It was a day of sheer misery. The long, cold and snowy winter had given way to the Spring That Never Was. It had snowed all morning and less than two minutes into my run, my feet were soaked as I was treated to thick, slippery slush. Two weeks out from a big race, I was tapering mileage but looking for hills and intensity. So here I was, climbing the seemingly endless Tunnel Mountain Drive, cursing the mountain climate and feeling downright grumpy and sorry for myself. As I crossed the gate where the road is closed to traffic during winter, I failed to notice the surface had changed to a soft carpet of fresh powder, giving a soft bounce to my step – I was wrapped in my bad mood, focused on the crap I had left behind (the slush and wet feet of course, but also the ridiculous amount of work piled at my desk, awaiting my return). ThinksTooMuch (my brain monkey) was getting more exercise spinning the wheel in my head then I was on my run.
As I crested the hill, passing the intersection with the Tunnel Mountain Trail, I noticed two hikers just getting started on the first switchback and recognised one of them. I waved. And then, just like that, the day took a turn. She hollered back with such energy and joy, as she always does, flashing a smile that lit up the gloomy day. Good on you! She called with admiration, referring to me running uphill. You too! I shouted back, happy to see kindred spirits willing to play outside on such a poor weather day. Great to see you spending your lunch hour out here on the trail. As we parted ways in opposite directions, she cried out how she would not want to be anywhere else as it was such a beautiful and magical day. In my head I heard the sound of screeching tires: ThinksTooMuch stopped dead in his wheel – magical? Beautiful? This crappy spring day? I was now running downhill, bouncing like a doe in the thick fresh carpet of whiteness and could not help but notice how pleasurable it felt. My own personal powder to lay fresh tracks in! Looking up around me, the evergreens were covered in a fresh blanket of snow and the sun was peeking through the clouds, warming the skin on my face. There was absolutely nothing wrong with that day – typical spring in the mountains. Not overly cold, no treacherous ice, a perfectly runnable road.
A blog post I had recently read came to mind: in her Diez Vista 100k race report, Joanna Ford described running the difficult course and how she had to endure cold and rainy weather. As she was dreading going through a particular section again, another runner caught up to her and completely changed her attitude with his positive words and his different outlook. He saw beauty where she expected misery. She was boosted with new energy and went on to finish the race strong (she won) and having a great day. As I pranced around the mountain, I pondered on how easy it was to stay caught up in the negative vibes the day throws upon us rather than be living in the moment and embracing the good things that arise. It also made me realise how the people we cross paths with can really bring joy in our lives, changing the course of our day, sometimes with a simple smile or a few wise words.
I don’t know the TunnelHiker very well, but I do enjoy the brief conversations we have had as well as reading her Social Media posts. She is someone who has chosen to embrace life for everything it has to offer and always seek the positive and beauty. I find her to be truly inspiring, and though she does not know it, through her words, she has many times affected my life in a positive way. I was grateful we had crossed paths that day. My gratitude began to expand for all the other non-runners I met while barrelling down the trails like I’m chased by a cougar or as I’m plowing up steep hills with an intense look of determination that must, at times, seem psycho. I have gotten words of encouragement, cheers and smiles. And every single time, it has made a difference. My heart has felt lighter, my pace has picked up, my smile has returned, I found new energy to go longer and do more… I have had random encounters on the trails with fantastic folks who have shared great stories that I carried in my head for miles on. Some made such an impression, I will never forget.
I was on my descent and my feet had returned to bathing in cold, wet snow. I barely noticed. My heart felt peaceful and the brain monkey had been replaced by warm recollections of the people that had painted my miles with smiles. The mountains were emerging from the clouds and a couple deer bounced across the street. This is where I run. This is where I live.
I got thinking about volunteers. How often had they “saved the day” at any given race? So many times I have rolled into an aid station to be greeted with the most heart-warming care – what do you need? they ask, as they proceed to help make your day better in every possible way. They cheer you on, pick you up, feed you, reward you with medals, but mostly, they give up their own day to make yours special. A fun memory surfaced. While volunteering at the Calgary marathon expo, I asked a man that was sharing my shift how come he got a cowboy hat and I only got a shirt (Alberta cowboy hats were not a part of my Quebexican heritage and therefore way more prized than a shirt). Hats are for race marshals, he explained. He was volunteering multiple shifts over the course of the race weekend. The next day I was racing the 50K Ultra and as I crossed the finish line, I had the same man place a finisher medal around my neck (after his early morning marshal shift, he had another shift at the finish line – some people are just amazing that way) and he took the cowboy hat off his head and gave it to me. I had miraculously placed third female overall, won “boots, beef and beer” (this was the Calgary marathon after all) but the hat crowned the day. It’s those little gestures that make moments so memorable. And for those, I am grateful.
As my run reached its final miles, I quietly thanked all those who help make a difference in my runner’s life. My coworkers who encourage me as I get out there for my lunch runs on cold, rainy and less than stellar days. The social media running networks that allow runners to share stories and support one another through our injuries, training and success. Those who volunteer and become the familiar faces on the course. The strangers who often fail to comprehend why one would want to run up such a big hill but who kindly step off the trail to let us pass, cheering us on. My loved ones and friends who worry about my health and training volume – I know it is because you care. My AwesomeNonRunner (boyfriend) who loses me early mornings, weekend after weekend, as I venture on yet another epic run, and cooks fabulous meals to revive me post absurd distance covered. Thanks to all who “get me”, why I run and need to, and humour me when I say I won’t run fast, this is just for fun.
I reached the doorway of my workplace where I briefly stretched, before returning to the earlier mentioned pile of crap. Except now it was just work, projects I actually enjoy once I take a breath, clear my head and focus on what is important. Funny how a friendly encounter during a run, on what most would consider a miserable day, can change one’s state of mind and allow to proceed in a much healthier way. I popped a piece of chocolate in my mouth, grabbed my stylus and got drawing…