This morning I participated in the Let’s Run 5k race in Steinbach. What a humbling experience!
I’ve always had relatively poor cardiovascular health. As a child I was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma, which made running difficult. Like many people, I’ve had good intentions over the years to become a regular at the gym and get into shape, which led to more than one gym membership that went unused.
Last year I was facing the imminent birth of my first child, Sam, and I realized that I couldn’t put it off any more. Both of my grandfathers died at age 70, one from a heart attack and one from a stroke, so I knew I had a good chance of clocking out early too unless I put in some significant work. Also, I’m 196cm tall, and people my size and larger tend to have shorter lives (the oldest people in the world are usually tiny women). For Sam’s sake as much as my own, I don’t want to have my heart give out on me when I’m 70. So I started running, but didn’t take it too seriously until I signed up for Let’s Run; apparently all I needed to get in shape was the threat of public embarrassment.
Using the “Couch to 5k” plan, I worked my way up to running 5k. On the advice of colleagues who run regularly, I decided to run for five minutes and walk for one minute, and found that I could maintain a rough 11-minute mile average. Because running has always been a struggle for me, I was incredibly proud of myself for even being able to finish 5k, let alone at that pace. And I still am proud of myself – and I’m proud of everyone who participated this morning – because no matter the pace, committing to physical fitness is hard work worthy of pride. But I was definitely taken down a peg or two today.
I said out loud that I only hoped to finish, or maybe to finish in the middle of the pack, but in the back of my mind I envisioned finishing near the front with energy to spare. So when the race started, I made sure to pace myself carefully. Most of the pack moved ahead of me quickly, but I thought “slow and steady wins the race; I’ll be blowing by them when they run out of steam.” I especially thought this of the large number of kids who were ahead of me, some of whom looked to be about seven years old and were setting a gruelling pace.
Boy was I wrong. I didn’t see those kids again until they crossed the finish line a few minutes after me, finishing the 10k in only a few minutes more than it took me to finish the 5k. I crossed the line moments before the first 10k runner, and less than a minute before a mother pushing a double stroller with two kids who looked to be 4 or 5. Oh, and the half dozen firefighters who ran the 5k in their full gear (in the hot sun) were out of sight ahead of me by the second kilometre. All of my assumptions about my own level of relative fitness crumbled pretty quickly.
My assumptions about fitness in general also crumbled pretty quickly, as the people I thought were slower than me were actually just pacing themselves for the 10k, or as I noticed a woman with one leg completing the race on crutches, or as people celebrated completing a walking 5k with even more pride and sense of accomplishment than those who stood on the podium for the fastest times. I realized that this wasn’t really a race, that times or distances or other ways of comparing ourselves to others didn’t matter. What matters is that each of us went there with a personal goal, whether it was just to complete the event, to get a certain time, or to support a friend, and we accomplished them in the context of a supportive community.
And what a community! This event was run entirely by volunteers, and members of the community lined the route to cheer us on. It was well-planned, too: I was pleased to see that there were plenty of recycling bins and compost bags to collect the remains of the healthy snacks, and health and safety were an obvious priority with volunteers directing traffic and a well prepared first aid team on site.
All in all, I was inspired by this event. It’s incredible to see people work together to accomplish a great thing that benefits the whole community. That’s what politics is supposed to look like: all of us working together to accomplish great things that we probably couldn’t pull off on our own, and for all of our benefit. And make no mistake, Let’s Run is a political event: it has a direct impact on the health of the community, and a sustainable health care system is one that focuses on promoting health rather than just treating disease or injury.
Here’s how the Green Party would integrate promoting healthy living with our health care program (from Vision Green, page 102):
7. Promote fitness, sport, and active living:
- Promote a broad-based national program of active living as a prescription for better health and lower health care costs, to be delivered in partnership with provincial, municipal, and non-governmental bodies to achieve the goal agreed to by all ministers responsible for physical activity across Canada of increasing physical activity by 10% over the next five years;
- Introduce a national standard of daily, quality participation in physical activity in schools, colleges, and universities to combat the epidemic of youth obesity;
- Make a strategic investment through Health Canada of $500 million over five years to aggressively address inactivity and obesity;
- Re-introduce a national school-based fitness-testing program;
- Promote the ‘Walking School Bus,’ as developed by the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, in which adult volunteers supervise neighbourhood children walking to school, thereby reducing pollution, improving fitness, and promoting community street safety;
- Endorse and promote the Olympic Movement’s Agenda 21 for Sport, which advocates sport and recreation management practices that are sustainable and encourages sustainable practices at all sports events and facilities;
- Support the development of high-performance athletes both by encouraging broad-based participation in sport and by contributing to the provision of essential facilities, coaching, and medical support for high-performance athletes, as outlined in the 2003 Canadian Sport Policy;
- Structure the spending for sports to ensure there is a practical progression of long- term financial support for sport at all levels in the sports continuum;
- Establish a Canadian Sports Spending Accountability Act, to ensure the effective long-term use of tax dollars provided to high performance sports programs.
Healthy lifestyles are not only better for us, they reduce the amount of medical care we need. Health care is not only one of our biggest expenses, it’s also the national expense that’s rising the fastest. Let’s Run and programs like it are what we need to head this health crisis off at the pass, and I’m so glad I took part in it today. If you’re up for it, join me for the Imagine Run in Niverville September 26th, where I’m going to attempt to kick it up a notch to 10k!
Also, next weekend there’s an event called Walk the Line, a hike along the route of the proposed Energy East pipeline. Registration ends Tuesday, so sign up as soon as you can. I hope to make it, and I’ll be talking more about Energy East and what it means for us in the near future.