The feeling that you give me, wanna give it right back

Today I ran. I ran in the woods, far and deep, fast and free.

There is something so innately magical about running outside of the city. I always forget what a difference a forest canopy can make – to not only the strength of your strides, but the steadiness of your breath, the limberness of your limbs, and the sureness of your step. I don’t know how it happens, but I am always ten times the runner, the moment I step foot onto that trail.

Today I ran. Today I ran in Lynn Canyon, a beautiful park on Vancouver’s North Shore, a short eighteen-minute drive from my house on an early, sunny Sunday.

I woke to Nymeria, chittering away at a pair of crows who were loitering on a telephone wire, just outside of the sunroom window. Stealing out from under the covers, I made a break for the kitchen, leaving my better half snoozing away, ensconced in a dreamworld of his own. Once safely away from our sacred space of rest (I have been chastised many times for being too rowdy in the darkened morning hours), I made myself a cup of milky-sweet coffee and sat down to plan my route.

Lynn Park is such a perfect place for an outdoor adventure, because no matter what your skill level or desired workout, there is always a path for you.

When hiking I choose Lynn Peak, and when running I will complete 2 or 3 loops of Lynn Loop, alternating between clockwise and counter, each and every time.

In just two short weeks I am running a 15 kilometer trail race, but have only run one other trail this year. As such, I thought it best to keep today to two loops (11 kilometers total, beginning and ending at my parking spot).

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At the end of today’s stairmaster.

I have been running steadily since completing the BMO Marathon on May 1, but I’ve been keeping the distances relatively short and haven’t run farther than 17 kilometers – and all on road.

Trail running is such a different beast from its concrete-driven alternative. The immediate elevation gains and losses; wet roots that cut up your path; loose rock and rogue ruts; slick stairs and deeper-than-they-look puddles – it’s a veritable minefield out there and one can never underestimate the importance of remaining mentally sharp.

Case in point: I nearly blew out my right ankle at both the very start of my run today, and the very end. The first incident occurred when I came careening around the corner at the start of the loop and jumped out of the way to avoid stampeding an older walker and her dog. I landed on a large, loose rock, and my foot immediately gave way to the right. Luckily I have some strong and dexterous ankles, and I continued up the trail uninjured (although extra-vigilant for the next bit of the run.)

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Fog and sun, today.

The second incident happened right at the end of the second loop. I was absolutely bombing down the trail and encountered a family full to the hilt with children and various child-related detritus. In my bid to get out of their way, I slid, again, onto my right ankle, but my momentum carried me through and I escaped unscathed.

I really like these moments. They get my heart pumping and really force me to take stock of what it is I am doing, and what I need to focus on to both keep up my speed and stave off my complete destruction.

But what I think what I love the most about trail running is how unencumbered I am.

How I feel like I could keep moving up and on, forever.

Today I thought a lot about music – about (hopefully) seeing the Tragically Hip in July, and about the magic that was Future Islands and Spoon exactly one year ago today. I thought about how much of Tegan and Sarah’s new music makes me feel like a heartsick fifteen-year-old, and how nostalgia wrecks havoc on us all, no matter what our age. I also debated back and forth on whether or not when I write it’s the music that influences my words, or if the act of articulating thoughts somehow infuses the music with deeper meaning.

(My conclusions were inconclusive.)

I thought about my beautiful sisters who live so far away. About my mum, and how in less than one month we will be adventuring around the North of Europe, leaving our distinct brand of Canadian wit, charm, and madness on the cities we will visit.

I thought about the Olympics, and municipal politics, and Brexit, and how I was going to weed my garden when I got home.

I also cried, but not because I was sad, or happy, or even because I was actually crying. My tears streamed unselfconsciously, quietly, and unannounced. They were born from the beauty and quiet of these moments.

Running is sublime because of both its simplicity and perfection. Sometimes, the warmth of the knowledge that everything in my body and soul was made to do this, and only this, is almost too exquisite to bear.

People think that distance athletes are weird, or narcissistic, or masochistic (or maybe they think we are a combination of all three, and hey, maybe we are) but I wish that everyone could know this splendour. I wish everyone could know the richness of this moment.

Of knowing that you can fly.

Live Out There Exclusive: “How to hit the gym before work”

Any veteran reader of Rant and Roll will know that I have a storied history with the gym. In fact, the first time I was freshly pressed (way, way back in 2012!) it was because of a post about how I both loved and loathed my (then) gym.

However, when I suffered a small tear in my right calf muscle last fall, and rejoined the land of the gym dwellers, I had no idea how much I would love incorporating the gym into my early mornings! This month on Live Out There, I wrote about how you too can learn to love hitting the gym before the sun rises, and how to get the most out of your workout.

I used to balk at the idea of getting up and exercising before work. My line of reasoning? I had to wake up early enough, so why the heck would I ever choose to rise before necessity strictly demanded it of me? Sleep, after all, is a hugely valuable commodity and I was fiercely proud of my ability to distill my morning routine down to the bare minimum. At my best I could get my (very presentable) self out of the door in twenty minutes or less.

But then I moved to the lovely little Hamlet known as New Westminster and began taking the skytrain into my job every day. At the station closest to my house there is Dynamic Fitness, a lovely, evenly priced gym, and last autumn, as I nursed a torn calf muscle, I took out a membership. I thought I would give a pre-work workout a try, just to see if I could hack an early morning sweat. I could use the gym’s showers and leave my stuff in a locker during the day. What did I have to lose?

Continue reading my top tips for transitioning to early morning workouts here.

The fear of LWF (living while female)

I’ve been thinking about writing the following piece for a while, but my strict regime of running every day and near nightly commitments have been eating up a lot of my time.

Simply put, I am knackered.

But it’s not just my schedule that’s run me off of my feet.

It’s the absolute and all-exhausting condition of LWF – Living While Female – that has got me tired too.

Three weeks ago I was two-thirds of the way through a thirty kilometer run when I stopped to use the bathroom at the park at 29th Avenue Station.

In doing so, I literally walked right into a man who had been hiding behind the door.

My fear and surprise were weirdly trumped by my desperate need to use the facilities, and without even stopping to analyze the situation, I emphatically ordered him to, “GET OUT OF HERE.”

He mumbled an apology and something about the men’s washroom being disgusting, and clutching his backpack, he slowly slunk outside.

Once he was gone, I closed the door and right away checked to see if I could lock it from the inside. Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option, and I realized what a vulnerable position I was in, without the safety of a deadlock.

Looking around I could see that he has properly trashed the space, and I tiptoed my way into the first stall, being sure to lock it right away.

It was then that I could see that the man had not left the premises, and that he was standing right outside of the building.

As I squatted over the toilet, I watched between the slit of the stall door as he slowly began to open the door, just an inch or two.

Immediately I felt like I was going to throw up. I didn’t know if I should yell at him, or try to reason with him, or just phone the police.

“Sir. You have to close the door,” I told him, trying to keep my voice level, but firm.

And he closed the door.

But only for a second.

Right away, he opened it again, only this time a little wider, and a little quicker.

“SIR. PLEASE CLOSE THE DOOR.”

It was impossible this time to keep my voice level. I could feel my heart punching hard, straight through my chest and my head, fuzzy and hot. Tears began streaming down my cheeks.

“I AM GOING TO PHONE THE POLICE I AM PHONING THE POLICE,” I stammered.

By now he was already back inside of the bathroom and I could see that he too was panicky.

“No! Miss! Your problem is not with me. I promise! I am not here to hurt you,” he replied.

Standing, crying in the stall, I asked him, “Will you let me leave this bathroom?”

“Yes,” he said. “Of course. I need to hide in here. From the man in the park with the gun.”

“I need you to back away from the door, please. Go to the wall.”

And he did. But as he walked to the wall, I noticed that he was holding a pen in his hand.

“You have to drop the pen sir.”

At this ask, he got very jumpy and apologetic, and immediately dropped the pen and apologized.

“I am sorry miss. I am not a problem. There is a man. You should phone the police, but tell him about that man.”

At this point, I opened the stall and ran out of the bathroom, calling 911 as soon as I got far enough away from the building.

Just as the operator picked up, I noticed that there was a cop monitoring a speed trap down the block, so I apologized into the phone and instead approached the officer.

“There is a man in the woman’s washroom who has absolutely trashed the place and who just scared the hell out of me who is saying that there is a man with a gun in the park and I think he is paranoid and high and came in there when I asked him not to.” I didn’t even stop for breath as the words plummeted out of me.

“Oh. Yeah. Well, these kinds of places are never that clean to begin with…” is how he responded to my panic.

“Ummm, what?” was my incredulous reaction (only inside of my head).

Outside of my head, I said, “Well, I’ve used that space quite a bit over the last few months and it’s never looked like that. Plus, it’s a man in the WOMANS washroom,” I emphasized and reiterated.

“I grew up in this neighbourhood. This kind of thing happens all of the time,” he then told me.

I stood there, staring at this man, this man who will never, ever use a washroom and fear a woman coming in and raping, or beating him at 1pm on a sunny Spring afternoon, and started crying all over again.

“Well, can you please go over there and check it out?”

After inhaling for what seemed like a minute, he started to pack up his radar gear, and eventually rode his motorcycle over to the park.

I didn’t stay to check and see if he actually spoke to that man.

Instead, I tried to start running again, but everything felt leaden. Felt bad.

So I made it to Nanaimo station and skytrained home.

All the way home I fumed. Angry about my run being ruined. Angry about the cop not caring. Angry about that drugged up man who felt like he needed to be in that space. Angry about a society that doesn’t give a shit about substance abuse. Angry at myself for being in that situation.

But mostly angry that I cannot be a 31-year-old woman out running at noon on a Saturday without the fear of walking into a woman’s washroom and being terrorized.

I am just so over it.

I needed to use the bathroom.

And there will definitely be a next time when I will need to use a bathroom.

Only next time, if it comes down to it, I’m just going to shit my pants.

And then I’ll make that cop drive me home.

Because then maybe he’ll care about protecting me.

Live Out There Exclusive: “4 West Coast Winter Essentials to Keep you Active, Warm and Dry”

There are so many things I love about living on the West Coast of Canada. Chiefly among them, the fact that I am able to run outside all winter long! But that doesn’t mean I don’t need good gear. In fact, I am a huge proponent of quality running duds that keep me both warm and dry. For my second post with Live Out There, I highlighted four beautiful pieces any runner would be lucky to have!

4 West Coast Winter Essentials to Keep you Active, Warm and Dry

Here on the West Coast of Canada, it’s not just about staying warm in the winter, it’s also very important to focus on staying dry. Good, water-proof or water-resistance clothing is essential for those long training runs, day-hikes, and bike rides. Plus, when you look amazing in your active-wear, it’s much easier to get out, stay motivated, and feel great doing it.

Continue reading about my 4 must-have pieces here.

Running on empty: eating disorders and women athletes

When I was in high school, I used to eat breakfast and then run up to the woods behind the Chan Centre at UBC. There, at the top of the stairs leading down to Tower Beach, I would force myself to throw up.

When I think back on these mornings, I can vividly remember the taste of half-digested Eggo waffles and the horrible sensation of my fingernails scratching the back of my throat.  I clearly see myself: knees bent, back hunched, my pony tail hanging over my face; I see how sometimes I would spit up into my hair.

I feel my heart racing, a mix of desperation and fear. How my chest would constrict and ache from the exertion of trying to purge what little food I had left in my stomach.

I remember how after I would run home.

In university, this routine changed. Instead of throwing up mid-run, I would binge and purge prior to leaving the house. In the quiet of an empty apartment, I would consume large quantities of ice cream, cereal, cake (if we had any), yogurt, and diet coke. Then, hunched over the toilet, I would puke. And cry.

Cry. And puke.

Then I would wash my face. Blow my nose, dry my tears, and check to see if any blood vessels had broken under my eyes and along the tops of my cheeks.

I would put on make-up before running. Smooth concealer over my skin and try to forget that the last thirty minutes had ever happened.

(Because every time was always The Last Time.)

Running after purging is scary.

Everything in my body would scream out that what I was doing was wrong. My legs were rubber, my head a haze; my digestive tract a battlefield.

The spastic lurch of my heart, as if it might actually punch its way out of my chest; as it might at any moment stop.

Break.

The long hours it would take for it to finally return to a normal, constant beat.

I am sharing all of this today because I am training for a marathon.

I am sharing all of this today because sometimes it is hard not to have an eating disorder.

(These two things are not mutually exclusive.)

Sometimes it is hard to be kind to myself.

Sometimes I run very long distances on little to no food, and then ignore recovery meals.

Sometimes it’s just really hard.

But sometimes it’s not.

And most of the time now when I run long distances, I am fueling my body correctly, and eating and drinking post-run, and also eating proper dinners, and breakfasts and all of these good things.

And while I want to love this, and jump up and down and proudly proclaim “I HAVE DONE IT!” – I can’t.

Because even though I am doing all of these good things, and so much of me is so happy to do all of these good things, there is still a small part of me that is telling me that they are bad, and therefore I am bad for doing them.

We don’t ever talk about athletes and eating disorders.

I think there are many reasons for this, and all of them come down to communication.

The first? We rarely ever talk about women athletes.

Sure, we’ll marvel at Serena’s domination, and yes, there’s always an Olympian du-jour when every two years or so our collective attention is briefly diverted to amateur athletics. But for the most part, our sports discourse is dominated by men. By the Lebrons and the Jeters and the Crosbys – by the men who are the untouchables of their leagues. And honestly, based on how progressive the conversations we have about these sports and their players are (hint: not progressive at all) and how slow their respective professional associations are in responding to the massive ills plaguing their leagues (molasses going uphill on a winter day), I am going to go ahead and assume it will be a cold day in hell when we broach the topic of eating disorders in the NFL.

Second, we rarely talk about eating disorders.

And I mean really talk.

Sure, we wax eloquent all of the time about how SO! MANY! women have problems with their bodies, and about how girls begin starving themselves as young as five. Every spring, a European fashion week will “pass legislation” (what does that even mean?) prohibiting models with BMIs under 18 from walking in their shows.

And of course THE MEDIA. The media, the media, the media.

We talk about the media all of the time: what an evil force it is in our daily lives. How it warps our social consciousness, perverts our expectations and demands the impossible of ourselves, our aesthetics and our desires.

And none of this is wrong.

But what really kills me is that none of these things actually says anything.

None of this really means anything.

It does not even begin to scratch the surface of what it’s like to live with an eating disorder. It does not articulate how devastating it is to be anorexic or bulimic, and it certainly does nothing about finding ways to help.

It pays lip service to a problem, but then just stops.

So that people listening can think, “Oh. That’s so sad.” And then just go on, living their lives.

Every time I hear things like, “In a study of Division 1 NCAA athletes, over one-third of female athletes reported attitudes and symptoms placing them at risk for anorexia nervosa,” or “4% of women will have bulimia in their lifetime,” I just hear facts, unchangeable and constant. It’s like I am almost expecting the reporter to finish off by saying, “and that’s all I have to say about that.”

And if we’ve resigned ourselves to this reality, then what really is the point in talking about the specifics and particulars of the diseases? Why go through all of the trouble of making people uncomfortable?

Unfortunately, the immense shame and stigma shouldered by many individuals who have eating disorders only adds to the silence.

I am only now capable of talking freely about my struggles because I no longer have the energy to hide from them. I also hope that by being transparent about my experience, others too will feel comfortable doing the same. The more we speak honestly and openly, the less the stigma, and the deeper the understanding by the wider populace.

Unfortunately, getting to this place is very hard.

For years I did everything I could to keep my anorexia and bulimia a secret and hide it from friends and family. I know a lot of it had to do with my perfectionism and my anxiety, but my fear was also born out of the fact that I didn’t think anyone would be able to help.

I didn’t think anyone would be able to understand.

And this was not unfounded. Because eating disorders are so misunderstood and so little talked about, you get really enlightened people who immediately dismiss you and your attempts at articulating what it’s like to live with one, who say things like “just eat a sandwich!” or “but you’re skinny already” or “I don’t understand how you can live like that.”

Which, amazingly enough, doesn’t help.

It just makes the whole situation one huge negative feedback loop.

Finally, I think we have such a hard time talking about eating disorders and athletes is because of our weird inability to divorce the idea of exercise from weight loss.

Which really narrows our scope when it comes to how we look and talk about both exercise, and us the people who are doing the exercising.

Because if we’re not lifting weights to get strong, or running to train for a race, what are we doing?

Are we doing something bad?

Probably not.

Society tells us no. Society tells us that the more weight we are losing, the better.

But only if we are exercising? (And eating our Special K?)

For me, I find this way of looking at things to be really detrimental.

Because when we think like this, that exercise = weight loss, we are again dismissing two really important things: one that moving our bodies can be exactly just that. An activity – void of anything and everything else.

And if that is not the case, why are we celebrating, and how are we celebrating, and are we actually judging and why are we judging?

When and how do we decide that exercise for weight-loss is unhealthy vs. otherwise?

And are we so afraid of that otherwise, that we just bury our heads in the sand and find ourselves inadvertently cheering on eating disorders?

(Eating disorders disguised as exercise = weight loss.)

I don’t know.

All I know is that this is complicated stuff.

I that I truly believe that it just comes down to how badly we need better communication around this issue and how we need it fast.

We need real information, and we need real stories.

I would personally love to hear from women athletes, period. But I would also love to hear from ones who have had eating disorders, so that I can hear how they cope when they are training.

I want to know what they do when they find themselves needing to eat more because they are running more, and lifting more, and what they do to be okay with this. I am interested in knowing how they marry social expectations over what they should look like, or their own internal body image struggles, with their desire to dominate.

Their passion to win.

Because going through things alone is really hard.

No one ever talks about it.

So I’m here. Talking.

Because it’s so hard.