Everyone in Vancouver knows about the grind. It’s called “Nature’s Stairmaster” and it’s basically a path up the side of Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver, a vertical ascent of 2.9 kilometres. And it’s tough, man.
Sebastian Albrecht is tougher. He started at 6:30 Monday morning and finished at 11 p.m., eclipsing his old record of 13 ascents. Presumably, next year he will have a go at 15.
You’re probably thinking Sebastian Albrecht is nuts. Why doesn’t he just bang his head against the wall? It feels just as good when you stop?
But I understand. For the past 33 years, I’ve run marathons, which are 42-kilometre road races. I have survived more than 20 of these horizontal grinds and have trained thousands of miles around the world. I’ve left a trail of sweat on the cobblestones of Paris, run rings around the plane trees of Hyde Park, left footprints on the sand of countless beaches, and at one point, ran (as fast as I could) through the homies of East L.A.
For guys like Sebastian and me, the point is there is no point. It’s the journey that counts. At the end, we look back at the miles we’ve logged and feel a sense of accomplishment, but the real benefits are found along the way. Two-thirds of North Americans are overweight. It’s hard to be overweight when you climb 2.9 kilometres times 13 or run 42 kilometres. Then there’s that runner’s high, which happens when you stop.
You just put one foot in front of the other and go. It’s ideal for people who can’t do the Macarena, i.e. me.
Normally, I would celebrate Sebastian Albrecht’s achievement in the usual way — go for a 20-kilometre run. But I did something unusual the other day. I went for a walk. Instead of running through the world, I walked in it — and it was a revelation.
I could feel the warmth of the sun on my head; I could smell the flowers; I could see what was going on around me. Normally, when I run, the rest of the world is stuff that gets in the way. People are pylons.
As Arsenio Hall used to say, it makes you go hmm. Maybe I’ve been running … away. Maybe it’s time to stop and ask what I’m running from instead of what I’m running for. Just drop the M and shuffle the O and R. It changes everything. Maybe Sebastian is nuts after all.
Paul Sullivan is a Vancouver-based journalist and owner of Sullivan Media Consulting;