Labour Day run at Burnaby Lake
Summer is the season I love the most, the time I thrive like the roses that are my favourite flowers.
In Vancouver the season has changed, and our summer of unprecedented heat and smoke is over. I welcome the change, yet I’m compelled to try and capture the quintessential moments of my summer of 2018.
Fittingly, one of those quintessential experiences happened on Labour Day, which is surely, psychologically, the final day of summer. I woke up early that day, savouring the special quietness that only comes on a Sunday or a holiday. I’m quite spontaneous about my training now and I hadn’t made any plans.
Cycling early on holidays is ideal, because there are hardly any cars on the roads. But though I enjoy cycling, I will always love running more.
I don’t know how the idea popped into my head, but I suddenly thought of going to Burnaby Lake and running the loop around the lake. The furthest I allow myself to run now, with my arthritic knee, is 8K. The Burnaby Lake loop is 10K —in other words, forbidden territory. That was why I hadn’t run that loop since I tore my ACL in 2009. Well, maybe I could go there and do a shorter out-and-back. It would be fun to run somewhere other than Mundy Park for a change. Or—I could ride my bike there instead, and set myself the challenge of climbing up the mountain to my old neighbourhood near Mundy Park, down to the Burnaby Lake rowing pavilion, and back up the mountain again on the way home.
It was no big surprise that I couldn’t resist going to Burnaby Lake to run. I got there about 7:30. It was a perfect day, sunny but still quite cool. I parked at the place Paul and I always went when we did our Sunday runs there—by the Nature House and Piper Spit.
My goal was to run cautiously and complete the whole loop. I started very easy and never felt like I was pushing hard. In fact, I was surprised that I felt good and relaxed throughout, only tiring a little in the last 2K. My knee gave me some strange little jabs of pain a couple of times on bridge stairs, but other than that it was fine.
Paul and I often used to do Sunday runs at Burnaby Lake; we usually ran two loops at close to an all-out pace; sometimes if Paul was training for a marathon he ran three or four loops. I enjoyed seeing all the familiar spots on the route that I hadn’t seen for so long. As I ran past the soccer fields I remembered that for many years there was a masters team race that started and finished there. We always had good Phoenix teams.
I could remember the splits I had been striving for when Paul and I tried to break 40:00 on each loop, and how exhausted I usually was on the second loop! Now I was slower—but enjoying my one loop so much!—it was a cakewalk.
I remembered what a relief it was to finish the second loop—to be able to stop, relax, and walk down to the end of the spit, looking at the ducks and the marshy lake. Now merely finishing one loop was a special event for me, but it ended the same way as my old runs—with a walk down to the end of the spit.
My Labour Day run at Burnaby Lake did more than make me feel good physically. It connected me to my former running self, bringing back many memories of running with Paul and my Phoenix comrades. Although I run more slowly now, I was deeply satisfied with a sense of being unchanged: my Runner Being is an essential part of my spirit.
Swimming at Sasamat Lake
Two days after my Burnaby Lake run I did what was probably my last swim of the year at Sasamat Lake.
I’m not a good swimmer, but it doesn’t matter. Swimming in “my” lake is one of my most cherished summer rituals. This summer, during those weeks of unremitting heat and smoky skies, I swam at the lake almost every day, usually in the late afternoon or evening, when the heat in my apartment became unbearable.
This year the water was so warm that there was no suffering, no shock entering the water—only relief. I had the freedom to stay in as long as I wanted instead of getting chilled after a few minutes. Most days I chose a shady spot on the beach because the sun’s heat, even at 7 p.m., was unwelcome.
In the water, in the absence of gravity, I escape fully from my damaged knee. In swimming, unlike running, I can still achieve perfect gracefulness, maybe not to observers, but to my own awareness of my body. Swimming at the lake, for me, is not a workout but is purely for enjoyment—an escape from the dullness and sleepiness of hot summer afternoons.
I alternate between quick bursts of front crawl and easy breaststroke when I can look around at the perfect bowl of the lake with its surrounding trees, mountains, and lovely sky above. At twilight I swim along the golden-orange path the setting sun makes on the water. I lie on my back and kick quickly, a massage of water on tired leg muscles. I take a deep breath and hang in the water, relaxing my body entirely except for the tension of holding my breath.
When I’ve decided I’ve had enough, I do a quick sprint back to the beach, relishing the power in my shoulders, exuberant!
At the end of those hot days, after sunset, I sat out on my balcony, writing and reflecting.
Summer days . . . those extremes of heat, lust, the fantastic relief and beauty of the cool lake, the gorgeous sunset—all too much, all makes me happy and sad at the same time because I can hardly bear it and also I can’t hold onto it. . . . Everything is amplified, everything is romantic, everything seems filled with nostalgia.
Summer is all those moments of sensory abundance; the running, the swimming, the sweat, the sun’s heat and dazzle, the caressing coolness of the nights. Summer is timeless because my memories of summer take me back to childhood, to adolescence, to all the decades that have piled up somehow. All the memories and the moments are linked.
My Burnaby Lake run and my summer swims are an affirmation of my essential, unchanging self. A self that continues to feel joy in movement. At the same time, I must recognize that age brings differences, especially physical ones. But age also brings the ability to accept. As far as running goes, I see that as I get older, I am content with less—in the sense of performance, as well as amount. There is a kind of quality that isn’t diminished, but rather enhanced by the rarity of these experiences.
When I first tore my ACL, and subsequently had two knee surgeries, my very identity was damaged. I couldn’t bear the thought of not being able to run. Even when I discovered I could still run a little, by paying attention to my body and using great self-discipline, I still felt damaged. My knee was an “Alien,” (see my blog post here) and I couldn’t feel the perfect integrity of my physical self any longer.
But over the past few years acceptance has gradually come and I feel whole again. I have fully incorporated my arthritic knee into my physical and psychological being.
Somehow I will retain my essential self even when I can no longer run, or swim, or ride a bike. Maybe I can believe in an eternity where expressing my body in movement always exists, maybe I can believe those moments will always be a part of me.
Luckily change usually happens gradually. It’s painful to imagine the distant future. But if I dare—if I want to have a distant future—this is what I see . . . An old lady with a walker, going outside every day and walking as far as she can. She feels the sun on her back, a fresh breeze on her face. She is still happy to be alive and she doesn’t care that she now covers a mile in thirty minutes instead of five.