I remember it like it was just yesterday - even though it was more like 14,689 yesterdays ago. A year after joining my first hockey team, the Cousineau Park Aces, in the lowest levels of suburban Montreal recreational hockey, I was rumbling down the ice, along the boards, with nothing but air between me and the other team's goalie.
Now, it's no easy feat for a guy who can't skate, handle the puck or shoot, to get a puck past a goalie - even with no defenders in the way. But somehow, as I was leaning forward and losing my balance, I flailed at the puck and sent it along the ice in the general direction of the net. And as I slid head-first into the boards, I could hear the unmistakable sound of frozen rubber (yes our games were played outdoors on natural ice that we sometimes had to shovel ourselves) pinging the metal at the back of the net.
My teammates cheered. Pride bubbled up in my chest. I had scored a goal - the very first time anyone named Hadzipetros had scored since my grandfather came to Canada in the first decade of the last century.
It would be nice to say that the goals came fast and furious after that. Lady Luck did expose her pearly whites during one game and froze the other team's goalie on two of my soft shots. But other than that, the goals were few and far between. Unless you're blessed with incredible talent or amazing luck, goals can be damned hard to get.
It took a bunch of years and the odd misplay that left me clutching areas of my body that would never tan, for me to figure out that sports like hockey and baseball weren't my game. Not a single home run or game-winning hit in a 12-year career in a beer-swilling and chicken wing-eating slow pitch league. Goals evolved to things like "please don't hit that thing to me" or "just let me make contact."
Funny thing about running: it's a lot easier to design reachable goals, especially when you're just starting. It's amazing how quickly you can go from aiming to run non-stop for, say, five minutes to taking part in your first race, if that's what you want to do.
Your goal might be to do just enough running to get back into shape. Embarking on the process that will get you to that goal is every bit as big as starting a training program designed to help you set a personal best.
Running has reminded me that I'm more competitive than I've ever admitted, which has me - for now - altering and upgrading goals. Yup, I've set some pretty ambitious targets for my next marathon. And if my training regime is any indication, I stand a chance of reaching them. Been running smoothly and injury-free for months and I've had to move on to the next hole on my belt.
But that's no guarantee.
There's a long bridge between "stand a chance" and "reached my goal" and everyone knows that trolls like to make their homes under bridges. That's probably why I've always been very nervous crossing bridges.
Take my last long run. Two weeks before I'm supposed to be at my peak, ready to shatter all personal records. Twenty-six brutally sluggish kilometres, punctuated by a frantic search for a public washroom at the midway point. Had me thinking, "how can I run 16 kilometres farther at a significantly faster pace in two weeks?"
That bridge was looking longer and longer.
The culprit might've been the mid-week colonoscopy that age dictated I must endure. Or the gallons of cognac Greek tradition required me to consume two days later, after my uncle's funeral.
There's still time to right the training wrongs of that week. But an incident like that underlines the fact that no matter how much you prepare, there's always some mental troll that can keep you from reaching your goal.
Worrying about weather, allergies, a tender stomach, a guy dressed in a tunic, can mean the difference between the race of your life and an endless list of coulda, woulda, shoulda.
Crossed a lot of bridges - sometimes with great trepidation - in my day. Still waiting for a troll to knock me off one of them.
Peter Hadzipetros writes background and indepth features
for CBC News Online. Until he got into long distance running a few years ago,
he was a net importer of calories. He's run several marathons, including two Bostons.
In Oct. 2004, he recorded a PB of 3:09.21 in Columbus.