiny little mission – to run and complete a full marathon, for charity, dressed as the greatest detective in the comic book world, Batman. And it filled me with great happiness that I would do it with a mask on – because it was not going to be about the man who’s face is seen by the crowd, but that of the symbol for which the ‘Bat’ stood for – to rise above adversity and to inspire.

My initial inspiration – to say thank you to the Hospital for Sick Children in downtown Toronto. What continued to drive me? The true brave and everyday heroes – the young boys and girls who day in and day out endure a battle that no child should ever have to go through; clearly, running 42.2K doesn’t even compare to their long journey.

So, I decided to run, and to hope that I could inspire others around me – my family, my friends, and the crowd who would be cheering on over 25,000 runners on a sunny October morning in 2013. 

The journey has been – unbelievable. I am forever grateful for the encouraging words and support I received. And now, with 2014 approaching, I look forward to doing so surrounded by a team of dedicated runners who will dress as the super heroes who inspire them. It’s going to be cool – watch out for ‘The Justice League Runners’

I’ll post the journey that I’m about to embark for the next 12 months, all the way to October 19, 2014 – the annual Scotiabank Toronto Waterfron Marathon, as my team and I run for those that inspire us.

Thanks for reading :)

-JP