by Sara Cassidy, January 2011

Fiction from here

My last running group was a disaster, but my girlfriend says I benefited from it, we benefited from it. So she’s forced me to sign up for another one. Running calmed me, she says. I’ll admit it mellowed me. I liked running under the wide leaves of the city parks, past happy couples with their dogs, the shangri-la amnesia of it. I even liked being sore the next day, actually feeling the red meat of my muscles somewhere inside my mass of blubber and gristle.

The meeting places were cool: “the stone bridge” in Beacon Hill Park or “the Terry Fox statue at Mile Zero.” It was like James Bond. We’d all materialize in place, our watches beeping the top of the hour.

I didn’t want to be the guy in grey sweat cut-offs and oversized beer shirt trying to make some unintelligible point. So I shelled out for spandex and hybrid-cross-fusion running shoes. Besides, ever since Girlfriend started talking babies, the beer shirts are going missing one by one. She won’t touch my authentico Corona muscle shirt from that spring break with the boys, though. I could love her for that. 

Spandex provided both camouflage and uniform. The other runners actually spoke to me, as if I had something to say in return. They asked what I did, and they didn’t mean what crime, they meant career. I mumbled about getting my journeyman papers, and they’d question me on the certification process or express genuine concern about the low end commodity market in lumber products.

But during our first run, the Schwarzeneggeresque leader barks out that I’m pigeon-toed. OK, not in so few hyphenated words. “Your knees are taking extra lateral weight, which disaligns your feet at least 30 degrees,” he jaws. “Severe over-pronation will kill your ilialtibial bands.” 

I got his drift. Not just his B.O, but his B.S. The guy actually tells us he had a six-pack before he could stand. He’s like, “The other ladies would prop up their babies with pillows, but not my mother. There are photographs of me on my back, struggling to sit up. When I finally do, I’m, like, ripped. What I’m saying is don’t use the escalator. Climb the stairs. Don’t vacuum. Sweep.”

 One evening I suggest we all go for a beer after the run, and the guy’s face twists like he’s constipated. Gives me a look that could shoot All-Bran pellets. Next time, I suggest protein shakes.

I must have got on the guy’s nerves—in those ways my girlfriend says I am totally unaware of. We decide as a group to do the Royal Victoria 8km and Mr Six Pack volunteers to sign us up, saying he has “connections.” Well, race day comes and, oh, look, whose registration didn’t go through? Chiselled fuckwad. Do you think I stood at the Finish Line, cheering the others in, asking them to grab me a free cookie from the snack table? You bet. Girlfriend said cheering on the others was the “right” thing to do. 

So now it’s Running Club #2. Meeting point: the electrical substation by Elk Lake. Already, I feel hopeful. I’m a couple of minutes late, as always, but nobody’s leaving without me. In fact, the guy leading the show hasn’t arrived yet. We stand around in our spandex, discussing the City’s new hundred dollar fine for anyone caught releasing pet rabbits into the wild. I say the City would be better off fining pairs of rabbits it catches going at it. One nervous titter. Mercy.

 Then a smoking 1988 K-car, I mean literally smoking, a bruised blue rinse cloud, pulls up, blaring Tina Turner. The driver rolls up the window, then slowly opens a creaking door. We return to our stretching exercises because there’s no way this guy, in his shiny acrylic sweatsuit with moth-eaten stripes down the legs, is our man. He’s not just chunky, the guy’s king-sized. Burger King Drive-Thru-sized. Just getting up the little slope to where we are, he’s out of breath. He stops, reaches around under his jacket, down the back of his sweatpants, and pulls out a clipboard. A couple of us raise our eyebrows at each other: It looks as though this guy is, after all, our running coach.

He puffs out a hello, then does roll call, greeting us like old friends when we pipe to our names: “How are you, Kurt?” “Good to see you, Sandy!” He talks about the importance of warming up, the sorts of routes we’ll do over the next eight weeks, and how we’ll look like a real fit bunch “by the end of all this torture.” 

For our first run, we’re to walk one minute, run one minute, around the two-kilometre loop that starts and ends at the substation. Dufferin—“you can call me Duffy”—runs a ways with us, but after about 400 meters gives up, shouting after us, “You’re all so fit! Doing great! See you at the start!” When we make it back to the substation, he’s sitting on a concrete step, beaming. “My, you’re fast! That’s really wonderful.” Then he gives us a truly interesting talk, tells us how our bodies are “tearing through oxygen,” and that the blood vessels in our muscles are so dilated, our blood is pouring through, “like water through a fire hose instead of a garden hose.” 

“You are amazing systems,” he says with awe. “Amazing as the trees, as the air itself! One of these turns on the trail, you’ll see a deer, and you’ll think, Wow. Well, when that deer sees you, it thinks, Wow, too.”

 We run for Duffy all season long. I feel guilty leaving him behind so often, so I suggest he get a Segue, one of those two-wheeled pushmower-type vehicles. Next lesson he shows up with one, slaps me on the back, tells everyone it was my great idea. 

The guy is proud of us. He gives little spiels about how graceful we are, how fleet, how coordinated. One evening, he sends us off with a speech about our “inside selves.” I was fevered with it when I got to the car. Fumbled around for a pen, almost kissed the thing when I found it. On the back of a brown lunch bag, I wrote down Duffy’s words:

“When I say your inside self, I mean you who is thinking right now, thinking about you thinking, watching yourself watching, listening to yourself listening. Whatever the hell you want to call it—your essence, your chi, your soul—keep it strong. It’s your truest engine.” Then he added, “I’m not going to tell you how lucky you are to have your bodies. I just want you to think how lucky your body is to have you.” 

Duffy says stuff so that it’s helpful. He’s like a parent. I mean, a real parent. I try to explain this to Girlfriend, and she asks about my parents, what are they really like. I mention they had some shortcomings. Then I keep on talking, and talking; it’s as if I’ve caught the rhythm of Duffy’s spiels. She cries and I cry, it’s messy, but she’d never hold it against me, I know that. She says something like, those aren’t shortcomings, Honey, that’s abuse, and after that I walk around like a zombie for a few weeks, run through the woods with Duffy on his Segue beside me, him not saying a thing, taking my lead. It was like a chrysalis state, I see now. I was being reborn. 

To test the new waters of my life—i.e. am I irredeemably a jerk?—I suggest a beer after our last run. “Another fine idea, Kurt,” Duffy enthuses. “A glass of beer, a game of darts. Who’s in?” Everyone raises their hands. 

We walk into the bar like a real team. We’re in great shape by now. Halfway into the second game of darts, I remind everyone the Royal Victoria 8km is coming up. 

A month later, who’s at the Finish Line, cheering us on and asking for a cookie? 

I got him five. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be getting his address. So I can send him the invitation to Stacey’s and my wedding. 

Sara Cassidy is the author of two youth novels from Orca Books. Slick was published this fall and Windfall will be released in the spring. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared most recently in Geist Magazine, The Malahat Review, and Prairie Fire.

Visit Sara’s website at