Sunday, 18 January 2015

Living the cliche (and also the dream)

the blow-dryer is not a big hit

There is a saying: "Things persist until you have learned what you need to learn from them."

So, the last three months (and the next couple weeks) - I have learned. I have learned about the quiet joys of West End life. I have learned about community. I have learned patience. I have rediscovered hiking. I have learned about form, and structure, and setting up the bones of the running I want.

Most importantly, I have learned that I needed to get a cat.

Cat origin story
So, one day in December when it never quite seemed to get light, I got an email from Craig. The e-mail had a picture of a cat and "Do you want a cat?". I replied for further clarifcation: "ARE YOU DRUNK?"

Timka (the cat - Craig referred to it by name so I knew he was serious) turned out to be owned by a fiancee of one of Craig's co-workers, and needed a home.

For years and years and years, Craig's main life advice to me was to not get a cat if I ever wanted to date (well, also to "relax", but not getting a cat was pretty much the only advice I actually took). Somehow, after all this time, he had finally decided that it was bigger than him: my 5am wake-ups, piles of books scattered on most free surfaces in my apartment, inability to cook much besides vegan stews, love of hiking in the dark and in rainfall warnings...a cat was just one more thing. (Craig: "You seemed like you were happy and at a good place in your life.")

A sidenote about Craig
Craig is a very competitive triathlete and runner (now married to an even more awesome triathlete and runner) and has been one of my best friends in Vancouver for the past eight years. In that time, we went from studying for our UFE accounting exam together while training for our first 10km race to having him qualify for the ITU Worlds and me doing a 50 mile race. We both went to Queen's, both started our careers at E&Y. We also both like to run, eat nachos with way too much cheese, drink Malbec, and occasionally spend way too much time on However, aside from this, we are very different people.

Sometimes, I like to bug Craig a little. Here's how I do it.
Me: "If you ever have kids, I am making myself the godmother."
Craig: "I don't think that's how it works."
Me: "I worry about your parenting. That you won't expose your child to everything. So I'll be sure to introduce him or her to fantasy novels, and maybe board games like Settlers of Catan."
Craig: "I don't think that's going to happen."
Me: "And when your kid is in school, I'll get him or her to join the drama club. OR YEARBOOK."

About me and cats
My family is a cat family. We have had cats as long as I can remember. My parents currently have designer cats - the kinds that are an actual breed and papers. This is a first for them. It occurred because, after years of semi-rejection by our former rescue cats, my mom wanted a cat that would love her, and was willing to pay for it.

Growing up, I had a cat. Poggi was the result of a teenage pregancy. One of the kittens in the litter didn't get enough oxygen at birth, and the vet said this kitten was likely brain-damaged. Obviously, this was the kitten that 9-year-old Alex picked. Poggi was sweet and affectionate and confused be life: the vacuum cleaner, the mean birds outside, why we didn't want to let him in and out of the house 20-times within an hour (this is not an exaggeration). On the plus side - Poggi was affectionate (due to what might have been short-term memory loss). He would sleep in my bed, right next to me and didn't even stir when I inevtiably ended up rolling over right on top of him in the middle of the night. On the minus side - he was half siamese, which quickly became anytime he either became confused (often) or wanted anything, ever (also often, with the added benefit that he would then forget what it was he originally wanted, and the entire process would repeat). Which basically worked out to constant meowing.

Our family cats always had boundary issues. If the cat was sitting on the couch and one of us wished to move it: "Why are you upsetting the cat?". The cats were also always getting locked in various areas - the cupboards, the pantry, the chicken shed, the greenhouse - that then called for Mom starting a search effort. At breakfast, it was completely acceptable for the cats to jump up on our laps while at the table. The cats gave us presents at Christmas and birthdays. Any phone call with my parents would end up discussing the cats (were they happy? where we they sleeping? had the male one tried to play chicken with cars on the Island's main road again?)

As I grew up and lived on my own, I started to think about this behaviour as pretty silly, a bit over the top. I never owned a cat in one of my old places - they weren't allowed. So when I was looking for apartments in the rain one December ago, and saw my current place - I loved the light through the huge windows, the old wood floor, the leaded glass cabinets. And I saw that one cat was allowed. And I signed that day.

Then, this past spring, I got my first request to cat-sit. And my request, I mean that every time my cat-owning friends planned a trip, I begged to look after their cat. Finally, they caved. Cleo, a lovely full-figured Calico cat, arrived at my apartment the last couple weeks of busy season.

I immediately proved that I was nothing like my parents, and, furthermore, definitely not crazy, by taking about 10 pictures of her a day (all from flattering angles!). I then made the situation even worse by showing these pictures to....well, pretty much everybody.

A side note on my friendship with Anthony
I met Anthony at a VFAC gathering after the Sun Run 10k, where he ended up sitting next to me. After talking to him for about five minutes, I started to show him the cat-sitting pictures I have accumulated on my phone. Every. Single. Damn. Picture. Anthony is from France, so I told him that, yes, this was normal, and all Canadian girls do this. I think he was somewhat sketpical.

Despite this beginning, Anthony and I continued to be friends. When I was recovering from broken foot v 1.0, we started our weekly tradition of doing the Grouse Grind before work. The goal was to break 40minutes that summer. It never happened - the closest I got was 41 minutes in Birkenstocks the day I forgot to change into my trail shoes (and now, every time I pick Anthony up, he discreetly checks my feet to make sure I am wearing something semi-appropriate).

I think that my friendship with Anthony has taught him some valuable cultural lessons, the key of which is that Canadian women are crazy. I'm sure he always thought this, but the first time he actually said it was on my birthday. As my 30th fell on a Wednesday, which was Grouse Grind day, some of my girlfriends decided to join to help celebrate. One of these was Allison, and, coincidentally, it was the due date for her pregnancy that day. Anthony was concerned: did her husband know? Could he not stop her? What was she doing? He did not seem entirely convinced by my answers that this was Allison, and when she decided to do the grind at nine months' pregnant, she would do the damn grind (and in under an hour, too!).

Since then, he has continued to learn the ways of Canadian women:
Me: "Your run out to Manquam lake inspired me, we went to do it last week."
Anthony: "Great!"
Me: "It was really hot going over those volcanic flat, did you get hot too?"
Anthony: "Yes. It was okay." (in French, "it was okay" is code for "it was goddamn awful but I am too polite and stoic to complain.")
Me: "I got really bitchy the last 3km down to the lake. I felt better after we went swimming."
Anthony: "You brought a swimsuit?"
Me: "Not  exactly."
Anthony: "I will never understand Canadians."

 Back to the cat
So, I think cat ownership is going well. The first day was basically me staring at the cat, who was lodged as far underneath the couch as he could get. Since then, things have improved. And having a cat (or, at least, having this cat) is pretty awesome.

As a competitive runner, I am familiar with the concept of deferring short-term gratification for long-term results. This aproach has been shot to hell. The thing is - after finally emerging out from underneath the couch, the cat and I have a routine going more or less. One of the parts of this routine is bedtime. As in, I go to bed, and the cat purrs and curls up right next to my chest, and we fall asleep.

Short term, this is kind of cute. Long term, a responsible pet owner would set boundaries that do not include sleeping on the bed, because if anyone ever sleeps over, they would have to deal with a purring Norwegian forest-cat trying to do deep-tissue massage on them by aggressively kneading their shoulder.

And, to end, I just want to make the point that rescue cats do need a home, they can be awesome (this one knows how to fetch and roll over!), and you can worry the hell out of all your friends by getting one, so I definitely recommend.

Friday, 2 January 2015


I started 2014 at Lucy's kitchen table, very sad about a guy, very introspective, training for a marathon with an undiagnosed broken ankle. I am starting 2015 at my own kitchen table, a little sad about a guy, still introspective, with a healed metarsal stress fracture, dreaming about training for Transrockies (to be fair, if you consider my taste in music, it could be that semi-mopey and introspective is more or less a default setting for me).

So, to an objective observer, it wouldn't appear that this year has been entirely successul.

I broke my foot (twice). I moved into an apartment (with a broken foot, version 1.0) in the West End with unreliable appliances, suspect plumbing, and tempermental electrical wiring. I got separated and stayed separated. I worked a tough busy season. I lost friends, missed races, and had times where I felt disconnected with the running community. I gave up the trust I had in my body, the easy speed, the confidence in my breath.

I started thinking about rehab, about recovery, and stopped making so many plans for the future. The thing is: I'm a planner. I like to schedule, think ahead, and see my life stretching out in front of me. This year defied my best attempts at planning, and was all the better for it. 

All my running and outdoor adventures were last minute: Costa Rica on ten days's notice, San Diego on three days, Transrockies on less than three weeks. I look at pictures from those trips - the sunlight, the ocean and mountains, and how I'm smiling in each one, really smiling, double chin smiling at the gift of being somewhere beautiful, outdoors, doing what I love.

about to scrape the hell out of my leg "shortcutting" down the Black Tusk

off-trail on the BCMC

It turns out that I do things besides running - and getting injured. The year before, I looked for a new job. I had resumes and cover letters and interview prep. This year, after a long busy season where all I was thinking about was how to catch up on a month's worth of sleep, a new job found me. It was unplanned, out of left field - and I said yes. In a big way, and in so many little ways, I started to believe: things work out. Maybe not how I hoped, maybe not how I thought they were supposed to, but in their own quiet way.

Those are the big things - and they were amazing. For me, though, the year was made from all the small things. I had Canada Day in Tofino, playing cards and hiking to WWII bombers through mud and mosquitos. There was the August long weekend in Whistler, going out dancing and then spending a lazy day on a raft in the middle of the lake. On my 30th birthday, I was hugely lucky to have my friends plan a weekend in the Okanagan. We played power ballads on the drive up, biked to wineries in the late summer heat, had brunch overlooking the lake, and ran on trestles on the edge of the mountainside. Finally, in October, I had a housewarming party. People stayed until three, drinking and living room dancing and somehow not managing to get me evicted. On Thanksgiving, we hiked Elfin to low clouds and chilly rain in dresses. On a quiet day in late October, I kayaked down, way down, Indian Arm to a blue-grey sunset and clouds spilling down from the mountains. I learned to paddleboard in late November in West Vancouver, loong down at bottle-green barnacles in the wan sunlight. In December, I saw the sun rise light up Diamond Head in Squamish as I climbed towards Petgill Lake.

dreamy Kelowna
Squamish - worth getting changed in a wind-tunnel in the dark for

And the many even smaller moments. Waking up Wednesday to do the Grind in various degrees of rainfall warnings, pitch-black, ice and slipperly snow. Drinking coffee and fighting a hangover in Lucy's kitchen, with the light spilling in through the windows. Drinking tea on the couch in East Vancouver and talking about art and life and the last 8 years with old friends. Having drinks at Lolitas and listening to live music at the Olympic Village. Every damn sunset at English Bay. Hosting Man Night (red meat, fist-pumping, and attempting to read the $2.99 soft-core "romance" novel) in my apartment. Failing horribly at board games. Yoga and going to my first shooting range on ladies' night. All the runs I did, and all the runs I want to do.

I don't think this needs an explanation

The finest romance under $5 gets you

I wish I could post something big, something to end the year on a high note: a great recent race result, a really inspirational life thought, or even looking really good in a Christmas party dress. Instead, I ended the year quietly. Hiking around in the snow on the local mountains, seeing my friends for a drink in the evenings, organizing potluck dinners, walking down to English Bay for the early sunsets, reading in a coffee shop, trying a new recipe.

For the past 30 years, I've tried a lot of things to be happy. I tried running really fast. I tried to lose weight. I tried love and I tried self-help and I tried working really hard. And everything I tried - I took away something, I learned. In the end, though, it was a huge relief to stop trying so hard. And I stopped worrying as much about happy, anyways. The same way there was a muted, quiet beauty about the November days and early evenings, there is a lpeace in sadness, an empathy from loneliness. Happiness is a loud laugh, but there is also something also to be said for a soft, measured voice.

These days, this year, I've found myself smiling more often than not, crying a bit more than I've been used to - and grateful all the time.

2014 was an amazing year, and I wouldn't have changed a thing.

Thank you all, and see you on the Grind, in the gym...and soon on the trails! :)