Sunday, 6 July 2014

Full Circle




It's started to get sunny in Vancouver and it feels like I am living in a different city: sunrise through leaves, sunset over the second beach pool, growing shadows on the way home. I wake up many mornings, these days, before my alarm clock - excited to get onto the seawall, onto the grouse grind, to yoga class. I am sweaty and not-very-fast and still finding my trail legs. I also feel like I am coming back home into my body. I feel like I am coming back home into myself.

It's hard to write about the last year. I feel, sometimes, like I was a hurricane in my own life. A high-school teacher once told my mom: "She's going to learn everything, but she's going to learn it the hard way." And I learned. I learned about loss: the weight on my chest, the way my world seemed to shrink, that blank emptiness ahead. And I learned, too, about movement: about breath, about going forwards no matter how hard, about making space. And the more I learned, I realized that life can be about finding movement within loss, the ability to find the strength to go forward, the hope that each step will be that much easier.

Training can be about building momentum: 10 minute runs become one hour runs, thirty kilometer weeks become one hundred kilometer weeks, five minutes of stretching becomes a session of hot yoga.

Loss also has its own momentum.

I starting losing, small things at first. Then the losses became bigger. The more I tried to fight them, the faster they came: I lost some friends, my writing, my marriage. My world was small, whittled down to dark December mornings, grey snow, and the fight to get out of bed.

And within that space, I started to move.

Every morning I was able to get out of bed because I knew I would be meeting my very amazing friends for a run. We ran in the dark, in the rain, through fresh snow. That early morning movement made the rest of the day easier - as every runner knows, once you get going all you have to do is keep going.

Hours turned into days turned into weeks. Mornings were better, the momentum a bit easier to obtain. I lost the life I had in a beautiful apartment right on the water. I moved in first with my brother and his girlfriend, sleeping on a blow-up mattress in their spare bedroom and bonding with their two dogs. I then moved in with Lucy, sharing the basement and a small bathroom with her very understanding stepdaughter. I lost my wardrobe and lived out of suitcases for two months.

Starting in mid-December, I knew something wasn't quite right with my ankle. By mid-January, I stopped running. I lost three months in a boot and with rehab, lost race entry after race entry, lost a big part of my connection to the community I loved.

By then I had gotten so very good at losing. Here's the thing about hurricanes: after the shock and the sadness and grieving, there is either emptiness or space. It's time to look around - to survey the loss, and to see what remains, and start to rebuild.

It started so, so small. Five minutes of meditation. Forty-five minutes on an exercise bike. 2000m in the pool. Cooking dinner. A new client at work. Dancing around in Lucy's living room to Fitz and the Tantrums.

I went to see Ramsey, went to see doctors. I got an X-Ray, then a bone scan, and a boot. I lost the ability to wear normal shoes for a month, lost the activities that seemed familiar. I kept moving, some days easy, some days hard, into this new space.

The more I kept going, the farther away I went from what my life used to look like. And I learned - the farther I went, the more I seemed to circle back. I reconnected with old, close friends. I found my writing again, my love of music. I moved into an old apartment, and slowly put piles and piles of books onto a bookshelf. I watched the tree outside my window get covered with snow, streaked with rain, watched the first reluctant buds, and now the glow of sunset behind the thick leaves.

I lost, and I kept losing - the doubt, the anger, the disappointment. I never quite knew where I was going, but I started showing up in places that were strange and occasionally very lovely. Some days found me listening to the first strains of Bastille at a sold out concert, others had me reluctantly sweating on a spin bike, and there were still times where I was curled up in bed, crying so hard I thought my neighbours would surely hear. Loss, I told myself, makes space.




I found myself away from week-in, week-out of hard training, and in a softer world. I started to fill the space. Hard Tuesday tempos gave way to evenings rock climbing. Weekends away to run trails became hour after hour of playing cards in the warm afternoon sunlight. The feelings of missing out, of never quite being fast enough or training hard enough were replaced by a sheer dizzy fangirl gratitude of getting out somewhere beautiful and sweating. Whatever I could do that day - 5k, 10k, 30k - was enough, more than enough.

As I kept going, I went to places that were both strange and familiar. I walked to empty beaches, through a dry rainforest filled with crabs. I counting lengths at second beach pool to a background of ocean and evergreens. I waded into a hard grey Pacific in Del Mar, after pacing Barry for his 100-mile run. A month later, I went into a wilder Pacific in Tofino, after my first 30km run, slipping on seaweed and screaming with each cold wave.





It's weird for me to say I'm coming back. I don't know if there is any back to go to. There are places and people in my life that have been there for the long eight years I've been in Vancouver, that feel like home: running and catching up on life with Lucy, arguing about bikes and leg-shaving etiquette with Craig, dreamy evenings at second beach pool, swatting away mosquitos while waiting for the Thursday night VFAC workout to start in the Stanley park trails, and, of course, every step along the seawall. I've returned to these places, seen these people, so many times.

I'm not the same 21 year old who moved to Vancouver and knew barely anyone, and ran the seawall in the heat of a summer eight years ago - but I still carry around the memory of loneliness in a new city, and the gratitude for the amazing running community I am a part of. I'm not the same person who ran a 1:24 half marathon on tired legs a year ago - but I still remember the feeling of strength, the ability to trust in my body and feel speed in my bones. I'm not the same sad person that I was six months ago - but I still have the memory of the weight of loss, right on my chest, and it reminds me to be gentle with myself and others. And I'm not the person who ran for hours and hours in the mountains every weekend - but I remember how it feels to look onto glaciers, to see the edge of the sun through the final treeline, to sing on the downhills with friends, and to run with joy.

And in some way, each and every run is a form of coming home - the sweat, the rhythm, the rain or sunrise or sunset. And it's so easy to come back to the breath, always the breath, to centre, to tell myself to breathe, breathe again, trust my body, and keep going.