2013 was the year I went big - I took risks, trusted my gut, trusted my heart in life and love and work and running. I wish I could say my year turned out like every inspirational fridge magnet I own said it would. I wish I could say that now, at the very beginning of 2014, I am some shinier, skinnier, faster and more loving person than I was a year ago.
Except - I am writing this at Lucy's dining room table. I took a lot of risks this year, and they didn't all work. Big risks - and with them comes some big sadness, disappointment, embarrassment. And for all this, for the first time in a while, I didn't have words.
So, instead, I'll talk about running. This blog is supposed to be mainly about running, anyways. Not big, road-race winning, Olympics-going running. Not big, 100-mile-plus, FKT-setting, seriously rugged ultrarunning. This isn't a motivational blog about how running transformed my life, cured me of cancer, taught me confidence - my life is more or less the same, with more physio bills and fewer sleep-ins. This isn't a blog about weight loss, as the only substantial weight loss that ever occurred was when I threw up for the last hour of a 50-mile in July 2013. Running hasn't taught me zen or stopped me from feeling sad or anxious or scared - but I have learned to breathe more.
This is a blog where, in a good race, I might place in my age group and not mess up my ankle too badly. This blog is about a smaller scale of running, and all the ordinary day-to-day moments: the early wake-ups, the rainy mornings, the miraculous one-in-ten days where my mind stops and my body floats. And, most of all, the wonderful and quirky people who do these things with me.
The last year I ran a 3:03 marathon, a 50-miler, a 6-day race in the Rockies. Those were all intense times, and I felt each kilometer in my bones and my head. But in the end, my running in 2013 was the hundreds of small moments with the people I love that added up to more than any one-race goal. My running was the foggy and pitch-black December morning with Katie heading towards UBC, where the fog made a single garbage can look so sinister that we turned around and bolted for home ("Alex! Does it have eyes?'). My running is the weekly mindfulness sessions hosted by Ramsey (which occasionally turn into guided napping sessions when I attempt to meditate lying down). My running is somehow convincing Craig "I love the treadmill" Dale and Shannon to join a beautiful and icy trip up the BCMC at night. My running is 6:10am and fresh snow on a Friday morning, ghostly under the streetlights, around False Creek with Angela and Shannon and Amy. My running is tempos with Allison and Shu. My running is every day I go to the google homepage and resist looking up 'What the fuck is my ankle doing?"- knowing at least a couple other friends have unsuccessfully resisted the same urge.
My running isn't even running - it's attempting to appreciate a glass of bourbon with Lucy and her husband Chris. It's hearing Chris explain to Lucy's daughter why she might have to do more annoying chores than her stepdaughter ("It's because she has other living options and you don't.' 'Dad!"). It's my mom calling me to download a country song for her CD ("Mom, you realize that this is a song about one-night stands?" "It's an upbeat song - that singer knows what she wants!"). It's Christmas dinner with our family friends, where mom and almost-aunt Millie discuss the boundaries they have with their respective cats (Millie is able to close the bedroom door so the cat doesn't join her and her husband when they sleep. The Lea family cats join my parents in bed, under the covers, with a special spot on the pillow. Mom thinks Millie judges her, and Mom might be sort of right on this one). It's my brother's dog, who I have bonded with to the point that he has urinated when he saw me (out of enthusiasm, and I am told this is a very big compliment from the dog).
Does it almost feel like you've been here before?
On New Years Day, I did the same thing I've done since I moved to Vancouver - headed out for a run. This morning I ran up to the Cleveland Dam with Shannon on misty trails. We talked about boys and injuries and food. I have done some variation on this route for almost seven years: it's not particularly hard or high or long. At the turnaround point is the dam. On one side is a lake, with mountains rising all around. On another side, wave after wave of water crashing down, trees spilling over on the canyon sides. I've seen the dam on hot summer days, in the snow, in the rain, hundreds of times - it's always beautiful. It was beautiful when I was 23 and 29. I don't know what 33 or 39 will look like, but I still hope to run somewhere familiar and beautiful with people that make me smile.
How am I going to be an optimist about this?
In the end, it's the little things, the daily getting up and onto the seawall or the trails that, sometimes, on the right day with the right brain, add up to a good race. More than that, they add up to a life. And when the big things really completely don't work out, when I have woken up in the dark (because it's winter and it's always dark or getting dark) I feel the sadness like a physical ache in my chest, stomach, head, the little things keep me going. 10k, 15k, someone waiting for me at the Inukshuk or at the start of the BCMC. E-mails to return at work. A good book or a really trashy graphic novel. A glass of wine.
Was it worth it?
About a month ago I was running on the Sunshine Coast with Katie and Meghan. The trails had huge chunks and eddies of ice, where streams and puddles had frozen solid. We ran in the pale December sun through trees, winding up to the top of clearcuts for glimpses of ocean, of more hills in the distance. At one point, we were winding alongside a frozen lake. I was so entranced by the light on the lake, through the trees, that I didn't see a root in front of me and I face-planted. I broke my fall with my left hand and my knee.
After the run, I could barely change clothes, my hand hurt that bad. All through the afternoon and evening, I poked at my hand, tried to rotate it, wincing each time at the pain. It wasn't broken, it wasn't sprained - just bruised and sore. At times, the pain was immediate and a bit scary - I wanted to put my hand in a cast, ice it, stretch it, poke it - I wanted to do anything right then to make it feel better. But there was nothing I could do. I would wake up some nights and just feel it throbbing.
Little by little, the wrist healed on its own - even though it still twinges from time to time. It hurt like hell - and the run was still totally worth it. The cold, muted light, the frosty trees, the glint of the ocean, us the only people on the trail for miles and miles. I got hurt, but that's the price of going to beautiful places. I think the two things go hand-in-hand. And I wouldn't change a thing about it.