does running uphill make me smarter than michael ignatieff

Five kilometres and the road opens wide on my right and I stare down on the entire expanse of Kootenay Lake.

Five kilometres and the road opens wide on my right and I stare down on the entire expanse of Kootenay Lake.

Almost straight below me, in a vertical drop of more than 1,500 metres, I see the railway weave its way along the rocky shore of the lake.

Below and to my left nothing but more water, which this morning is flat, smooth and soothing. On the right three cows pull dark green grass from a field that goes right to the water’s edge.

Calm water separating two distant horizons, pastoral farmland and the ingrained image of the history of trains make the effort of running up this mountain worth it.

Marsden Road is an excellent training run for me right now. Three times a week for the last two months I have headed up here.

Rising almost without hesitation it climbs 2,000 metres in 12 kilometres, levels off just briefly, and climbs again, steeper yet, for another 10.

With every run I try to press on further up the hill. My goal by month’s end is to have reached the summit in just under two and a half hours. If I can do that I feel ready to compete in the Seven Summits Trail Run in Rossland, BC, on September 1.

Running uphill is the hardest exercise on the market. It is also the cheapest. The payoff is I burn 80 to 90 calories every kilometre. My heart stays strong and I stay slim.

But the real benefit I am after comes from pumping lots of blood, and therefore oxygen, to this old brain of mine. The brain being a muscle, it loves it when I feed it like this.

In fact it loves it so much it pays me back in spades: it sparks the creative juices allowing me to think more clearly.

About the point where the road opens to the lake below, blood pumping full bore, I have this thought: Why am I so much smarter than Liberal deputy leader Michael Ignatieff?

In a recent Globe and Mail confessional Ignatieff recants his once strong support of the US-led military invasion of Iraq in 2003. The deputy leader clearly is not a runner — or certainly not much of one. Anyone with an ounce of blood flowing to the brain would have seen the light of day in a time frame much shorter than four years.

In his defence — and possibly to his credit — is the fact he was a tenured faculty member in the political science department at Harvard University.

That university and most others like it are high on theory and low on ‘good sense’ to begin with. Political science has never lent much support to the debate on the issue of war and peace. It certainly has never come to grips with the one solution to conflict: nonviolence.

Violence is never a solution.

The good professor should know this. In fact he should have taught it to his students. As deputy leader he should have carried the important message of nonviolence to Ottawa.

Coming into kilometre 15 the road is now right in my face. My guess is my legs are pushing up more than a seven per cent grade.

I quickly make up a mantra to ease the pain, measure the breathing: violence is never a solution / violence is never a solution / violence is never a solution.

If Ignatieff had worked Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings on nonviolence into his previous profession, or better yet, could find a way to maneuver this philosophy into his Liberal agenda now, he might be thought to be running with wise men and women. There would at least be evidence of blood to the brain.

Gandhi taught us that nonviolence goes much beyond an alternative to war. He taught us that politics and principles are two sides of the same coin. He demonstrated how politics must be both truthful and nonviolent.

Throughout his life Gandhi showed the world that economics and ethics are indivisible and that all business, industry, education and art must have deep spiritual roots.

He also taught us that nonviolence requires us to do hard physical work, to avoid bad taste, to be fearless, to have respect for all beings, and most importantly, he told us that nonviolence begins by developing a strong local economy.

As I continue working my way up this hill I begin to feel slightly encouraged that Ignatieff made amends.

And while I am discouraged that hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians had to pay with their lives in the four-year interval, I cannot hold on to much anger.

For Gandhi also taught us the skill of restraining any form of aggressive, offensive or damaging thoughts. If there is violence in our mind, he taught us not to express it in our speech.

It is hot now, in the 30s, dust rising with each footstep. A small squirrel darts across the road and watches me from safer ground. I squeeze more water into my mouth and begin the mantra over again:

Violence is never a solution / violence is never a solution.

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