A few weeks ago, Barry and Amber were discussing an evening activity with me. This activity - maybe a concert, maybe drinks - started at 9pm, which is typically past my bedtime. Why 9pm? Because I get up in the mornings to run. Barry was skeptical of this: "Why do you need to get up early to run? You haven't raced in over a year."
A year ago, I was out running on the seawall, chasing down Matt on intervals on a mild grey morning. Then my calf felt tight, and then my other foot had a sharp pain, so bad I stopped. That sharp pain was a hairline fracture in my metatarsal.
It has been a year trying to get back. Saying that sentence is like saying a word over and over again, until it loses meaning.
I am a 31 year old adult with a career, a needy cat and regular appointments to have needles put into areas that I normally don't show others until after dinner, several drinks, and a third date. While my friends are either winning races and setting PBs, or getting engaged and having babies (or both - my friends Allison and Ramsey are pretty amazing parents and just as amazing runners), I am rolling out in the dark before doing a run that I used to consider a warm-up. Maybe I should move on.
Here is why I don't.
I crashed Lucy's family vacation on Hornby Island as this past August's heat cooled
off into long evenings. Her family rents a beach house right on the
water. Mornings came in hard and bright: waves and searchlight sun and
seagulls. Afternoons were coffee or tea and reading on the balcony, with
occasional trips to look at pottery, or spectating Lucy print-making,
or wandering into the ocean to cool off. Evenings started at 5 with
beer, then dinner, then gin, then Chris playing folk songs on the guitar
as the water stilled and the first stars came out.
And mornings were spent running. We had coffee and more coffee
and stretched then ran our way through the island. We ran through along
the cliffs of Helliwell park, to the smell of dry grass and roasting
pine needles. We ran on trails through the forest, along quiet roads. We ran down to the ferry terminal, stopping to examine a used book store.
Nothing was hard, really. We didn't go too far or too fast. It was
always the perfect temperature. There was always enough shade. There is
something about always being in sight of water - the tinge of the air,
the light through the trees. We finished our runs by skinny dipping: wading slowly into clear clean water on smooth sand, looking at blue sky, already feeling the heat of the day start to build.
I liked someone this past spring, and we spent some time together. A lot of the time was spent running around the seawall, and some more was spent going up mountains. I can say, to be casual, that I was so relaxed and in the moment and somehow found running Zen that I didn't even wear a watch. The not wearing a watch part is accurate (because I had lost my Garmin) - however, this doesn't mean that I wasn't on Strava.
But it does mean that we just ran - and hiked - because there were new places to discover, because there was usually a beer at the top, because downhill felt so good and the burgers after were even better. And as much as I'm a girl who likes to talk about feelings - five hours going somewhere high and quiet can be just as much of a conversation.
I do the damn needles so I can learn to push a stroller with Allison and Ramsey. So I can run around False Creek with Katie. So I can do two hours somewhere on the North Shore with Lucy. So I can see a hike, read about a mountain, and say yeah, okay, I'm going to go there and do that.
After a year, I miss running the same way I miss an ex-boyfriend who is not quite gone: an opening in my chest, the hope even though the leaving will keep leaving.
This is a really melodramatic way of saying that I can run for the right reasons, along with all the wrong ones. This easy love and give in my body is wrapped up on the days I feel fat, the days where all the deep breathing and positive thinking isn't a match for hard kilometers outside, the days where loneliness is a weight and each step makes me lighter. I run, too, for reasons that are easy to explain: my friendships, a community, rocks and roots and streams and a body that knows the way, health and all those things in life people assume running makes you better at (which is actually not true at all).
(There's a saying "the way you do one thing is the way you do everything." No. If I did everything the way I did running, I would fall in love every single day, get lost on my way to all the meetings, end every project with drinks and probably end up living out of my car.)
It's all in there - the races I did where I pushed hard, so hard, the days on the spin bike, the worrying and the laughing and just waking up, on an average day, in the dark, creaky, and going around the seawall, an hour, nothing amazing, but a punctuation to my life, a space, and all the room to breathe and keep going.