My latent adrenaline level has been shooting through the roof lately, somewhere around 7.5 on the Richter scale which is already quite a shock for the system as a short peak, but becomes completely exhausting to sustain. Of course it’s adrenaline for a good cause but it still needs to be released. So I go on my runs.
Tonight the 10.6 km Stanley Park loop from home will do nicely as I still have a reserve of daylight to count on. I get dressed quickly, grab my MP3 player and head out to the waterfront. It’s about 8:10 pm and the beach is still crowded with people playing volleyball and hanging out. A strong smell of hot-dogs floats in the air, appealing but to be ignored. I swallowed a mouthful of energy gel before leaving, after realizing I hadn’t eaten all day. That will have to do.
The sun is blazing right above the mountains to the west, a full orange circle about to cast its ultimate salute to the western world. There’s an eternal happy feeling hanging around the seawall on English Bay, like a vacation place where people have no worries and spend their time doing nothing.
I start my music and the chrono and break into a slow run.
The little observer perched on my left shoulder, caught by surprise, grabs my neck and holds on for his life. “Look at those people, he says, everybody is running and rollerblading and walking… They’re so healthy it’s sickening.” I don’t answer, trying to avoid passers-by and skipping back to the song I want. “Too fast, he says, you’re starting too fast. You know you’re going for an hour run, this is called endurance, you’ve got to start slow and pace yourself. No stopping for breaks today.”
Downtown is soon left behind and the park appears. To my left, small pleasure crafts are drawing long wake lines on the smooth ocean surface and further in the background, the giant freighters are asleep at their mooring, awaiting their turn patiently. The sun dips under the horizon and the air gets instantly cooler.
“Good, says the voice on my shoulder, it’ll be more comfortable now. You can pick up the pace and switch songs.” “Not yet, I answer, not until passed Lost Lagoon. Take it easy. I’m the one doing all the running, here, all you have to do is hang on and give smart advice now and then.” He snorts.
The racoon, a regular of the area, crosses the path ahead of me just before the pond. He stops in the grass as I run by and looks at me thoughtfully. “Hello human, you wouldn’t happen to have a few extra marshmallows with you, would you?” He must know Richard Bach. “Sorry, I reply, running past him, but check with the guy behind me.” It’s a trick. The guy was feeding ducks some bread but it’ll keep him busy.
I cross the main road and reach the seawall again with Coal harbour at my right. The sky is shaded in an amazing palette of purples and pinks, like I’ve only seen in Vancouver, reflecting in the perfectly still water of the marina.
“Watch where you run, says my observer, and switch up.” I press the track forward button.
“With the fire from the fireworks up above me
With a gun for a lover and a shot for the pain at hand
You run for cover in the temple of love
You run for another but still the same
For the wind will blow my name across this land“
I pass the aquarium’s parking lot, leave Deadman’s Island behind and eventually cut across Brockton Point at the Totem Poles.
“Are we there yet?” asks the shoulder. “Not even close, I say, quiet.” He obeys for a while and then warns: “Woah, did you feel that?” “What?” I say, not really caring much. “THAT. The twinge in your left calf. Cramp warning, cramp warning, battle stations! Women and children first!” He’s always a little over-dramatic. “Change your style, he continues, limp right, a little more bouncing off the ground, ooonnne, two, oooonne, two… There.”
“And the devil in black dress watches over
My guardian angel walks away
Life is short and love is always over in the morning
Black wind come carry me far away“
I instinctively pick up the pace a touch, following the song’s rhythm. “The cramp’ll come back, warns the observer, keep steady.” I wish for a moment he’d follow the song’s advice and walk away…
The Lions’ Gate Bridge appears up ahead, its necklace already lit and the traffic visible from here. But peace is falling unto Earth like soft snow on a forest. We pass by the poor Lady in the Wetsuit, covered in her usual layer of guano.
“She waved!” suddenly yells my little observer, pinching my ear as he turns to look back. “Who, I ask, the lady in the wetsuit?” “HER, he says, pointing nowhere, SHE waved.” He thinks he’s funny. “How can you tell?” “I looked east,” he replies. “Oh!” I wave back and smile.
It’s getting dark. Gone are the long summer days. The climb in the trees is going to be a little tricky.
“You should slow down now, he says, a good minute before the beginning of the hill. Adjust to your climbing speed while you’re not forced to do so.” “You’re already heavy, I grin, could you possibly get off me and run up too?” He’ll never go for it, it’s against his principles. “How about I just change shoulders, he offers, that way I could be right all the time.” “Nah, I like to know you’re where I left you,” I answer, playing along.
We hit the hill. It gets very steep and very dark, very fast. I’m still on Temple of Love and have to take tiny small steps. I drop down to two in-two out.
“Watch your steps, he says, if you break an ankle now, you’ll never be able to go to…” He doesn’t finish his sentence, lost in some faraway reverie. I don’t care. I’m suffering. He starts encouraging me loudly, pushing me to keep going, kicking me with his heels and waving his arms widely around like some cowboy on a rodeo. I throw my left shoulder up abruptly to remind him that his situation is still precarious. It works. He quiets down.
We get to the top of the hill. Petra said not to go beyond my max heart rate, but how could I know if I’m there without a heart monitor? “There’s always the GPS-heart monitor combo, the voice whispers, only costs 3 or 4 hundred bucks…” “Yeah, I let out gasping for air, that’s the price of a flight to New York.” He doesn’t come up with an answer.
I emerge from the forest and run alongside the road for a while, until I can cut across and down back to the seawall. The sky is orange, the sea a pale yellow and a brand new moon rises not far from where the sun set a while ago, reminding me of an upcoming eclipse… The air smells of pine trees, a powerful fragrance caused by the cutting of all the trees that were downed by the infamous wind storm. My thoughts drift east and I loose the beat.
“With the sunlight died and night above me
With a gun for a lover and a shot for the pain inside
You run for cover in the temple of love
You run for another its all the same
For the wind will blow and throw your walls aside“
“You have very poor musical choices, says my observer, what a dark song for running!” “You don’t know anything about anything, I reply, I’ve been running to the Sisters of Mercy for years. Besides, the beat is just perfect for my mid-run. I’ll switch up after the pool.”
A bug flies right into my mouth and I spit it out over my left shoulder. “Thanks!” says a voice. “You’re welcome,” I say before realizing that the voice wasn’t my observer but a cyclist passing me over. I am, after all, running on the biking path side of the seawall which is more even in the dark. “Oops, sorry!” I yell to her back. “Nice, cracks up the voice on my shoulder, smoooooth.”
It’s quite dark now. I’m approaching the pool. I skip songs forward as Eldritch sings:
“In the black sky thunder sweeping
Underground and over water
Sounds of crying weeping will not save
Your faith for bricks and dreams for mortar
All your prayers must seem as nothing
Ninety-six below the wave
When stone is dust and only air remains“
Then Bob Marley comes on. Bad Boys. How proper. “That’s for you, I say to my observer, better behave.”
The crowd is getting thicker as we get closer to downtown, avoiding people is becoming a full time job. “Go, go, pushes my observer, stretch your stride, use your hips, hit the ground a little harder.” “Shut up and let me run, I warn, I know what to do.” They always want to have the last word. “Pass that one on the left, he commands, now right, watch out for the dog.” The dog is a thing the size of a kitty, running at the end of a long leash and which decides to cross the path in front of me. I jump up, miss the dog but hit the leash, yanking it right out of the dude’s hand. “Sorry!” I yell again. I’m not.
Last stretch. Les Rita Mitsouko, C’est Comme Ca. Heart pumping hard, observer holding on, strangling me a little, side cramp getting stronger. Then I’m there. I glance at my watch. An hour sharp. No improvement today. It’s the climb that slows me down.
“Good job, says my little observer, I’m proud of us.” “You talk a lot,” I say. “Yeah, he replies with pride, I know.”