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So I stepped out one evening in May, and several evenings a week thereafter I went outside and started to run, and then when I started to feel pretty bad I ran a bit more, and when I felt worse I stopped. I had no training or learn-to-run program. My only technical gear were an MP3 player and a Strava app on my phone which quantified my runs as little maps and nuggets of data. I was surprised and gratified that my first few runs weren’t disastrous, so I could keep asking myself “What happens if I keep going a bit more?...and a bit more?...and a bit more?...Can I do another ten steps? Yes I can. Then another? Yes!” It occurred to me that if I kept doing just ten more steps repeatedly, I might never stop. I might run forever. I might run past the edge of the world. And the more I ran, the more I was drawn to the idea of never stopping.
Obviously I didn’t really run forever. But I continue to run and one of the reasons I continue to run is to get to that place where it feels like I could run right off the top of the earth, to find again that sort of disciplined wildness that had been hiding within me all along, until my pounding heart and the trees sliding past summoned it out of me.
Before this descends into Women Who Run with the Wolves, I’m going to loop back to Patti Smith and “The Changing of the Guards”. I live and run in the eastern part of central Edmonton, midtownish, neither hip urban centre nor suburb. It was built between the 1930s and 1960s and is not especially beautiful. Rows of houses are interspersed with walkup apartments and utilitarian throwbacks to the days when people congregated in the neighbourhood — community halls, schools, churches, mini-strip malls, now mainly underused. At the peak of midday it’s not full of people, and by 9:00 p.m. on a summer weeknight it’s very quiet. The streets are wide, the sunset is lit up, and the elms and conifers are dropping shadows around me. I know — something in the air or the light — that I’m up north and high above sea level. I pass fellow travelers I recognize from previous runs: the orange tabby with half a tail, the lone kid in the spray park, the taco truck parked behind the curling rink. As the evening deepens these sightings trail off until it’s just me and a hundred different forms of dying light. No one will ever spin a fable about east-central Edmonton, but running transforms it into a strange and marvelous world to inhabit, as vivid to me as Dylan’s images of pale ghosts and merchants and thieves.
Is running beautiful because it is strong and difficult and passionate and somehow like music? Does everything I do with strength and power become beautiful? I don’t know. Certainly not everything in my life is done this way, which makes running important to me. Whatever else I do, I will always be the woman who ran ten kilometres for the first time when she was 52, and who could imagine herself never stopping, running right off the surface of the earth.