Lance Armstrong was in town last week to speak at the World Cancer Congress, when out of the blue, he decided to invite the whole Island to join him for a run on Wednesday evening. When I heard of Armstrong’s invitation on Twitter, my first thought as a journalism student was to bring my camera and recorder.
I was very gung ho at the notion considering he’s recently been all over the news. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency had just banned Armstrong from further competition and stripped him of his seven Tour de France titles due to allegations of using performance-enhancing drugs. It was heavy stuff.
It was only as I was leaving for the park that I realized hauling my equipment would keep me from actually running. How often would I get the chance to do my cardio work- out with the most famous cyclist in the world? So I left my gear at home and told myself, ‘don’t worry about the story. Just run.’
The congregation waiting for Armstrong at the foot of the George-Étienne Cartier monument was impressive. By 6 p.m., hundreds of people in various states of readiness were shuffling about.
Finally, the man of the hour made his way through the throng and hopped on a bench. He quickly greeted the crowd before taking off up the gravel path, flanked by what seemed like every runner in Montreal.
I followed. It was an odd feeling knowing somewhere in the crowd before me was a world-class athlete setting the pace and I was keeping up. I was going to keep step with this paragon of fitness and live to tell the tale!
I’d been running a few times a week all summer, so I was by no means unfit. Yet despite my best efforts, after about half-an-hour, I found myself slowing down and had to reason with myself. Don’t worry about keeping up with the world-class athlete. Keep your own pace. Just run.
We were already near the top, and most of the trail was downhill from there. I took my time and tried to appreciate the scenery around me. Everything was beautiful up there, and I don’t just mean the foliage. A run like that attracted a lot of very fit people. My social survival instincts kicked in. I thought to myself, “Whatever you do, try to look as good as them. Be impressive!”
Again: Yeah right.
I was a mess—a scraggly- haired, red-faced, sweaty mess. I quickly silenced whatever idiotic part of me thought this would be a good opportunity to meet people. Just power through and finish. That was all I had to do. Just run.
By the time I got to the finish, I had no idea where Armstrong was. There were still news crews doing interviews, but they looked like they were about to leave. I found a soft patch of grass on the hill and just laid there, catching my breath.
Reflecting back, I realized the run wasn’t about prestige or looking good or even getting in shape. Lance Armstrong, Tour de France winner and cancer survivor, with the weight of the world on his shoulders, didn’t need any of that. He just felt like running. At the very least, I’d like to think I kept pace with him on that.