Flow: My First 30k Run
A special day in my calendar arrives: running day.
I’ve been reading Homer’s Odessey lately and something I love about that time period, about 1000 BC in Greece, is that everything is decided by the Gods. Odysseus, spending much of his time at sea, speaks a lot of Jove. "If Jove allows me," "As Jove is willing."
There's not much that's in the individual's control. What will be will be, and you can only surrender to it.
I've awoken in the morning at 0430 and I'm hoping that the sky will part for my run. This was the day that I had planned and prepared for, but now the forecast is showing thunderstorms.
It looks like a little window will open up from 0600-0800, and then storms again the rest of the day. Perfect. Really, not perfect, but I'm set on going out anyway.
Kimi, a hairstylist whom I’d just met on my last show, told me about a wonderful trail she’d discovered in the city. It's always funny how the people I work with from out of town find so many places in Toronto that I haven’t even heard of.
I get to East Riverdale Park and it’s my favourite time of the morning. The street lamps are still on and the sky is purple. I run overtop the Don Valley Parkway to get to the trail. It’s the first time I've noticed that the Don Valley runs along a river.
I wonder if I’ll actually be able to make 30k, the longest run I'll have ever been on. I think about how Robert Reffkin ran 50 marathons in 50 states. How Joan Benoit ran 100 kilometres a week and still runs in her sixties. How Robin Arzón ran five ultramarathons in five days. How Terry Fox ran a marathon every day for 143 consecutive days after losing a leg to cancer. I’ll be fine.
The trail's amazing. Kimi was right. Unbeknownst to me there's an expansive nature trail starting at the beaches that goes north all the way up along the Don Valley Parkway past the Science Centre. Essentially right through the middle of the city.
The conditions at this point are idyllic, it’s not raining but the sky gives that diffused, low hug that it does on a rainy day. The architecture of the bridges that pass high up above are magnificent.
On the second kilometre I find a lone thistle, vibrant purple in hue. In my family, the thistle has symbolically represented my Granny since she passed away. I'm happy to come across it because I feel her cheering me along.
I slowly make my way to the ten kilometre mark, along the river as it rushes. I see other runners. I love seeing runners out at this time in the morning. They're familiar with this place. One strong one runs past me and later I see him standing and meditating on a stone in the water.
Eventually the time comes when I have to pee really badly. I hate my original plan of going up to street level and finding some grocery store to go into, really taking me out of the experience. So I go into a heavily wooded area and find the perfect spot behind a big tree just dense enough to hide me. There's a crosshatching of roots over a drop off where I can put my foot, and I do it.
When I bring my pants down to pee I'm swarmed by 1000 mosquitoes, and in a frantic moment gathering some leaves and trying to finish the whole thing quickly, I drop my airpod in my pee. Once I'm done I adjust myself as fast I can, everything sticky. My body with sweat, the air and trees damp with humidity. I wipe my airpod off with a leaf.
I go back out, now relieved, and the path opens up into this sprawling greenscape, rolling hills that go on as far as you can see, lined in areas with willow trees. I also see a row of porta potties. Actually, as I continue in this dream-like setting, I see more washrooms, and proper washroom-buildings. What is this heavenly runner’s paradise?
And where does the city of Toronto hide this space? It’s kept inside, far below the streets. From the top it’s hidden by fences behind inconspicuous buildings.
The vast fields again narrow into a path that goes between enormous trees, a rolling stream, tall, steep cliffs that you could hike up, a sand dune taller than two of my houses. It makes you feel like you’re out for a walk in
Morrowind Manitoulin Island.
I think this has to be one of the top experiences of my life. In the book, Flow, Csikszentmihalyi says that challenges, appropriately geared to one’s skill level, are what make life enjoyable. I think it’s true.
The time is definitely now to start making my way back, but the chances of me making it are slim. I think about running through thunder and lightning. What are the chances that it would actually hit me? Extremely rare. A quick google search convinces me that it's actually a pretty bad idea. Luckily I know that I could take shelter in one of those fabulous park washrooms if I need to.
The rain starts coming down. I take out my airpods (yes my pee airpods) so I can listen for thunder. No thunder yet but it's now raining violently and the trails are flooding. Just in time, there is the lovely washroom.
My new house. It comes with a fabulous front viewing area where I can sit under the awning and watch the rain come down. There's another man here, too. Not sure what he's doing at my private home but he is nice.
I sit for a few minutes but the weather forecast doesn’t look like it's going to get any better, only worse. So, I think, here I go! To finish this thing. With any luck I’ll make it back to safety, having finished my 30k. Housemate decides to stay and wait.
I get absolutely drenched in the first thirty seconds. Like feet fully submerged in water, little squishy pools inside my shoes. I put my phone away to keep it dry. It’s kinda fun! I see two last crazy runners making it back to wherever they came from.
I don’t make it very far before I hear thunder. It’s okay though, I know I’m almost at the next washroom building. I take shelter. This is my cottage. I stay in here for a bit and watch some construction workers going inside their portable to wait it out. They don’t seem to be moving with much haste. They’re probably just going inside to follow protocol.
I run up to them and past them. Then, I see a little field trip happening! Little tiny kids in rain jackets with umbrellas following their leaders and learning about nature. What the heck? I guess it’s safe.
I keep going and going and eventually there’s no one. Not a soul.
The last half of the run, I spend with God. God being everything around me, the earth, the river, the trees, the rain. Everything outside of me, the distracted me. The me that placated myself with my phone. Scrolling back and forth between apps; sending messages, taking photos, looking at my steps, how many kms I had to go, my route, skipping through songs. The last 15k I listened to the rain and opened my eyes and looked around.
The first 15k had felt like 3 hours (and honestly it probably was), and the last 15k felt like 20 minutes. It happened in a blink. This is the flow state that I was reading about. The activity that makes you forget about time. Before I know it, I pass by my granny (the thistle), and I’m at the beginning.
I run around Bridgepoint hospital before going back to my car and I see colourful sculptures of muscle systems performing physical activities. Dancing, throwing, running.
I think about how I had been in London during the London marathon. I was getting on the tube as the race let out. I piled in behind the crowd of marathoners. I remember thinking how incredible that was, what they just did. How good they must have felt, and wondering where they were going to go now.
All great stories start with someone setting out on an adventure, all to return right back to where they started, only they’ve changed somehow.
I’m back to my car and the rainy skies are beginning to clear up again. I'm going home to get cozy and eat some chia pudding, and reflect on this experience. I did it, what I set out to do.
I haven’t reached marathon yet... there's still another 12k to go. But I’m excited for my next adventure.
“Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments of our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times - although such experiences can be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow