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.

They come in threes

Chapter 1

So remember last weekend, when I wrote about running in Lynn Park and how I almost destroyed myself over the course of my route?

Well, today it actually happened. I absolutely rocked myself about seven kilometers into a twelve kilometer run.

I was careening along a long, gravel straightaway and stubbed my right foot on the tip of an unseen rock. From this point, I launched myself right into a baseball slide (arms first), straight across the pathway.

Exhibit A:

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Exhibit B:

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I hate falling.

For all of the usual reason, yes: it hurts, it’s embarrassing, it totally messes up your plans, and it makes bathing and clothing yourself equal parts excruciating and ridiculous for days on end.

But what I hate the most about falling is that strange nebulous time frame between the actual trip, and the moment you make contact with the ground. Your conscious, rational self knows that a connection with the earth is imminent, and yet, you still try to think of all of the ways you could stop it from happening. And then, right before impact, you resign yourself to your fate, and brace for the carnage.

After coming to a complete rest, I always try give myself a moment to take stock and check for bad cuts and injuries before getting to my feet, because I always just want to keep running and get away from the crash site as quickly as possible. Today, my adrenaline was going like crazy, and it’s at times like this that I have to be particularly careful not to start again too quickly.

I was also pretty angry with myself for making such a simple mistake, and my gut reaction was to beat it out of there and just get on with completing my run. But noticing a large stream of blood pooling in the palm of my left hand, I thought it better to be safe than sorry, so I ran back to the park’s entrance and washed my wounds at one of the water stations.

A small part of me contemplated just running back to my car and heading home, but most of me couldn’t fathom not finishing what I had set out to accomplish. So, with my cuts stinging like crazy from the antiseptic handfoam I got from the closest outhouse, I ran back to the route and finished.

It wasn’t until I was actually driving home that the extent of my cuts and scrapes really came to the fore. They stung. Stung like mad.

I made a quick pit stop at London Drugs to stock up on Epsom salts and Haribo, and upon my arrival at home, booked it straight into the bathtub.

For the next hour I sat, soaking my wounds, eating candy and listening to Hari Kondabolu stand-up shows.

Not the worst way to spend a Sunday morning, but good grief, next time I’ll elect to do it without having to gently scrape the dirt from my bleeding elbows.

(That’s more of a Tuesday morning chore.)

Chapter 2

Everyone has silly little things that made them smile. For instance, I love recognizing Vancouver in movies and television shows. I always get butterflies when people address me by name in conversation – whether face to face, over the telephone, or via text. And I will always, always love a song that has some kind of hand-clap section or chorus.

It’s an inevitable truth of life, and there is nothing to be done. I have resigned myself to this fate.

So you can of course understand why I currently have this song on constant repeat, much to the chagrin of every human within earshot of my musical devices.

I just cannot help it. It’s so darn catchy and it just makes me want to dance about the world, nonstop forever.

(My cat, unfortunately, was very unimpressed by this yesterday, and staunchly refused to join in.)

Some others that I enjoy:

Where It’s At (Beck)

Beck was one of my very first music loves. I asked for, and received Mellow Gold for my 11th birthday but I loved Odelay even more, because of this song.

Cecelia (Simon and Garfunkel)

It is always, always summer whenever I hear this opening refrain.

Women’s Realm (Belle and Sebastian)

This band. Goodness, this band.

Chapter 3

I have a recurring dream – or nightmare, I suppose – where I am caught outside wearing nothing but a t-shirt.

No underwear. No shoes. Nothing.

It’s just me, my t-shirt, and the elements. I find myself rooted to the ground in a busy town square or being jostled about by the teeming crowd of an emptying lecture hall. It’s the weirdest experience, trying desperately to both cover myself and creep away without anyone noticing.

What’s even weirder is that it’s exactly the same – the panic, the fear, the discomfort – every time.

I don’t dream this dream as often as the one where all of my teeth are falling out, nor do I find it as terrifying as the one where I am two seconds away from falling off of the chair lift, but nevertheless, it has firmly ensconced itself into my personal narrative and never fails to leave me shaken up.

Because, let’s face it. Nudity is a pretty weird thing.

But the fact that we clothe ourselves all of the time, even when we are alone, can seem equally as weird. Knowing that we are all just a bunch of penises and vaginas, cleverly hidden away, traipsing about the planet is an idea I rarely give time to, but find utterly bizarre when I do.

Sometimes when I was a pre-teen, I would take moments and try to visualize all of the adults, outside of my family, naked. I would try to imagine them having sex, or being “sexy”.

It was both strange and hard, and the moment was always fleeting. (Insert joke here about the parallels between this exercise and the first time I found myself naked with a boy.)

I am not exactly sure that the answer is, nor what exactly it is that I am looking in terms of this dream, or my ideas on nakedness and nudity. I think, for me, the most important thing is identifying my hang-ups – hang-ups I am sure shared by many – around being nude, about being naked (literally and metaphorically), and the overall social expectations and politicization of what it means to be naked (also literally and metaphorically).

My friend Emma Cooper, who is a local comedian and artist has said that when comes to nudity, “Men are not allowed to be vulnerable, and women are not allowed to be sexual.”

Whenever I think about this statement it hits me like a sack of bricks, and is an idea that I remain sensitive to, and cognizant of whenever it is that I find myself thinking about these things.

Now if only I had something to help me, during those moments of peak vulnerability, when I’m standing in that town square.

Epilogue

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Happy Sunday my little loves.

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: We’re off to the (trail) races!

While lately I haven’t had much time to sit down and write about my life here at Rant and Roll, I have been enjoying blogging at Live Out There. There, I about my life as an outdoorswoman and all of the ways I like to move my body in the wide world yonder.

What with my first trail race of the season coming up, I thought it fun to write about all of the reasons that I love running in the forest – and why you too should hit the trails! I’ve also included points on what to expect and how to prepare:

Last spring, after years of running on pavement, sidewalks, and urban parks, I tied up my laces, drove over to North Vancouver, and for the first time, ran Lynn Canyon. I had been to the park many, many times before, but only ever to hike Lynn Peak and its surrounding trails.

The impetus for this change? I had finally gotten Instagram (completely late to the party, yes) and the majority of the people I began following were trail runners (and very weirdly, stills from the show, Frasier.) Their beautiful captures (the runners, not Frasier) reminded me that we human beings should be running in the wilderness every chance that we can get.

Sure, there are many great reasons to race about our cities, but the unfettered beauty, quiet and calm afforded to us in the great outdoors – well, you really can’t do any better than that.

My first run was transformative. As I galloped up root-spackled switchbacks and bombed down steep wooden stairs I remember thinking, “I WANT TO DO THIS FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!”

Read on 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.