A farewell to arms

Today, I say goodbye to my running shoes.

This is very hard.

Since August of 2014 they have been my consummate companions, joining me on every run, race, bike ride, and hike.

And I love them.

I bought them in response to the death my last pair, which, despite an absolutely valiant effort, died a gruesome death the second time around doing Tough Mudder (otherwise known as Tough Mudder II: Tough Mudderer).

However, I didn’t want to buy them. I had just read Born to Run and was a new student to the school of thought that one should never buy new running shoes unless absolutely necessary.

Gone were (and still are) my days of thinking that there is some arbitrary six-month expiration date on shoes. I wanted to wait as long as possible to take the plunge.

So, reluctant as I was to purchase anything new, I started using a pair of Marc’s old shoes instead. They were a little too large and ugly as hell, but I was steadfast in my commitment to make them work. I only threw in the towel on them after completely shredding my right leg on a hike in Hawaii. They had absolutely zero tread, and after a solid two hours of slipping and sliding all over an incredibly treacherous trail, I lost my footing and cut myself badly on an old, rusted water main.

Sitting there in the wilds of the Hawaiian jungle, as Marc and our friends poured water over my wounds, I tried to remember the last time I received a tetanus shot, and patiently waited for the lock jaw to set in.

When I got home I drove to SportChek and bought shoes.

My new Asics were immediately magic. They fit my feet perfectly and took no time to break in.

At first I lamented their muted colour palette, wishing that I could rock the hot pinks and flashy neon so in vogue amongst other runners. But I quickly came to appreciate their simplicity. I often thought this as one of the reasons they were so perfect a bridge between my legs and where my legs ached to go.

For the entire fall of 2014, I woke up at 5:30 am to run the New Westminster waterfront. Greeting the sleepy sun, I would watch as mountainscapes transformed from Mount Doom to Mount Baker and I would marvel at a sky that was both mottled blue and cherry rust.

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Mornings, running to the water.

That November, my shoes carried me to my very first race victory when I won the Boundary Bay Half-Marathon. They helped me push through when, after eighteen kilometers of headwinds and incredibly tight hips, everything in my being was telling me that I should just quit and never run ever again. Instead, they allowed my feet to keep propelling me forward, and quieted the negative refrain inside of my head.

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Post-Boundary Bay

That following January, they were there again when I placed fourth in the Chilly Chase Half-Marathon. My Little Sister Melissa came out to cheer me on, and she spent the morning with Marc and his parents, as they chilly-chased me around False Creek and Stanley Park.

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Melissa and I

In April 2015, I completed a long-standing life goal and ran the Hapalua Half-Marathon in Waikiki. My shoes were up with me at 4:30am as I trekked to the start line and nervously prepped for a 6:30am start. They were there as I poured cup after cup of water over my head in an attempt to cool myself against the ever-worsening heat of the day. They were there as the never ending hill between kilometers fourteen and nineteen ate my legs and left me for dead. They were there as I sprinted across the finish line and cried under the comforting shade of a nearby banyan tree.

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Hang loose shoes!

They were there when I ran my very first trail race last June and placed third.

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Irish Tom and non-Irish me

My shoes have been left at Sunshine Coast cabins and they have stunk up gym lockers. They have run in Halifax’s Point Pleasant Park and along the Toronto waterfront. They’ve bounded up steep forested trails and pounded long stretches of unforgiving pavement.

They have dried out over heating grates and in the searing sunshine. They have ground up Grouse Mountain and adventured all around Brooklyn.

This year they ran with me almost every day from January to May, as I trained for what would come to be the hardest thing I have ever done. They carried me 42.2 kilometers in 3:35: from Queen Elizabeth Park, to UBC, to Stanley Park, to downtown Vancouver. They watched as I flew, and as I broke, and as I broke through.

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My mum and I, post-BMO

I really did think that I would throw out my shoes after the marathon.

My friend John urged me to get rid of them. A committed distance athlete himself, he was flabbergasted to know that I was refusing to part with them.

I calculated the rough number of kilometers I had completed with my shoes strapped to my feet.

Probably around 4,000 I wrote.

Get new shoes, was his reply.

But I didn’t. I kept running and training and pretending I couldn’t smell them on days when it rained.

Only this weekend, I finally acquiesced.

I ran a fifteen kilometer trail race in an absolute torrential downpour. My shoes, already hanging on by a thread, weren’t coming back from that morning’s trifecta of water, dirt, and no discernible and immediate drying method.

As a last gift to me, my shoes helped me place third in the race. Perhaps cognizant of their imminent demise, they gave me all that they had, one last time.

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And I’d like to thank them for this. Thank them for all that they have given me over their almost two-year tenure in my life. For all of the love, grit, determination, happiness, incredulity, strength, and awe.

My next pair have a lot to live up to.

So they better use those 4,000 kilometers wisely.

Who’s the boss?

Picture the summer of 2005.

Where were you? What were you doing? What were your passions? Your obsessions?

Who did you love?

Who did you love?

I was twenty years old, fresh out of my second year of university, and living in Halifax.

Marc and I had been dating (and living together) for just under two years. Knowing that I would be spending the next four months across the country away from the small little home we were building together had left me heartbroken. Although looking back, I am confident that on some subconscious level we both knew that it was these long stretches of time apart that was keeping our young love alive.

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Having just applied to (and been accepted by) the Creative Writing program at UBC, I felt like my whole life was falling into place.

I was reading everything I could get my hands on, exercising too much, and working two fantastic jobs.

The first was at a fair-trade coffee shop where I made adequate espressos and sold delicious pakoras. The second was at a local bar where I worked the door Wednesday through Saturday nights. Basically my job was to flirt or strike up conversations with individuals as they entered the establishment, in the hopes of convincing them that they really did want to pay the cover charge, when really they probably just wanted a drink or dinner. My take-home was determined by how many people I got through the door.

And I was really, really good at this job.

Can you imagine? I was getting paid to talk to people and listen to great music. It was my dream job, incarnate.

I witnessed a lot of really weird things during those four months. There was the man who unscrewed the light bulb from the fixture over his table, placed the bulb in his briefcase, and then lit up the giant candle he had brought from home.

A man once tried to pay me to steal one of the bar’s paintings for him, and even left a twenty dollar “deposit” wrapped around the stem of the white wine glass he had ordered for me on his way out the door.

A young man once careened in the bar and breathlessly asked if he could hide out in our restrooms. After about half an hour he emerged, only to tell me that he had been evading two bike cops who had caught him and his friends drinking up at the Citadel.

Gordie Sampson hit on my underage sister, and I learned that Gordie Sampson is a tool.

I also saw some of the most incredible live performances from some of the East Coast’s most wonderful performers.

Ron Hynes played a beautiful, intimate set, and everyone in the bar sang along to Sonny’s Dream. When he died last year I cried remembering the magic of that evening.

Jeff Goodspeed was always a treat and the week that we played home to the Halifax Jazz Festival’s “late-night venue”, the proverbial roof was blown away each and every night.

But my most favourite part of working this job was Wednesday nights.

Because Wednesday nights meant Matt Andersen.

And Matt Andersen always meant a huge crowd of people who really, really wanted to pay the five-dollar cover.

But even better than that, Matt Andersen meant the most beautiful blues.

I would have worked at that bar for free as long as it meant that I was allowed to sit there for three hours and listen to him play.

Every night, during his cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’, I would walk over to the end of the bar and lean against one of the pillars that framed the entrance to the dining room. Just closing my eyes now, I can remember so clearly how the music would wash over me.

Run through me.

How the hairs on my arms would stand on end, and my eyes would tear up, and how part of me wanted that moment to last forever but how the other feared that if it did my little heart might crack in two.

Matt was also a gentle giant, who would pick me up and drive me to the bar if he’d see me walking on my way downtown. He would ask me about the books that I was reading and the subjects that I was studying in school.

It never occurred to me to stop and think how that summer was real life (and not the undergraduate make-believe in which I was firmly ensconced). Now I wish I had the foresight to tell Matt how much I loved his music and made the effort to stay in touch.

Tonight my parents-in-law are at Matt’s concert at the Vogue downtown. Marc and I bought them tickets for Christmas and I am so incredibly excited for them to experience his music for the first time. I can only imagine what an amazing show it will be.

For me – I am wrapped in warm blankets and sipping tea, listening to Youtube compilations remembering those make-believe days and warm summer nights.

And I hope I can introduce you to Matt.

And that you will love him. Wednesday nights, and every night.