Are family.

It was Family Day in Ontario yesterday (and in Alberta, BC, and Saskatchewan).  This meant a long weekend and extra time with the most special people in my life.  Family Day is one of my favourite days of the year, and something that I was used to having, growing up in Alberta.  Moving to Ontario in 2002, I missed it for a few years, until this province first observed the mid-February Monday in 2008.

My long weekend started out bumpy.

I ran on Saturday morning, as I often do.  With one of my very best friends, as I often do.  But this time, instead of venturing out in the pre-dawn darkness, our schedules allowed us to leave slightly later, and we got to enjoy the sunrise along the shoreline of Lake Ontario.  Our plan was a 14km out-and-back along the rolling hills of North Shore Boulevard; our pace was quick and the conversation was easy.  Because that’s why I run now- I’ve tried to set aside race times and self-imposed pressures, and to focus on the changing role of running in my life.  Now it’s about fitness and health and mental clarity and friendships.  You see, I first met Michaela in 2002, when I began Chiropractic College and was training to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  Running has always been something I love deep-down-in-my-bones, it’s “in my blood” my husband says.  But until my move to Toronto fifteen years ago, I had never met someone with such raw talent for endurance running.  To say this girl is fast is a gross understatement, and she’s raced internationally with the maple leaf proudly on her back.  But she’s fast in an effortless sort of way, and has maintained that graceful stride and incredible talent through the last decade of motherhood and business-building.  And although competitive running has taken a backseat in her life too, her and I have recently rekindled our training partner days and managed to run together most weekends for the last several months.

Our friendship was initially built upon running, and we got to know each other on the sidewalks of Toronto and the trails of Sunnybrook Park.  As the years passed, our relationship grew and evolved, and we were bridesmaids in each other’s weddings, she’s the Godmother of my son, and we get our families together every couple of months.  A forty-five minute drive separates our front doors, but the fibers of running continue to weave themselves through our lives; pre-wedding 5k’s, post-baby Chilly half marathons, 20km long runs on deserted Milton side streets.  And all Winter long, she’s gotten in her car before the sun comes up to make the drive to me so we can run.  And talk.  And be together.  She doesn’t mind, she says, she listens to audiobooks, she says, she gets home in time to enjoy the day with her family, she says, this is a way to make it work, she says.  I say she’s amazing.  And this past Saturday morning, she reminded me why.

At the halfway point of our run, I began to hurt.  Not injury-hurt, more like the hurt that overexertion brings.  Usually I welcome fatigue on a run, but not until the end, and not until I feel like I’ve earned it.  This time it snuck up on me at the halfway point, 7km from home, with 7km of hills to go.  I had been sick for a few days earlier in the week, and the lingering effects of that illness were rearing their ugly head when I’d asked more of my body than it was willing to give.  I began to feel dizzy, my legs felt heavy, and I suffered quietly while she held up her end of the conversation.  A few kilometers from home, I asked her if we could walk.  “Of course,” she said, concerned for my well-being and not the training we were missing out on.  We walked a block, and I began to pick the pace back up.  As we neared the lake, I asked for another walk break.  “We can walk home if you need to,” she said, not aware of the guilt I felt for slowing her down and the failure I felt for stopping.  Us runners are strange breeds, and we always take a bad run as a personal affront that means we will spend eternity seeking a runner’s high and die slow and out-of-shape and alone (or perhaps that’s just me).

I rallied, we ran the 2km back to my place, and after some stretching and water, we went our separate ways.  I texted her that afternoon, thanking her for her patience, and this was her response:

“Running these days is not about how fast we go but just about being together and having my Ashley time.  I could have walked the whole way with you.  Love you!”

And there you have it.

To segue back to Family Day, she’s part of my family and I love her like the sister I never had.  Family is support and loyalty and appreciation, love and gratitude and friendship.  I’ve written about the importance of friendships before, and I’m lucky to have a handful of girlfriends that feel like family.  Are like family.  Are family.

So happy Family Day to them, and to you.  May we all feel at home with our family and with our friends.

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