March 1, 2014
I wake up just after 5 a.m. My mind is instantly active and I know I might as well get up—there will be no more sleep for me. I need to leave my apartment no later than 8 a.m. to meet Keith near the PNE. We will drive together to Stanley Park, where he will be videotaping the Hot Chocolate Run 5K/10K for TRY Events. I don’t work at the Running Room today, so I’ll be helping him out.
We were worried about the weather. It was supposed to snow overnight, continuing with a mixture of snow and rain today. But a quick look at The Weather Network shows me that it’s still dry.
I quickly put on multiple layers of clothing so I can walk over to Starbucks to jolt my brain into high performance. As soon as I get outside, my spirits start to lift; I’m walking east and can see the sky beginning to lighten—earlier now! The streets are peaceful without their weekday traffic and the birds are already announcing morning.
I suddenly realize that I could squeeze in a bike ride before going to Stanley Park instead of doing a boring workout in my apartment gym. I wasn’t planning this last night, not with heavy snow predicted. But now—why not? I can beat the snow for sure.
It will be my way of celebrating the significance of today’s date. Exactly two years ago I moved to the Klahanie neighbourhood and started my new life.
As soon as it’s light enough, I’m out of the underground parking on my bike, letting my Garmin “find location”. I know I have only forty minutes at most to ride—so I’m going to push it. I love the freedom of the deserted streets. First I speed to Rocky Point Park. I don’t have to worry about pedestrians as I ride out to the end of the pier. Nobody is out yet on this wild day. The wind is cruel on the pier. It’s high tide, and angry-looking waves are crashing over the sidewalk on the beach. I won’t be stopping today to take photos of a mirror-like Burrard Inlet.
I’m not oppressed by the weather—no, I’m exulted to be out in it! I leave the pier and ride as fast as I can along the bike path. Out of the wind, it isn’t as cold. I’m warming up quickly, except for my fingertips. I have to wear thin gloves so I can shift gears constantly as I go up and down the small rises of the bike path to Old Orchard Beach.
I glance frequently through the sparse branches of the still-denuded trees to look at the Inlet. It always looks beautiful to me no matter what the season or the weather. Yes, today it is a stark beauty, but it is enough to pierce me.
At the end of the bike path, I continue riding along Alderside, a small road whose houses have docks right on the Inlet. This wide road gets only residential traffic. There are always more runners and cyclists moving through here than cars.
At the end of Alderside I have to go down to granny gears to make it up the steep little hill to Ioco Road, the major thoroughfare leading to Sasamat Lake, Belcarra, Anmore, and Buntzen Lake. I turn left following my usual route to Sasamat, but I know I won’t have time to make it to the lake. Instead, I complete two hill loops around the old Ioco Townsite.
The first hill is harder than I expected. My legs are already taxed from the demanding pace I’ve kept since the Rocky Point Pier. My left quad is cramping. I had a bypass operation done on my left femoral artery over twenty years ago. I had a complete blockage of that critical artery right at the groin, apparently caused by a congenital condition but probably aggravated by the physical irritation of my leg being pressed against a bicycle seat during countless hours of training. After the bypass surgery my circulation was good enough that I could return to competitive running. But for a couple of years now, the pain I feel in my quad when I cycle hard makes me suspect that the artery is starting to get blocked again.
No matter. I will push as hard as I can. The muscle will recover on the downhills.
I struggle, so slowly it’s pitiful, around the final turn at the top of the hill. Now I get my reward—a magnificent view of Burrard Inlet to the south and a huge hill to fly down. Whoopee!
I’m probably down in fifteen seconds. Then it’s a sharp left turn—damn—I have to use my brakes before heading uphill again.
Why do I feel compelled to push all-out like this? I have no intention of ever racing in cycling. Why haven’t I become a recreational cyclist who can simply enjoy gentle exercise, fresh air, and nice views?
I don’t want to put out my fire.
It must have something to do with all those years when I pushed myself to the absolute limit in running. For most races I gave 100%; a lot of workouts were done at 95–98% effort. Maybe I’m addicted to testing myself that way, to the sensations of a pounding heart, fast breathing, aching muscles. Maybe I’m addicted to the after-effects of that kind of effort, that endorphin release.
I can’t push myself during my infrequent short runs now—my arthritic knee prevents that. Cycling is only my consolation sport, but it has one advantage over running: SPEED on the downhills.
I love the plunge back down to Alderside. I’m barely in control as I bump at high speed over the railway tracks. I try to maintain the momentum as long as I can.
As I’m settling into my steady pace, legs straining now with some lingering pain in my left quad, I see a runner bent over against one of the houses, tying up the shoelace of a bright turquoise shoe. I wonder if it is my ex-husband Paul. He lives in a basement apartment in one of these houses on the water. I don’t recognize the shoes, though.
I tell myself that Paul could easily have gotten new shoes sometime over the past two years; but then the runner straightens up and I see it isn’t Paul.
Yet in those few seconds of riding past that runner, a flood of nostalgic thoughts fills my consciousness. I remember Paul as a young runner, as the tall, lanky 26-year-old I first met in the 1983 Toronto Marathon. In my mind’s eye, he is wearing only 1980s micro-shorts and running shoes. (Paul always sweated heavily and often ran shirtless even during Vancouver winters). He has impossibly long legs: a typical distance runner’s skinny frame with minimal upper body muscles.
Paul was a talented middle-distance runner and 400m hurdler, but he preferred long distance running. It was not his natural forté physically, but it suited him psychologically. He loved his solitary long runs, when he could be adventurous and explore, whether that meant getting to know new cities or going inside his own mind, where creative ideas and projects were always brewing.
Paul dreamed of going to the Olympics, but injuries and other constraints left him with a marathon PB of 2:25, not good enough to make any national team. But he raced in many marathons in Europe and Canada during the 1980s, and got pretty keen about triathlons too until he almost drowned from hypothermia during a frigid North Sea half-Ironman.
Paul…so much unfulfilled potential, not just in running, but in other ways, including our broken marriage…
I snap out of my nostalgic reverie. It’s amazing how many thoughts can fill one’s mind in the space of a minute. I return to concentrating on my pace. Three kilometres to go, and I’m straining to keep my Garmin splits respectable—and to finish under my forty-minute deadline.
I stop my Garmin at the entrance to my building’s underground parking. 38:40!
The sky is brightening. I think the Hot Chocolate runners and Keith are going to be lucky and miss both rain and snow this morning.
Later: At Stanley Park
My bike ride kept me happy for hours. I enjoyed helping out at the race and watching the runners. I felt no bitterness about not taking part as an athlete.
The races (5K and 10.4K) had all the excitement of a big running event: hundreds of brightly-clad runners, a professional announcer, rousing music, and lots of goodies post-race inside the Stanley Park Pavilion, where runners could drink their hot chocolate by a cozy fire.
But my favourite moments of the hours at Stanley Park came after the awards were over and most people had left. While Keith was packing up his camera equipment, I went to the back of the pavilion and took photos of the pussywillows and flowers I found there. It was perfectly quiet.
I often reflect that simple, repeated pleasures give me so much happiness. I’ve lived in my apartment for two years now, but I’m not tired of my bike rides, the views from my windows, and the flowers that change with the seasons.
I know that my contentment is both a blessing and a fault. It’s good that I can appreciate everyday things. But in two years I’ve built no security for my future. Knowing that my knee and my circulation will likely get worse makes me treasure my workouts even more. But how can I focus the energy, the fire that drove me as an athlete? I have to create a greater meaning in my life, and a greater sharing of myself, than merely running fast.