Now bid me run, And I will strive with things impossible: a Love Letter

Dear Running,

I miss you. It has only been 5 weeks since we last saw each other, but I am scared that you won't recognize me when we finally meet again. I can feel my muscles weakening and my endurance fading - but believe me when I say I think of you every day. When we do reconnect, I know that it is going to have to be in short doses so that we won't tire of each other too soon ... but I also know that what I will really want is to jump back into spending hours with you. Patience. It's never really been my best virtue, but then you know that. 

You have been my companion for so long, even if at times I took you for granted. I remember the high school cross-country days like they were yesterday - I can close my eyes and still picture and smell the course that we travelled so many times, where I trained for four years and won my first race. I have clear memories of long "desertion" runs, dusty country roads, and repeats on grassy hills. I raced through forests and parks, under power lines, and over golf courses - always fuelled by (of all things) a raw raspberry pop tart.
In the first race I ever won, 1989.
Yes, that's a rugby shirt, cut-off sweatpants, and basketball socks.
I know that I abandoned you for a few years in university, and I'm sorry. It was me who suffered more than you, though. I found you again in my fourth year, at just the time when I needed to find myself again. It's funny how we are interlocked like a jigsaw: without you, I always feel like a piece of me is missing. Since then (18 years ago), I have travelled to and lived in so many places, and you have always been with me. Pop tarts were replaced by Clif bars or bagels, then oatmeal, and finally whole wheat english muffins. I've trained in Guelph, Vancouver, Grand Cayman, Lennoxville, Calgary, Ireland, and Squamish. I've raced in more places than I can count; distances from 5 to 50k, on roads and trails, up and down mountains, across valleys, around lakes, in deserts, over rivers, and beside the sea. I went through that phase when I always ran in pigtails and orange glasses, but you didn't mind. You only cared that I was doing my best - and when I wasn't, you always had a way of letting me know. Thank you for that.
Lining up for a 10k race in New Hampshire, 2001
(note the pigtails and orange glasses)
We ventured into the world of marathon running at Big Sur in 1999, when I told you "I'll probably only ever run one marathon, so I might as well make it a beautiful one". I'm pretty sure you laughed at me then, because by that time you knew me better than I knew myself. We spent the next 10 years trying to figure out that distance together; pushing my limits, suffering some minor injuries, and steadily gaining experience, toughness, and speed. By my third marathon, I had knocked 33 minutes off my time at Big Sur. In Chicago in 2002, I had such bad IT pain that I ran an 18 minute positive split. After a few weeks away from you, I trained hard through the brutally cold winter of 2003 and then threw up at mile 20 in Boston, because of sunstroke. I finished the race. In Milwaukee that fall, I lost 8 minutes in the first half of my race to time spent in Porta-Potties, but didn't panic - and my splits were only separated by 1 minute. I learned lessons from all of these. By my 8th marathon, I had improved my time by 37 minutes, from 4:01 to 3:24. I strive to do better still. Even though I am turning 40 this month, you have no doubt that I can.
In the finishing chute,
Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, 2009
After my 9th marathon, I started my PhD and life got much busier. We still saw each other regularly, but you weren't always a priority in my schedule. I tried to keep in touch, but didn't really listen to what you were telling me until my life was in a place I didn't want it to be. Once again, you brought me back: slowly, a little painfully, but with determination. I started racing again with a couple 5ks, and my times were slow - but I felt happy, and whole. I worked from those 5ks back up to a half marathon, and then a 30k race. 10 months after that first slow-ish 5k, I raced a 15k and achieved a PB. During that time, I started this blog as a thank you of sorts. Did it really take me over 20 years to finally acknowledge how important you are in my life? No, I always knew it. But sometimes, it is easy to forget.
In the Guelph Lake 5k, 2012
And that brings us to this past year. This year, I spent more time with you than ever. We turned to the trails, running joyously and carefree through the wilds of BC. Until I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and everything stopped - for a moment. Only a moment. Because finally, I have learned my lesson, which is that over these many years you have been a better friend to me than I have been to you. And that, it is me who falters when I push you aside, thinking that other things are more important. That is the same as thinking that other things are more important than me. So this time, I didn't let you go. I did not let that diagnosis, or my first surgery, stop me from training for and running the biggest race of my life so far, the Squamish 50k. And I am not going to let the latest - and hopefully the last - in my treatment, a double mastectomy, keep us apart for any longer than is necessary for me to physically heal. The truth is, it's you who helps me to heal on the inside, where it matters most. It always has been.
"Now bid me run, And I will strive with things impossible" 
- William Shakespeare
So yes, I do miss you. But 5 weeks - that's a tiny blip in the grand scheme of our relationship. Patience, and perspective. You've taught me both of those. I'll see you again soon.

Love,
Tara

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