For as long as I can remember I have had dreams of running. Not just out for a jog in my slumber. No, this is swift, sure-footed sprinting, my bare feet barely touching the forest floor as I leap over logs and boulders. This is not-being-winded, almost-flying running. And in my dreams, I am grinning from ear to ear, in awe of my own strength and agility.
In real life, my sister was the runner. A cross-country champion with trophies and medals to prove it. She was like a gazelle. We ran together as children, in that way that children do, because it’s faster to get where you want to go if you run. But when adolescence hit, I stopped. She didn’t. She kept right on going and has run on the beaches of Australia, down the dusty roads of Cambodia and Thailand, on the mountain paths of Nepal, and now in the old-growth forests on Cortes Island, BC. (My sister is the shiniest of stars—you should meet her.)
In my young adulthood, when I wasn’t doing anything much to move my body, a girlfriend once convinced me to go for a run with her. In comparison to her ease, I was terribly winded and out of shape, which made me feel embarrassed and inadequate so I quit.
I remember saying things like: “I am so not a runner,” or “Running just isn’t my thing.” So, it was a big surprise when I suddenly became one. I use that phrasing on purpose. I became a runner quite by accident.
Five years ago this spring, I was recently separated and had taken to walking long distances to “help my head.” If you’ve ever found the calm on the other side of your mind’s storm through a long walk, you know what I mean. When I met the Governor General’s Award-winning playwright Catherine Banks, she taught me the phrase I have used ever since. “It is solved by walking.” (Originally a quote from St. Augustine, it is also the title of one of Catherine’s plays.)
My daily walk was about five kilometres. As spring came on that year and my energy began to return post-breakup, one day I surprised myself by picking up the pace into a run. And I literally haven’t stopped since. (Except for this winter when eight inches of ice coated our sidewalks!)
For me, running has been a return to who I know I am. Someone fit and active; someone who learned early on in life that my energy is at its highest and my mind is at its clearest when I move my body. Like so many things in the past few years, this has felt like a revelation. A reawakening.
For a long time after I gave birth to myself as a runner, I ran every day. Then I started doing races, beginning with a few 5Ks and working my way up to the 10 and last year, the half marathon. I remember talking to my parents who said: “You’re going to run how far?” Halfway through last year’s training, I too wondered if it might be a crazy goal.
But I did it. And I’ll tell you, it was a very proud moment when I crossed that finish line.
So, this weekend, when I was running the Blue Nose Marathon 10K race, I was remembering the year I stood on the sidelines watching a friend run the full marathon. This was before I started running. There was a feeling that filled me. A mix of awe and inspiration that walloped me and sent the tears tumbling down my face. I could see the strength and the courage on the faces of the runners streaming past me. And I wanted it.
I saw it again on Sunday. And I felt it all around me. On so many faces, in so many voices. As our feet hit the pavement and the sounds of our breath filled the air. I felt it when I saw the people in wheelchairs and with walkers, the very young, the very old, the very sick. So many acts of bravery, so much courage, and everyone with a different story, all along that route.
I feel so grateful for all the inspiration that came not just from the thousands of people on the streets who set a goal and were achieving it. I am also so appreciative of the cheering people on the sidelines. The ones with their hand-written signs and their noisemakers, the parents who brought their children, the woman giving out tissue, and the little girl with her eighties boom box and her shy smile.
Because I was there once, I especially noticed the woman who looked like I did all those years ago, with tears in her eyes as she watched me pass by, steadfastly clapping.
It was for her, and for me, on a particularly sweet downhill, that I put my arms out to the side like wings. As my legs pumped just a little faster, and the wind almost seemed to lift me, I felt like I was back in my favourite dream. The one where I am running so fast it’s like I’m flying.